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. 

Introduction

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).

Exploration

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.

Analysis  

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. 

Evaluation

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”.

Heuristics: a Simple General Model

The success of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow has popularized Dual Process Theory, and more precisely the idea that heuristics and logic are two different facets, or “systems”, of the human mind. According to this approach, logic would be limited to “system 2”, a slow module requiring conscious activation and mental effort, while our default “system 1” would rely on “rules of thumb”, or heuristics, allowing us to make quick and largely unconscious judgments and decisions.

But what do all of those “rules of thumb”, such as “anchoring” (relying on the first pieces of information), “availability” (relying on the ease with which information comes to mind), or “aversion to losses” (weighing potential losses more heavily than potential gains), have in common? What is their general principle?

Kahneman did explain why heuristics evolved: they are energy-saving devices, which must have been much needed as we adapted to our prehistoric environment. Although inaccurate, and therefore unreliable, these mental shortcuts were nevertheless useful, not only because of their practicality but also because of their efficiency — which means that they yielded, more often than not, workable solutions. This is an important point: we often insist on the fact that cognitive biases are irrational and lead to errors in judgment and decision-making. However, if their conclusions were not, in most cases, acceptable approximations, they would not have been selected and become part of our universal makeup. At least, they had to be “good enough” at the time.

Precisely, what Kahneman did not explain is how these rules of thumb came to be selected. Kahneman did formulate a general rule for system 1: “WYSIATI, What You See Is All There Is”. But this is very vague and more descriptive than explanatory. In addition, while it might shed light on the connection between “anchoring” and “availability” biases, for instance, it does not really tell us why “losses loom larger than gains”.

Yet, a simple and general model can be proposed to explain how heuristics came to be. This model also explains how these rules of thumb can be “good enough” despite being fundamentally wrong. Indeed, it is this very fact that indicates the origins of cognitive biases. Simply put, all of them are different instances of a common logical fallacy: affirming the consequent. The basic rule of logical reasoning is known as the modus ponens: ((p → q) & p) → q, which reads “if p is true, q is true; and p is true, therefore q is true.” An example would be: “if someone is born in the U.S. (p), they are an American citizen (q); and this person is born in the U.S. (p), therefore this person is an American citizen (q). A common mistake is to misuse this rule in the following way: ((p → q) & q) → p. This is “affirming the consequent.” In the case above, it would lead to this logical error: “if someone is born in the U.S. (p), they are an American citizen (q); and this person is an American citizen(q), therefore they were born in the U.S.” This is obviously wrong: people can be American citizens based on their parents’ citizenship, or through naturalization, even if they were born abroad. Still, if you had to guess someone’s birthplace, and if you knew that they are an American citizen, the “rule of thumb” would work more often than not.

Here, we have a logical “system 2” rule, the modus ponens, and a mental shortcut that basically states that, since p → q, q can always be used as a proxy for p. This explains all heuristics and cognitive biases. Take the availability bias, for instance. Generally speaking, events that are the most frequent are also the ones instances of which comes most easily to mind. This doesn’t mean that it is rational, or always reliable, to judge frequency (p) based on availability (q): frequent events can be unremarkable, while unfrequent ones might be striking and easily recalled. Still, as a rule of thumb for quick estimates, it’s usually “good enough.” The same is true for anchoring. If you are a teacher, you know that good essays usually have good introductions. This doesn’t mean that an essay cannot start very well and then go off-topic, or start poorly, but then get much better. Still, if you were to grade papers based on their introductions alone, the rankings probably would not be that different from those based on the full essays.

Contrary to the WYSIATI rule, this simple general model also accounts for our aversion to losses. If losses and gains are both as visible, then the rule doesn’t explain why we give more weight to the former in our decisions. And if losses are more visible than gains, then the WYSIATI rule does not explain why. Yet, the reason is quite simple. Aversion to losses takes the logical principle of diminishing marginal utility, which states that additional units of an item have less and less value, and concludes that losing an item is more significant than gaining one, regardless of their underlying value.

More generally, heuristics take criteria that are logically derived from rational principles and use them as proxies, for those more complex rules; even though such conversions and generalizations are neither accurate, not entirely reliable. Such shortcuts are assumptions that an implication (p → q) can simply be reversed (→ p). Thus, a better way to describe heuristics would be: YSAAAT! Your Simplifying Assumptions Are Always True!

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

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Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.