Subtle changes, significant consequences

At first glance the new programme guide for Business Management contained no major changes. There was a name change with the ‘and’ removed, and there were reductions in SL content, particularly in operations management. Other aspects seemed very familiar: the tasks for HLIA and SLIA remained the same. There were some relatively minor changes to the assessment criteria, making the selection of the appropriate mark easier to understand. The external assessment still lay in two papers; one based on a pre-seen case study and the other predominantly on stimulus response. However, these subtle tweaks have potentially lulled the senses to some more significant changes, with far-reaching practical implications.

As teachers, intent on ‘getting down to the practical teaching’, I believe it is fair to say that our focus is normally on the syllabus and the assessment tools. I will admit myself to paying much less attention to the ‘surrounding’ content, such as general aims and objectives and the background of the course, than to the syllabus and assessment. However, on this occasion and with this new guide, I think this is a potentially risky approach. Having run a number of workshops on the new guide, I think it is concerning that the impact of the changes is still unrecognised in some quarters, with only a few months to the first examinations on the new course.

Contained on pages 4 to 18 of the ‘new’ guide (first assessment 2016) are substantial issues covering:

  • The nature of the subject
  • Conceptually focused teaching
  • Approaches to teaching and learning of business management and the three C framework
  • Links with TOK
  • Assessment objectives

The Three C framework

Of all of these, the three Cs of context, concepts and content is the most important. It is worrying if some students may be unaware that in May, Paper 2, Section C will contain three evaluation ‘essays’, asking them to link 2 of the 6 business concepts (CUEGIS – Change, Culture, Ethics, Globalization, Innovation and Strategy) and then to use these concepts to evaluate a functional aspect of an organisation they have investigated. The specimen papers include three examples:

  1. With reference to one or two organization(s) that you have studied, discuss how marketing strategies may differ in two cultures that you are familiar with. [20 marks]
  2. With reference to one organization that you have studied, examine what changes globalization brings about in the management of human resources. [20 marks]
  3. With reference to one organization that you have studied, compare and contrast the importance of innovation and of ethics in product development. [20 marks]

Students will require a significant portfolio on at least one organisation, and probably several organisations, over a substantial period to ensure they have enough materials to answer these types of questions. The combination of two concepts related to a specific function, results in a large number of potential combinations. In practice, the key case studies (context) are likely to be multinational corporations, since students will be able to find the information they require in the public domain.

Page 12 of the guide offers some examples of content from across the syllabus that allows for the exploration of the specific concepts.

peas changes

Image source: Pixabay

Assessment objectives

It is extremely important that students understand assessment objectives and the linked command terms in examinations, as these indicate not only the depth and breadth of questions, but their requirements.

The old guide used to have ‘learning outcomes’ for each piece of content. This was helpful for showing the type of question that could be asked in examinations. The new programme guide has replaced these with assessment objectives. However, the assessment objectives in the new guide are different to the old guide, as AO2 and AO3 have been conflated and AO4 is a new classification that contains command terms related to subject-specific skills, such as ‘construct, calculate and draw’. No learning outcomes are included.

Old guide AOs

AO1: knowledge and understanding

AO2: application of knowledge

AO3: analysis

AO4: syntheses and evaluation

New Guide AOs

AO1: knowledge and understanding

AO2: application and analysis

AO3: synthesis and evaluation

AO4: subject skills

Page 20 and 21 of the new guide has the assessment objectives groups and the related command terms, with depth indicated in the final column. Page 92 of the guide has a glossary of command terms.

When IB examiners set papers they must follow ‘a map’ of AOs for each section of paper and paper 2. This is designed for two main purposes:

  • To ensure that papers have the same difficulty level from year to year and session to session
  • To ensure that where students have a choice of questions, every question is of the same difficulty level

Therefore, the first papers in May should have exactly the same format, and difficulty level, as the specimen papers. It is clear that not all teachers understand the importance of command terms and AOs, and this will impact on their students’ preparation for the examinations. For example, teachers will upload their own ‘mock papers’, for say the case study paper 1, to the OCC Business Management forum, but not get the command terms or difficulty levels correct for questions and sections.

An AO activity

Download the specimen papers from the OCC. For every question, identify the AO level for each part and prepare your own examination AO map – this should not take more than 15 – 20 minutes. You can then use this when you set your own test or mocks, and when preparing revision. For example:

Specimen Paper HL Paper 1, Section A:

HL paper 1, section A, Q1:

1 (a) Define the following terms: (i) product life cycle etc.

1 (b) Apply the Boston Consulting Group etc., So…

Q1a:  Command term: Define AO1

Q1b:  Command term: Apply AO2


If you do the same for the rest of section A, the command terms and AOs are as follows:

Q2a:  Command term: Describe AO1

Q2b:  Command term: Analyse AO2


Q3a:  Command term: Describe AO1

Q3b:  Command term: Construct AO4


Q4a:  Command term: Identify AO4

Q4b:  Command term: Analyse AO2

As this is a choice section, each of the 4 questions should be of the same difficulty level. The only problem that this throws up, is that AO4 is used instead of an AO1 term in one question and instead of an AO2 question in another. It may have been better not to have used ‘identify’ in part 4(a) when ‘state’ or ‘describe’ would have done better as an AO1 command term ( I think identify should be used for things like break-even – ‘identify the break-even output’ for example – a subject-specific skill). Clearly, ‘construct’ is a higher difficulty level than ‘identify’ in the specimen and is an AO2 skill level.

Once you have done this for both HL and SL papers 1 and 2, these AO levels (and associated command terms) should be the same as those in May 2016 – you will have mapped the AOs across each paper and section. Now, if you write your own mock, you can ensure that the difficulty level and command term is consistent with the specimen papers.

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