EE Criterion C. Critical thinking

Criterion C in the new Extended Essay curriculum focuses on three strands: application of research, analysis, discussion and evaluation.  This criterion is worth 12 marks.

There are two "levels of focus" for this criterion.  Firstly, the analysis of individual studies used to develop an argument.  Secondly, there is the broader discussion of the research question.  In addition, this criterion is about how the research was applied to demonstrate different perspectives/approaches in the field of psychology.  Finally, this criterion looks at the conclusions that are drawn both within and at the end of the essay.

Assessment strands

Under criterion C, students are assessed on the following three strands:

  • The application of research.
  • Analysis: primarily focused on the research used.
  • Discussion/evaluation: primarily focused on the argument made.

In the next sections, these three strands will be explained in more detail.

Application of research

The performance indicator for a top mark for this strand is: The research is appropriate to the research question and its application is consistently relevant.

This criterion is not about the selection (criterion A) or the description (criterion B), but the actual use of research to make an argument.  The use of research should show the reader the complex nature of the research question and the areas of inquiry that exist in the field of psychology. Research should demonstrate different perspectives or approaches to answering the research question.


The performance indicators for a top mark for this strand are:

  • The research is analysed effectively and clearly focused on the research question; the inclusion of less relevant research does not significantly detract from the quality of the overall analysis.
  • Conclusions to individual points of analysis are effectively supported by the evidence.

The idea that research is "analysed" is that it is explicitly linked to the research question - that is, it is not up to the reader to understand the importance of the research in the argument, but the significance of the research is clearly explained by the student.

The use of the word "conclusions" means two things in the rubric.  First, conclusions that can be drawn from the use of a single piece of research or theory with regard to the research question.  These are assessed under "analysis."  Secondly, the formal conclusions of the paper that are assessed under "discussion/evaluation."


The performance indicators for a top mark for this strand are:

  • An effective and focused reasoned argument is developed from the research with a conclusion reflective of the evidence presented.
  • This reasoned argument is well structured and coherent; any minor inconsistencies do not hinder the strength of the overall argument or the final or summative conclusion.
  • The research has been critically evaluated.

The essay should include a clear discussion of underlying patterns and causes of a psychological nature with regard to the research question. The argument should demonstrate critical thinking throughout the essay, and not simply in a "discussion" section of the essay. Students should evaluate evidence at the point at which it is introduced, rather than in a separate add-on section.

There are many ways to demonstrate critical thinking in the psychology EE. It is not only about evaluating research by noting methodological, ethic, gender or cultural considerations.  In fact, some of these strategies may not be relevant.  The ethics of an individual study are very often not highly relevant to the bigger question being addressed.  Some of the strategies for evaluation that may be used include:

  • Issues of validity (e.g. predictive validity, construct validity)
  • Sampling issues (e.g. use of animals, cohort effects)
  • Problems with retrospective research (e.g. memory distortion)
  • Methodological issues (e.g. bidirectional ambiguity, reliability)

The word "discussion" asks students to apply critical thinking in a more holistic discussion of the research question.  This could be an evaluation of the different perspectives on the question, difficulties in studying the topic (e.g. issues of measurement) or an analysis of the assumptions upon which arguments are based.

Finally, in the discussion, students must take a clear position.  A conclusion that says, "So, there is no clear answer" is not appropriate. Students should explain which of the arguments presented is the most convincing and why. In addition, there should be no new evidence in the conclusion. However, the conclusion should make note of unresolved questions and/or further areas of inquiry which emerged during the research process.

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