What the IB questions want from your answers Part 1: advice

Hello readers,

I hope you guys are having a fantastic spring break because it’s nearly time to relax and have fun under the sun. Unfortunately, for those kids who are under pressure to ace the IBO exams (including me), here are some personal tips that will hopefully help improve your understanding of what the questions in the IB exams are really asking you to do:

Environmental Systems and Societies (SL):

One of the most fruitful ways of studying for ESS is by practicing past papers. It lets you understand your strengths and weaknesses.

  1. Be VERY specific with your answers, because without clarity, you will not earn full points for your answers. For example, if you know that salinization is harmful to crop yield, then don’t just write “salinization hampers the growth of plants”, instead, write something like “salty soil water interferes with the process of osmosis and prevents water from reaching the roots of plants, thus resulting into plant dehydration and eventual decrease in crop yield.”
  2. The extent of clarity is so important that you need to include the mathematical data and justify your answers. For example, if you are asked to compare the water quality of a lake before and after let’s say, acid rain, then make sure to calculate the changes in water salinity, pH levels, etc. Do not just write “increase” or “decrease” to make comparisons or to describe.
  3. Also include the names of the locations of case studies. It is vital according to the IBO.
  4. Make sure you use specific and strong examples. So it is beneficial if you dive into the textbooks to study case studies or do some research.

Economics (HL):

  1. First, I would really recommend being theoretically confident with all four sections. You need to understand the concepts thoroughly in order to understand what the questions are really asking you to write. I personally think it is imperative that you review your class notes and do some extra research if you do not understand graphs/concepts or terms. One way of doing this by reading from the book and writing down notes. Another way of doing this is by watching YouTube videos. You can also refer to websites like tutor2u and investopedia.
  2. Questions from paper 1 generally asks you to use those concepts and 1. apply 2. analyse/evaluate or 3. discuss its effectiveness. Questions from paper 1 refer only to part 1 (microeconomics) and part 2 (macroeconomics) of the syllabus.
  3. For paper 2, I recommend writing down very short summaries of each paragraph of the news article. Next, I recommend identifying key terms, theories/concepts and then tracing economic systems as you read through the article. Read it at least 2 times so that you understand the main idea. That way, you do not spend too much time referring to the article again and again.
  4. Paper 3 asks you to solve numerical problems and write short to two/three paragraph answers. Make sure that you answer what is being asked right away. Make sure you look at the marks allocated for each question so that you can plan your time accordingly. Do not forget to show the calculations if the question asks you to do so.

English A Lang and Lit (HL):

  1. As English A students, we really need to brace ourselves! English is a tricky language. Nevertheless, make sure you are familiar with analysing texts, coming up with thesis statements and critiquing/supporting your answers. Such criteria are SKILLS, not formulas. Therefore, practice past questions so that you can develop them well enough to score a 6/7.
  2. An English A teacher looks for: a. Understanding and knowledge b. response c. stylistic devices and their use d. Language and e. Organization in your paper to grade it. So these aspects basically ask you to be cohesive, simple, detailed, analytical and clear with your answer. Imagine yourself writing a piece of analysis for a friend who desperately wants to hear your opinions about a literary text.


Tips for those who feel like they’ve have studied but end up getting lower than expected grades.

  1. It may be because you are not giving yourself enough time to practice thoroughly. Thoroughly. By this, I mean not going overboard with flashcards, or notes or revision but actually practicing some questions. You need to understand what the question is asking you to do, so you need to give yourself some time to think, “Ok, so what this question is asking me to do is…” or “This word means __ so it basically means to __” or “The underlying message of this question with reference to the chapters/units/sections/headings/themes that we’ve studied in class is ___” or “The similarities and differences that this questions points out to the previous question is ___ so I need to increase/decrease/___ this more.” and so on and so forth.
  2. Maybe you need to practice mind mapping. Now, I personally do not practice mind mapping but I tend to write some rough notes before answering creative or essay questions in English, Anthropology, Economics or even ESS paper. Jot down your ideas and then connect them to form evidences, topic sentences, limitations (if necessary) and then your thesis.
  3. Sometimes you need to be “making the strange familiar and the familiar strange”(quoting from my anthropology class). By this, I mean that there is no absolute truth; there is no right or wrong (with the exception of math, physics, etc.) but what I am trying to say is that subjects like English, Anthropology and even Economics can have multi-facets and varied interpretations. So go discuss questions with your friends or even teachers; this might help you gain a different perspectives or build your own argumentative skills.

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