The May 2014 Subject Reports are out and for IA in economics it basically deja vu all over again. Let me summarise: in the nicest possible manner, the report is basically telling students and teachers to read the instructions.

That’s what I’ve been doing wrong all these years…

I’ve gone through the IA report and picked out the following points applicable to students:

1. Too many schools are using previous rules on the word count. There is NO MINIMUM WORD COUNT! There is only a maximum word count of 750 words and if – as many of my students do – your evaluation is at the end of a, say, 850 word script, it is likely that you will lose most of your marks for criterion ‘E’.

2. Footnotes are to be used to reference sources. This is not where you should write definitions. Put definitions in parentheses.

3. Rubric requirements simply need to be followed to a ‘t’. Don’t get artsy or inventive. Just do exactly what the IB requirements say. Apart from the simple fact that these requirements are absolutes rather than ‘recommendations’, there is a lot to be gained by having neat and uniform portfolios! Imagine an external moderator with 25 or so samples from different schools from around the world: he/she has to readjust to a new format or style for every school. Now imagine him/her having to read through eight different formats and style from the same school! How irritating must that not be, having to spend time finding the name or word count on every portfolio because they are all different?! Some schools lost marks simply because there was no summary portfolio cover sheet. Just fill this in: IA – Sum cover sheet for IA – M15

4. Teacher comments should definitely be included and it’s worth pestering your teacher about this. Your teacher should write comments (on a separate paper – not in the IA commentaries!) for each individual student that is part of the sample sent off for external moderation. It should be made clear why a certain mark has been given.

5. Your diagrams should be created by YOU – not cut and pasted from somewhere. The report notes something teachers have been harping on for a long time: diagrams are often ‘tossed in’ rather than used to support the text. Link the text and article clearly to the diagrams. Use the correct metrics (e.g. ‘USD per tonne’ or ‘Q of tonnes per month’) and whenever possible, use the actual values given in the article.

6. Do not pick overly complex or advanced articles. You should be able to write about daily occurrences/events with the clarity of economic prose. Writing about price discrimination at the cinema is much better than trying to hack your way through quantitative easing and M2 money supply’s inverted relationship with government bond prices.

It bears repeating; the IA is 20% of your grade and you get to put in as much time and effort as you wish. You get to submit a second (final) draft after receiving comments from your teacher. You have loads of templates and other material – both here and on other sites.

How difficult is it, really?