It bears repeating that I am in no way an “official” for the IB in terms of IA but simply a teacher with a few years of experience dealing with this subject. The following is my way of going through the IA grade criteria with my students in order for them to achieve the highest possible grades with minimal intervention in terms of telling them what to do or how to do it. All teachers skirt the fine line of what is allowed in terms of helping students!

It bears repeating that I am in no way an “official” for the IB in terms of IA but simply a teacher with a few years of experience dealing with this subject. The following is my way of going through the IA grade criteria with my students in order for them to achieve the highest possible grades with minimal intervention in terms of telling them what to do or how to do it. All teachers skirt the fine line of what is allowed in terms of helping students!

Perhaps the first thing I try to get across is the basic rationale for the IA – i.e. that this is indeed a form of examination! Well I remember one of my more lucid and eloquent colleagues’ comment when I was doing a rather facetious economic analysis of why there is actually a deadweight loss in giving Christmas presents: “You can put a hat on a pig but it doesn’t necessarily fit.” Yes indeed, one can use economic terms for most anything but that doesn’t always mean the terms are well used, applied appropriately and render any form of useful conclusion. The IA is a most valuable tool to get students to use, apply and subsequently draw conclusions from the wide range of economic terms and concepts available. Thus, I would urge students to put in some real effort into the IA component as it will stand you in very good stead during exam questions asking you to evaluate.

There are five criteria for each IA script and an additional criterion for the portfolio as a whole. Here is a brief rundown on each criterion with a few comments from myself and the May 2013 subject report.

Criterion A: Diagrams (3 marks)

The aim is for you to use relevant, complete and well referred-to diagrams in your analysis. For example, using a supply and demand diagram for aggregate labour is incorrect (should be aggregate supply and demand for labour)…as is the mistake of using “Q” instead of “Y” on an AS-AD diagram. Then, for the diagrams to be useful, you need to comment on them – not refer to them. If you are referring to a passage in an article stating that “…falling global demand is causing unemployment to rise in the export sector…” you might use a labour market diagram where the aggregate supply for labour (ASL) shifts. You should link clearly to this diagram and a) refer to the increase in unemployment; b) point to the diagram in your text “…unemployment rises from FE↔ U* to U1 ↔ U*…” and b) EXPLAIN how this would be termed “…an increase in the cyclical component of unemployment caused by global recession…”

It bears stating that only really stupid/lazy students will copy a diagram from a source. This is borderline cheating and you also run the risk of having a diagram with “P ($/pack)” on the P-axis when your article and your commentary is dealing with oil…so spot the flaw! Draw your own tailor-made diagrams.

IB report comments: Most candidates included relevant diagrams but these were not always explained well. Too many simply copied generic graphs from textbooks or internet sources without making them specific to the commentary. It is preferable that candidates create their own graphs, either by hand or using computer skills. If candidates have copied graphs they must give the source. Please note that the criterion descriptor assesses whether the candidate “is able to construct and use diagrams” so copy/paste diagrams will not achieve maximum marks. Candidates should avoid very lengthy descriptions of graphs, especially where these are generic graphs which have been copied. Many candidates made reference to colours on their graphs but then sent portfolios printed in black and white.

Criterion B: Terminology

How hard can it really be?! The demand is for you to use economic terms. Do not use “…this is clearly bad…” but “…hence, this is sub-optimal in terms of…” Yes, always follow through and BE SPECIFIC when you use economic terms! Do not “name drop” but USE. Following through with unemployment used above; “…as exports are a key component of AD for small economies heavily reliant on global markets, export demand is strongly derived from the growth rate (increase in real GDP per time period) of other economies and thus when large importing nations enter recession (negative real GDP growth for two or more consecutive quarters)…” Define only the key terms associated with article content – it is simply impossible and quite irritatingly trivial to define every single economic term. One must be able to assume some basic terms to be understood by the reader.

IB report comments: Terminology needs to be used appropriately, but this does not mean every term must be defined. Terms like “price elasticity of demand” could be briefly explained with a comment such as “which measures how responsive the quantity demand is to a change in price.” If precise definitions are copied they must be in quotation marks and a source given. They must not be in footnotes or they will be ignored. This criterion implies that the candidate displays understanding of the terms used. Most candidates scored well here.

Criterion C: Application

This criterion is virtually an extension of Criterion B. Simply put; not only must you use the correct terms…you must use terms correctly. There is a difference between doing the right things and doing things right! I choose my example of labour markets above on purpose because there is a common error in writing about macro issues where students use “supply of labour” for an entire economy. This is incorrect application of economic terminology since the entire economy is the aggregate – hence, the correct term and diagram would deal with the aggregate supply/demand for labour. Another example (continuing with unemployment and cyclicality) would be when you both explain cyclical unemployment, illustrate it correctly…but the article in fact brings up the fact that unemployment in an export industry is largely the effect of high (relative) wages caused by unionism and strict labour laws – in which case the likely cause of this disequilibrium unemployment is that real wages are too high.

IB report comments: This criterion tests whether the candidate has recognized the appropriate economic issues from the chosen article. It is important to make links to the article, and not simply present some economic theory that is faintly relevant. Some candidates made very little reference to the articles, and a few did not understand the articles. A common fault was to choose articles that were far too complex or dealt with issues not in the IB syllabus. Most candidates recognized the appropriate economic issues and scored well.

Criterion D: Analysis

This measure your ability to “…break it down and build it up…” so to speak. Break down the key content you are looking at in the article (why unemployment has risen), apply economic terms/concepts/models, explain the parts and build a whole. Basically you are using economic terminology to sketch a portrait of what is happening. An article dealing with the causes of unemployment mean you a) define clearly what the article brings up (“…unemployment rising in export industries…”); b) give a theoretical rendition of the causes (“…labour legislation and high relative wages…”); and c) explain clearly the effects of legislation on rising unemployment and possibly comment on possible solutions. A very common mistake if for students to use a few words or terms in an article to spin-off into a lengthy textbook regurgitate that explains structural unemployment without linking to the article content. Your analysis must link clearly to what the article brings up.

IB report comments: This criterion deals with explaining and developing economic theories linked to the article. It is important that the commentary makes repeated references to the article and integrates the theory and practice. An example might be discussing whether unemployment in Spain is cyclical or structural and then using that to propose suitable policies. A common fault was to simply summarize some economic theory without clearly linking to the article. The descriptors for levels 2 and 3 distinguish between “appropriate” and “effective” analysis; many commentaries were considered “appropriate” as the analysis was not developed enough.

Criterion E: Evaluation

This is tricky, no doubt about it. Most students will not clearly understand the difference between “analysis” and “evaluation”. Think of the former as a way of breaking down the article into bite-sized pieces that can be dealt with in economic terminology. Then you have to savour the bites…and evaluate the taste…and then suggest improvements…or alternative ways of cooking it…or being blunt and saying “…this is not salmon – it’s trout!”

You are to build on the terms/concepts you have used in your analysis to dig in a heel and take a stance. It’s easier with a few made-up examples building on the previous fictitious unemployment article: “…in fact, it is highly unlikely that this industry, which accounts for less than 0.2% of exports, will have any real impact on total unemployment figures…”; “…on the other hand, reducing minimum wage across the board will have severe demand-side effects as real disposable incomes fall…”; “…however, according to the Keynesian view of disequilibrium unemployment…”; “…in reality, we have often seen that a decrease in minimum wage has little to no effect on the aggregate…”; “…looking at the long run issues, clearly there will be negative consequences for total tax revenues…”.

Note how I always use some form of “catalyst” in evaluation, such as “however” or “on the other hand”. This is just a simple trick to force me into a mode of thinking that ultimately leads me to an evaluative statement. It should be repeated: your evaluation must be squarely centred on what you have analysed and not bring up a line of reasoning you have not dealt with in your commentary.

IB report comments: A key issue here was whether the candidate “synthesizes his or her analysis.” If candidates have simply paraphrased an article that has already done the analysis and evaluation of an issue it is not possible to get the top levels on this criterion as the evaluation is not of the candidate’s own analysis. Many simply explained an article, generally agreeing with the author. Too many candidates gave opinions that were not backed up by appropriate economic reasoning. It is not possible to reach the top level unless the candidate considers counter-arguments, and discusses advantages and disadvantages of a policy.

Criterion F: Rubric requirements

Read the instructions. Follow them. Naught else need be said.

IB report comments: It is important to carefully follow the rubric requirements. Many candidates lost a mark under criterion F because they did not provide a summary portfolio sheet with details of the sources, syllabus sections, the date commentaries were written and word counts. The descriptor about “different and appropriate sources” was designed to avoid candidates choosing excerpts from books, tutorial guides, government reports or personal blogs. A number of online media now include opinion columns which are technically “blogs” but these are acceptable if they are in a recognized news media source.