The new Internal Assessment (IA) should be starting soon and if students are to ultimately produce something that will help them get a good grade, care is needed!

OK – the new IA is not ‘Wicked’, but it is REALLY important. And so, this blog is fully aimed at those students in the first year of the HL and SL Physics course.  It will have no meaning at all for those at the end of their course. The course changed from last September and the new version has a radically different form for its IA.  All students must complete ONE piece of work and this is assessed under various criteria to produce the coursework marks (out of 24).  That’s it – officially ‘one shot’, so get it right.

There are a variety of different forms that the IA can take but the problem with most of them is that your lessons do not prepare you for them.  The only one that links beautifully for most students is the IA that is based on a piece of experimental research.  And honestly, unless your school does not like practical work, this is the most interesting one to do (for most people).

The idea is to find something that you are interested in and research it, a little like an Extended Essay (EE).  I should point out that the IB are desperate to not call the IA a mini-EE, however the truth is that it looks very much like a mini-EE.  On the assumption that your teacher knows how to guide (or supervise) you through such a piece of work, one of your main challenges will be to get good Personal Engagement (PE) marks.  This is where your report (which can be no more than 12 pages, including figures, graphs, etc) explains why you are particularly interested in the work you carried out.

The PE marks are quite small (only up to 2 marks are available), but they are not necessarily easy to get.  If your teacher simply tells you what to do, then there is no personal engagement from you at all, and when you try to explain this, it will come over as false and your marks may well suffer.  What I suggest you do to help the process, is think about the things that interest you. For example:

  • Is there some aspect of science (physics) or technology that you are particularly interested in?
  • Are you interested in a career that is in any way scientific or technical?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • Do you play any instruments?

The above questions can form the basis of your personal engagement.  Think about them because they may well lead you to some practical idea for your possible research.  Also, if nothing is happening in your mind, then search for the “BBC In Our Times Archive”. This will give you a long list of the titles for the programme called In Our Times.  In scanning through them, think about the above questions and look for an episode that might interest you.  Then go to the web and listen to it – make a spider diagram of the ideas and think about it.  They are only about 40 minutes in duration but are FULL of lots of really interesting ideas.  In commenting on some of the ideas, you should easily be able to explain your personal engagement.  If all else fails, the two big issues that everyone should have a personal engagement in is something that allows you to save the world (energy conservation, recycling, etc) or something that helps with personal health (sport, etc).

Please do not shy away from this – it is a small amount of preparation for something that could give you some good marks before you actually go into the exam next year.  Getting this right now, will make next year a smoother process and you may find you actually enjoy the work!