The Internal Assessment (IA) is a coursework component that every IB student has to do. Making up 20-30% of the final IB grade, the IA is extremely challenging for many students.

From our experience guiding students through the years, we identified five most common problems IB students face in their IA.

1. Poorly framed IA research question

The research question is the cornerstone of the research. It sets the research direction and guides students to formulate relevant textbook concepts, data collation methodology, and structure of their research process.

Writing a research question may look like an easy task, but it is deceptively difficult. Often, most students make the mistake of writing an IA research question that is either too broad or too narrow.

We call this poor question framing. The framing of a question is an important task for any research paper as it sets the parameter and boundaries of the research.

If the research question is framed too broadly, the research loses focus. Every concept that was taught on the subject appears relevant to the discussion and students struggle to determine what to include into their final paper.

Conversely, if the research question is framed too narrowly, the question becomes too specialised, making it difficult for students to source for literature surrounding their IA research question.

What can you do?

For starters, you can do a feasibility study before settling on a research question. It might be worth looking at relevant academic literature to see how others framed their RQ and conducted relevant research. Consider how those research were conducted and evaluate if your chosen RQ is feasible based on the above.

Besides looking at the available resources, literature and information surrounding the research question, it is important to also consider what type of data you will need to answer your IA research question.

2. Spending too much time agonising over what is relevant for the IA

The next step after forming the research question is the preparation of the first draft.

Most students, when creating this first draft, feel the pressure to make the draft as perfect as possible. So, they agonise over the points they have to include which stalls the first draft process.

Worst of all? By the end of it, students are worn out, discouraged and uninspired.

However, this first draft is not meant to be perfect.

Instead, it is a preliminary work-in-progress for the student’s teacher to vet and check that the student is on the right track. Some key areas teachers will go through during this stage of the IA, is the student’s IA research methodology, process, and key research sources.

What would we advise students?

Try not to be hyper-focused on relevancy in this draft.

Quality can be worked on in later drafts. For now, you want to focus on quantity.

After all, this is a first draft; things don’t have to be 100% here. As you continue to work on your IA, you will have many more opportunities to refine your IA paper.

Instead, we would strongly recommend students to give more focus to the development of the research methodology and process. Together, these two form the backbone of the IA research and are essential for a good IA.

3. Ineffective Structuring of the IA

After formulating an IA research methodology, students often jump straight into writing the IA research paper.

By diving headfirst into writing your paper, students run into the risk of writing a poorly structured IA research paper. These papers are typically characterised with less than ideal logic and topic flow.

As with every assignment, proper structuring is half the battle won.

While raising salient points in your IA and citing highly relevant research is crucial, it is meaningless if your marker does not follow your discussion.

What do we suggest students do?

Before writing the IA, work on a report outline. This outline lays down the report’s key sections and the points that would be discussed in it.

In general, the report’s flow should cover first the research’s methodology, academic content, and lastly the conclusion.

First, students should introduce the research question. Here, background information is provided on the subject and the objective of the research is plainly stated.

In the following section, students should describe the research methodology; how the research is conducted, and the criteria for inclusion and exclusion.

After the research methodology, students will have to state their research findings and discuss its significance to the research question. If there are any limitations to the IA study, students should report it in the following section.

Besides structuring the IA research paper in a manner that flows logically, students should also articulate their discussion and findings in a concise and focused manner.

4. Lacking Personal Engagement

On the topic of structuring the IA, another common mistake IB students commit is consolidating the personal engagement in a single paragraph.

In the IA assessment, the criterion “Personal Engagement” evaluates the extent to which the research question is related to the student.

Students can demonstrate this through the indication of personal significance, interest, and curiosity.

However, instead of incorporating it into the research paper holistically, students tend to clump it together at the start of the IA research.

What should students do instead?

While developing the IA structure, students should find opportunities to weave in their personal connection to the question.

5. Omitting Research Gaps and Limitations

When doing the IA, it is not uncommon for students to realise that the data they have collected has gaps.

This shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, the IA paper is, in essence, a research paper. As research deals with real-world data, data gaps and contradictions are not out of the ordinary.

However, for some students, this may be something they are not used to.

In some schools, there appears to be an enhanced emphasis on model answers. These answers align neatly with the concepts they draw from and do not suffer from data gaps.

Having been part of the school system, some IB students may be swayed to perceive that this is the standard for research too.

The pressure to deliver a research paper without data gaps, contradictions and limitations may cause some students to edit their data to neatly fit their research.

However, we do not recommend this as it will make your research appear too pristine, thus drawing suspicion from the examiner.

What should students do then? 

Examiners are already prepared to see some degree of errors.

We suggest that instead of erasing the existence of the limitations, students should try to explain it and why the data may have contradicted itself.

Admitting that all research will be fraught with some degree of problem is not a reason to be careless with the process and methodology.