…but were afraid to ask and/or simply haven’t been told. People, we are talking about 20% of your total IB grade in economics here. It would seem to me that your opportunity costs are quite negligible in putting in a few hours in writing good Internal Assessment (IA) commentaries.

No, this is not a “To-do” list. Nor is it the “Complete and Unabridged Guide to Getting an IA Grade 7”. The former comes from Box-Ticking Administrators and the latter from publishing houses in America. I am a teacher – so this is simply the first of three posts outlining a) the basic requirements for your economics IA portfolio; b) how to fulfil the IA criteria – plus some comments from the examiners on last year’s IA grades; and c) how to find good articles. The latter is perhaps the most difficult and I shall take pains to link to articles on-line to use as examples.

  • What is the IA? During a period of some 16 months in IB economics you are to write three IA commentaries of up to 750 words each. Each commentary must be from a different syllabus section (i.e. Section 1[micro], 2 [macro], 3 [trade] or 4 [development]). Your commentaries are based on news articles that have been published in printed media and the portfolio (= all three commentaries) is graded by your teacher and externally moderated by IB examiners.
  • When are the commentaries due? Any time up to the final deadline set by your teacher. All articles must be no more than 12 months old at the time of writing.
  • How does one go about it? Find an appropriate article and use economic terminology to explain and analyse the content. More in coming blogs.
  • Which sources should be used? Any source that has a publication date is suitable – this includes on-line sources such as www.nytimes.com and www.dn.se. (Yes, you are allowed to use articles in another language than English but you must provide a translation for the entire article.) All three commentaries must come from different sources.
  • Other questions? Ask your teacher to provide you with the complete IB Economics guide! This is pretty much obligatory in my book – you should know the rules/regulations and your teacher has the responsibility to make them accessible for you. I also urge you to demand past IA scripts (with names blotted out) of high quality in that you understand what to aim for.

Don’t blow this out of proportion; it’s not rocket surgery. In your economic “toolbox” at this point, you should find basic micro theory such as supply and demand; elasticities; indirect expenditure taxes; market intervention (minimum and maximum prices); and perhaps various forms of market failure. Now you are in search of something to which you can apply these tools…so, get on the keyboard and do a search containing an adequate search string.

For example, there has been a lot of debate about the fact that the latest WTO round (the “Doha Round”) has basically stranded due to massive resistance in many OECD countries for the lowering of subsidies. Try “WTO + subsidies + OECD + Doha Round” and see what you get. Note that it is often very difficult to find an article that deals solely with a certain section of the syllabus!

A few initial hints and tips

  • Read the rules and IA marking criteria found in the IB Economics guide provided by your teacher.
  • Your commentary should apply your economic knowledge learnt during the course to the real-world example discussed in the article. Go for analytical depth rather than trying to cover everything in the article.
  • Don’t take the first article that you find, read it and read it again. Jot down the theory and diagrams you think would be appropriate, if these ideas jump straight out at you will be along the right lines.
  • Short articles are often the best. Long in-depth articles can prove problematic in terms of picking the most appropriate theory.
  • Complex journal articles or specialist magazine articles are to be avoided; sometimes the analysis required for an effective commentary is beyond the scope of the syllabus. It is also the case that the article has already done an in-depth analysis – for example, the Economist basically does most of the evaluation already – you get zero marks for regurgitating the work of others.
  • Read the rules and IA marking criteria found in the IB Economics guide provided by your teacher.
  • Don’t simply summarize the article; use it as a trigger to explore the content using economic theory that you think is appropriate. Again, go for more theoretical depth.
  • Use diagrams wherever possible and make your diagrams applicable to the media article in question i.e. use the price of tea/quantity demanded of tea if looking at an article on tea prices!
  • Standardize your pieces. Make sure the presentation of your three commentaries is formatted in the same way.
  • Use the commentary cover sheets and the summary portfolio coversheet provided by your teacher.
  • Read the rules and IA marking criteria found in the IB Economics guide provided by your teacher.

Did I mention that you should read the rules and IB marking criteria? I should have.

As for methodology in terms of handing-in and getting feedback, that is left to your school, IB coordinator and teacher. I have written about this in the Teacher Blog for Economics here on the OSC website.

I’ll pick up the thread next time with the issue of how to meet the criteria and get your marks. Note that in using examples, I will take great care to use articles that are older than two years in order to avoid them being “re-written” and submitted to your teachers.

……………………………………………………………………….Example below……………………………………………………………………….

Commentary Coversheet

Economics commentary number 1/3

Candidate name & number: Jim Henson, nr 0369-003

School code: 0369

Title of extract: “Big Bird on the FBI’s most wanted list – interest rates soar”

Source of extract: Financial Times

Date of extract: 11.Aug.’13.

Word count: 710 words

Hand-in date: 12.Nov.’13

Syllabus sections relating to commentary: Sections 3.2 & 3.3

Guided coursework no 1/3 Economics

Extract (entire article)


(This is a translation of the article – applicable only if the extract is in another language but English. This is a word-for-word translation.)

Here are a few additional avuncular titbits I have slapped previous pupils in the face with over the years upon returning their scripts:

1. Take care in writing good/correct titles to your diagrams.

2. Use the method “1/2” or “1(2)” when numbering your pages. Remember, I send your scripts off to be externally moderated and we want to make things easy for them!

3. Make sure that your diagrams are neat, numbered and well referred to in the text and not simply left hanging. This makes it easier to refer to them in the text.

4. Have someone check all the formalia – it is very easy to become “blind”.

5. Underline, frame or in some way highlight the passages in the article which you are using in your commentary – number these passages so you can refer to them if necessary.

6. Do NOT use information or figures from any other source than the article being dealt with

7. NEVER INVENT NEW EXCITING DIAGRAMS! It has NEVER worked and all that happens is that I pour red ink all over your iteration. There is virtually 100% correlation between the weakness of a students capabilities in economics and the propensity to be really clever and inventive in diagrams. The halls of learning are littered with the bleached bone of such space cadets. Use only diagrams we go through in class and you will be safe.


9. Save all the copies that I hand back to you drenched in blood red ink. Put them neatly in a binder and be prepared to re-submit them upon demand.

10 Use the IB list of criteria as a check-list before running off to the copying machine and you will do fine.

* “Red” is defined as “red”, “pink”, “purple”, “mauve”, “orange”….basically anything resembling red.