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Subject profile

Would you like to gain a better understanding of human behaviour? This is what Psychology is about and via biological, cognitive and sociocultural approaches, students will learn how to study and analyse human behavior and mental processes rigorously. Through knowledge about brain, nervous system, hormones, neurotransmitters, genetics and evolution, students will develop an understanding of biological explanations of human behavior. Through knowledge about cognitive schemas, memory models, emotions, thinking and decision-making, students will develop an understanding of cognitive explanations of human behavior. Finally yet importantly, through knowledge about culture, norms, group processes, stereotypes and social identity, students will develop an understanding of social – and cultural explanations of human behaviour.

The study of behaviour and mental processes requires a multidisciplinary approach and the use of a variety of research methods. Students will learn how to apply methods such as lab experiments, brain imaging technologies, field experiments, case studies, observations, interviews, correlational studies etc., in order to collect data that can help explain human behavior. Critical thinking skills are developed through the psychology course, via evaluation of the theories and studies in relation to validity, reliability and ethical consideration.

Test 1Test 2
Skills and toolkit (ATL)
  • holistic approach to the content
  • critical thinking skills
  • Communication skills
  • Social skills
  • Collaboration

Approaches to behaviour:

  • Biological approach
  • Cognitive approach
  • Sociocultural approach


  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Health psychology
  • Human relationships

Research methodology

Assessments objectives
  • Knowledge and comprehension
  • Application and analysis
  • Synthesis and evaluation
  • Selection and use of skills appropriate to psychology

For more information: link to official IBO document

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The internal assessment in psychology requires the students to plan, conduct and evaluate a simple experiment. This project allows the students to work practically with the subject. It counts for 20% of the final grade for HL students and 25 % of the final grade for SL students.

Students complete their Psychology IA in the first semester of the second year of diploma.

For the IA, students work in groups of 2-4 and design and conduct a simple experiment (one IV, one DV). After conducting the experiment, students must write their reports individually. The IA consists of 4 marked sections:

  • Introduction (0-6 marks)
  • Exploration (0-4 marks)
  • Analysis (0-6 marks)
  • Evaluation (0-6 marks)

The maximum word count is 2200 words and must be strictly adhered to.

Other requirements for the IA are title page, table of contents, appendices, graphs, tables, and works cited page (references). All of these are not included in the final word count.

The teacher marks the IA and IBO examiners moderate the marking of a sample  of IA’s selected by IBO.

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TOK is invaluable for exploring some of the bigger questions relevant to the teaching, learning and practice of psychology. Questions that can be explored include the following; can models and theories be used to understand and predict human behaviour? Does a researcher’s choice of methodology affect the reliability or credibility of research? Is what we know about human behaviour limited by our ethical considerations? Are emotions universal? Are the methods of the natural sciences applicable in the social sciences? There are a variety of ways of gaining knowledge in psychology, including observation and experimentation, inductive and deductive reasoning, and the collection of evidence. Having followed a psychology course, students should be able to reflect critically on the various ways of knowing and on the methods used in the social sciences.

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The psychology written exams

3 hours total          75% of the final mark

Paper 1 (2 hours) (50% of the final grade)

  • Section A: Three short-answer questions (SAQ) on the core approaches to psychology.
  • Section B: One essay from a choice of three on the biological, cognitive and sociocultural approaches to behaviour. 

Paper 2 (1 hour) (25% of the final grade)

  • One question from a choice of three on one option

5 hours total           80% of the Final Mark

Paper 1 (2 hours) (40% of the final grade)

  • Section A: Three short-answer questions (SAQ) on the core approaches to psychology.
  • Section B: One essay from a choice of three on the biological, cognitive and sociocultural approaches to behaviour. One, two or all of the essays will reference the additional HL topics.

 Paper 2 (2 hours) (20% of the final grade)

  • Two questions; one from a choice of three on each of two options.

Paper 3 (1 hour) (20% of the final grade)

  • Three short-answer questions from a list of six static questions on approaches to research

STANDARD LEVEL: 25 % of the final grade

HIGHER LEVEL: 20 % of the final grade

Worked exam examples

IA + marks and comments.

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Psychology IA example with examiner’s marks and comments

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