reflections on the last exam session in history

By Tuesday, September 13, 2011 No tags 0

Now that it is mid September most northern hemisphere schools are starting up and teachers are fine tuning their lesson plans and reviewing last year’s results. In the southern hemisphere, EE are safely away to the examiners and teachers are preparing for the IB exams that will commence in less than two months. This, then, seems like a time to review the results and think about areas of focus.

In history, the world average is not a simple thing as it depends on Time Zone, Prescribed Subject and HL option. For students doing Communism in Crisis and History of the Americas HL in TZ1, the average was 4.11. For Peacemaking, Europe/Middle East in TZ2 it was 4.55. Others fell elsewhere.

Reading the OCC teachers are generally satisfied with Paper 1. The tasks are clear, as is syllabus coverage. While some may argue that topics were too narrow (Washington Naval Conference) or go beyond the scope of topic somewhat (collapse of the Soviet Union), the same teachers will agree that the IB is clear on how to prepare students for material and the skills necessary for success on this exam.

Also, despite some referring to it as the ‘infernal assessment’, most teachers find the task useful, rewarding and easy to mark. Nonetheless, there seems to be a disconnect between comments on IA reports and the final moderated mark. And the fact that there are no remarks for IAs makes this even more frustrating.
The subject report is now available and there are few surprises in it. Unfortunately, there is little insight either. Most teachers would agree, for example, that students need to work on their essay-writing techniques. However, the poor responses – and low scores – on Paper 2 need to be addressed more concretely – how are we failing our students? How can the same students who receve 42/60 on Paper 3 – the HL paper – receive 20/40 on an exam sat by HL and SL students alike? Teachers are confused by both expecations from the syllabus (eg, it does not specify that 2 right-wing leaders must be covered) and the types of questions asked. We constantly tell students that writing an IA or EE on the rise of Hitler is too broad yet they are asked to write an essay in 45 minutes on the same subject.

These frustrations with the assessment color what are otherwise positive comments about the IB curriculum. Most teachers enjoy the depth and choice that the history syllabus affords and do not want to give up teaching it despite conflicts with state and provincial standards.

So – where do we go from here? We have a syllabus that satisfies most and an assessment system that does not. We still have to prepare our students for these exams so we go back to the basics. Essay writing. Research. Historical inquiry.

Any advice?

  • sangeeta gupta
    October 17, 2011


    i think paper 2 is very ambitious. Two topics is all right but the topics covered under each is very vast. for example : This year Falkland war was conbimed with Iraq war .The causes of First/Second world war are to be discussed and analysed too much in detail.The course companion to IB/ Nature of Warfare/origins of world war by AJP Taylor is also not enough to cover the syllabus. the questions can be asked in any form and the students are suppose to collate,synthesize and reproduce the answer with analysis and better with Historu=ians point of views.Similar experiemce is in effects and practices and Topic B.Can the teacher herself/himself answer the question in the same time.
    honestly i donot get enough time for much discussion , research and debate, which is the very spirit of IB.
    Also the marking scheme does not provide much guidance. It does not help the students to prepare themselves.

  • Harvey Cornish
    October 19, 2011

    Dear all,

    My concern is about the marking of paper 3. Looking carefully at the markscheme for this paper in the 2010 Guide shows that, if marked strictly, quite a high level of historical content that is relevant to the question is necessary to get to the 9-11 markband. Also, to get to this range, essays must be structured chronologically or thematically and synthesis must be present. This to me seems to be asking a lot! If one of those elements is missing I can see many examiners awarding 7 or 8 to an essay that shows good understanding of the question, supported with relelvant in-depth evidence – this does not seem right. I asked for marked scripts to be returned to me and on several occassions I had my best students writing what I thought were analytical in-depth answers and yet they were awarded 7/20.

    I agree with the reply above about paper 2 being very broad but I think in the past examiners were more understanding of the time constraints and marked more generously.

    I have been teaching IB history for 20 years and in my opinion the external examiners are marking more harshly in all areas, including the IA. As the IB expanded have they had more difficulty recruiting suitable examiners? I wonder how many examiners are experienced IB teachers?

    What do others think?

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