10 Most Common IA Mistakes

10 Most Common IA Mistakes

Although the Internal Assessment grading standards (or “criteria”) are quite clear, students and their teachers are sometimes surprised and disappointed by the results they receive. The reason is often not so much that they were not able to meet the standards, but rather that they forgot to address or simply misunderstood some of them. Indeed, there seems to be a common underlying reason behind all of those costly mistakes. Thus, here is a list of what are arguably the 10 most common errors in IA reports. 

NB. This list does not include all grading standards: it does not break down all that students have to do to receive a high mark on their IA, but focuses on what they generally do not do well—or not at all. 


1. The relevance of the aim is often vaguely alluded to rather than concretely explained, and rarely directly connected to the student investigation. 

2. The connection between the background theory and the student investigation is rarely explained. Instead, students generally indicate that they will modify an original study (which is not an IA requirement and is not graded).

3. Variables are usually identified, but rarely fully operationalized, and almost never in the research or null hypothesis (which would actually make it much easier).


4. While participants are often described, their choice is almost never explained. 

5. The same is true of materials, which are usually listed without any justification of their selection.


6. Descriptive statistics are generally appropriate and accurate, but almost never  interpreted.

7. More often than not, graphs do not address the hypothesis because they are not fully labeled and/or do not use an appropriate representation technique.

8. All too often, raw data and/or detailed calculations of inferential statistics are missing in the appendices, forbidding students to achieve high mark bands on this section. 


9. Findings are generally described in relation to the original study (which is irrelevant) rather than to the background theory (which is a requirement). EIther way, they are rarely discussed.

10. In the critical analysis of their own experiment, students often forget its strengths and do not always cover its design, sample, and procedures. When they do, their points are not always relevant, either because they tackle limitations that should have been anticipated, or because their connection to the research question is not made clear. Likewise, proposed modifications do not always address previously identified limitations and are often too vague to be implemented. 

Interestingly, all of these mistakes might share a common root. The fundamental issue seems to be that students fail to make explicit enough things that they think will be obvious to the reader. This is usually a correct assumption, but the ultimate reader is an examiner to whom everything should be explained in order to demonstrate mastery of relevant knowledge and skills. More generally, a simple strategy is, paradoxically, to tell students to put the IB examination context in parentheses and to imagine that they are submitting a paper to a peer-reviewed journal who does not know anything about the “Psych IA”.

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