Examination Report 2013 part 3 – The Independent Study

In my blogs entries over the last month or so I’ve ben reviewing the 2013 examiners report. I’ve divided these so that I can explore the observations on each of the three assessment components in detail. In this entry I’ll try to interpret observations made on the Independent studies submitted for examination in 2013. As a supplement to this I would recommend a document I wrote for my own students, based on my observations from the scripts I examined during the May 2013 session. This is called ‘How not to suck at the independent study.

Firstly, from my own experience over the years I’ve been assessing this component, it seems a recurring issue for many students in this component have been problems in selecting appropriate topics, those which permit detailed enough explorations of issues in film history or theory. Poorly selected topics, or ones which aren’t researched deeply enough will fail to achieve marks in higher mark bands. Generally these scripts tend to demonstrate a poor response against the descriptor seeking to reward both the understanding of the film history and/or theory, and the scope and depth of argument.

The 2013 report observes how some topic choices have become both popular and safe choices (German Expressionism, Horror, Disney v Studio Ghibli, Coming of Age, Depiction of War) these produce competent rather than memorable outcomes, in that they permitted some exploration of film history and/or theory. However, the best responses emerged from strong personal engagement, and a clear understanding of the relationship of films to appropriate critical approaches/theory and historical contexts, which develop strong arguments and are appropriately rewarded with higher band marks. While the inverse of this, were charactezrised thus; a vague hope in some candidates that in compiling a some clips together from films of the same genre, an argument would somehow emerge by itself. There are still considerable problems with candidates failing to engage with a film theory or aspect of history and merely retelling film narratives or following a thematic approach.

The best candidates framed their work with clarity in developing a rationale which set the scope and depth of their argument and was refined from that through research and development of their ideas.

It is clear that his could really only happen when candidates have been thoroughly immersed in film theory and history from the very beginning of the course and that their independent studies emerge organically from this knowledge.


There are specific criticisms of numerous candidates at standard level who submitted work comparing different versions (originals and remakes) of films from different cultures. The independent study at standard level does not require candidates to make a comparison, so this addresses a non-existent assessment descriptor, and frankly limits the scope and depth of any potential screenplay to two movies.

What candidates are advised to do is develop a clearer sense of their research task and to explore this question more thoroughly. The IS takes the form of a documentary screenplay for a reason, and, like many conventional documentary films it should seek to develop an argument in response to a hypothesis established in the exposition phase. Rather than merely offer twinned textual analyses, in the best cases the development of the argument focused on the question (hypothesis) in a wide ranging examination using a range of films and sources. Thus even an independent study at standard level should explore as many films as a effective rationale and argument might require. Two movies is the minimum for the independent study at standard level but a strong choice, addressing topics of film history and/or theory may require more in order to develop an argument which can be rewarded by upper band assessment descriptors.


The report goes further in criticising common misunderstandings over the role and function of the formal requirements of the Independent study.

  • The function of the rationale is to frame and signpost an argument, not provide a summary. Bad rationales usually ended up as bad studies.
  • An annotated list of sources is not merely a kind of checklist, but an opportunity for candidates to evaluate the relevance of their research for the chosen argument.
    • Examiners of the independent study looks at the list of sources in checking the scope and depth of an argument.
    • “Ticking this off” like a checklist fails to recognise that they are part of the policy of academic honesty and integrity which should be encouraged by all IB teachers. By the same token, sources must be correctly cited within the body of the screenplay, footnoting or referencing.

From my own observations of work submitted in the May 2013 session, it seemed most obvious to me that the advice offered by many teachers of film seemed to be somewhat lacking.
As professionals we should all should seek as much guidance as possible in preparing students for
the Independent study as it is a highly complex assessment task. Try to as familiar as possible with the film subject guide, understand the issues raised in the most recent examiners reports, and if possible attend an IB film workshop.

The recommendations for future candidates seem pretty much self-evident. Anyhow, my role in interpreting these recommendations an accessible form is somewhat redundant and I’ve included these as written.

  • Teachers need to know and communicate to their candidates the exact requirements of the component as specified in the film guide. Far too many candidates have been poorly guided and supervised. Teachers need to be a lot more engaged in monitoring the process and development of candidate work. This doesn’t mean constant marking, but even informal conversations would help keep candidates on track.
  • Candidates should be given ample practice with “mini” text analysis or independent study projects. After all, candidates are not expected to make a film without being taught technical skills, yet many teachers don’t provide enough scaffolding for this most complex task.
  • Teachers are recommended to spend at least the first year giving candidates a strong background in film history and theory so that their candidates can make informed choices when coming to this task.
  • Standard level candidates in particular need to become more question-focused, rather than be driven by using the minimum number of films. For this reason, straight comparisons between originals and remakes should largely be avoided. In most cases, the study becomes the most superficial of arguments.

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