Most understandably, there was a small delay in the release of the subject report.  With all new assessments, there was much to report on and the examiners responsibly clearly wanted to provide clarity on the expectations of the assessments, and advice for future candidates.  A lot of work goes into these reports, and in IB history, with nearly 50,000 students writing 10 different exams and completing an internal assessment, there are a lot of variables to consider.

(Please note that as of 7 October, the report is on the OCC but not on MyIB.  Please check both sites until the migration is complete.)

In an August post I discussed grade boundaries for individual components, but now we have the holistic view of these marks.  At HL, across all regional options, the composite scores were the same:

  • 1  0-11
  • 2  12-23
  • 3  24-34
  • 4 35-47
  • 5  48-61
  • 6  62-73
  • 7  74-100

Certain trends were noted as arising with the new assessments.

Internal Assessment

With the Internal Assessment, the investigation worked well for students and many felt comfortable with the integration of analytical content and evidence.  Although the assignment’s overall word count increased to 2200, the investigation is a relatively brief section, and the importance of a narrow and focused topic was even more important than in previous years, if that was possible.  Students demonstrated a good understanding of source evaluation, but were still using the old OPVL system in some instances; the need to look at origins, purpose and content when considering values and limitations make the task less formulaic and more organic, with mixed results.

The area where there were struggles was the reflection, which is understandable, as this was new and there were only a handful of exemplars for teachers and students to use.  While this is the student’s reflection, the commentary in the subject report states, “… candidates discussed their personal experiences by for example, explaining the reasons for their interest or stating that the investigation taught them to be more organized.  Such considerations are not relevant to the methods used and challenges faced by historians and must not be part of this section.” (p.4)

As always, teachers are encouraged to include comments that show their rationale for awarding marks.

Paper 1

Not surprisingly, the second question, which differed most from the previous paper 1, proved most difficult for students.  Even though only one source needed to be evaluated, the inclusion of content and the requirement that origins, purpose and content all be included in the values and limitations was difficult for many students.  Well over half of the candidates did the Move to Global War; the second most popular subject was Rights and Protest, with less than a third of the candidates.  Prescribed Subjects 1 (Military Leaders) and 2 (Conquest and its impact) had few takers.

Paper 2

The biggest challenge for candidates (and probably teachers, as well) came in Paper 2, where the number of questions per topic was limited to two, and the questions were deliberately open.  Despite the explanations in the subject guide of what the candidates needed to cover, students struggled with providing appropriate depth in their responses.  The strength of student responses was in structure and organization: most students were successful here.  Students demonstrated understanding of the demands of the question and attempted to use knowledge to support their answers but there were generalizations.  It is clear that teaching students to respond in a detailed and focused manner to an open question is a skill in itself and teachers must take time to show students how this is done.

Paper 3

Here I suggest that you read your own HL option report for the specifics needed to approach the paper most effectively.  However, there were several trends noticed across all of the options.  As with Paper 2, there is a general understanding of the demands of the question and essays of all levels showed evidence of a structured approach and organizational skills.

It was suggested that generalizations are fine as long as they are then substantiated by specific historical evidence.  Also, a clear understanding of all of the bulleted material in a given section is necessary for students to have the opportunity to answer both questions in a section.  Examiners increasingly see candidates drafting solid responses that lack historical specificity; the need for dates and ‘chronological awareness’ (p. 35) are critical but candidates are less and less likely to present these in their arguments.


There are numerous recommendations but four cut across all of the written assessments:

  1. Handwriting: if an examiner cannot read parts of the paper, the student will lose out.  If teachers notice legibility issues, they should address them with the student as soon as possible and impress upon them the need for improvement in in this area.
  2. The importance of practicing timed assessment: time management is critical to student success, and without these opportunities the students are at a disadvantage
  3. Use of past questions and papers: this ensures that the students are preparing for the appropriate type of questions.  This was a challenge for the May 2017 candidates, but with the most recent session, the numbers of sample papers has doubled.
  4. Knowledge and understanding of the command terms: these are clearly laid out in the subject guide and yet candidates struggles with some of them, notably discuss.  It is worth it to spend time on these terms so that students have a clear understanding of what is being asked of them.

This is just a summary of the report; there is detailed information that can help you and your students understand specific questions or tasks and I hope that you will use the report to assist your students.