Command Terms

In the IB psychology course, there are two types of command terms.  First, there are the command terms that may be used for short-answer questions (SAQs).  These are limited to describe, explain and outline.  These command terms test your knowledge and ability to apply theories and concepts.

Secondly, there are the command terms that may be used for extended response questions (ERQs) - what most people refer to as essays.  These are limited to: contrast, discuss, evaluate and to what extent.  These command terms assess your ability to think critically and to synthesize the big ideas of psychology.

It is essential to master the meaning of the command terms so that you don't just provide memorized information on the exam, but actually address the demands of the question.  This section of the text will look at the role of command terms in assessment.

Command terms for SAQs

Command term

Explanation in the guide

What it means



Give a detailed account

Tell what you know about the topic in as much detail as possible, using examples.Describe how one hormone may influence one human behaviour.


Give a detailed account including reasons and causes.

Explain why something works. Show understanding of cause and effect relationships.Explain one study of how culture may affect cognition.
OutlineGive a brief account or summary.

Give a brief summary to demonstrate understanding.  Examples are not required unless specified.

Outline one study investigating schema.

Command terms for essays

Command termExplanation in the guideWhat it meansExample

Give an account of the differences between two (or more) items or situations, referring to both (all) of them throughout.

Focus only on differences and refer to these throughout the response.

Contrast two explanations of one disorder.


Offer a considered and balanced review that includes a range of arguments, factors or hypotheses. Conclusions should be presented clearly and supported by appropriate evidence

Present an argument using evidence. Thinking globally! Do not just evaluate research. 

Discuss how the use of digital technology may affect one cognitive process.


Make an appraisal by weighing up the strengths and limitations of something

Strengths and limitations of the research and/or theory must be identified and explained in some detail.

Evaluate one theory related to prosocial behaviour.

To what extent

Consider the merits or otherwise of an argument or concept. Conclusions should be presented clearly and supported by appropriate evidence and sound argument.

Present more than one side of an argument; explain why one side of the argument is stronger than the other.

To what extent do biological factors influence cognitive development?

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Comments 7

Monali Sharma 10 May 2018 - 15:08

Dear John
I am finding it a little difficult to put across the difference between the command terms discuss and evaluate to the kids. We finished the Multi-store model of memory and the question is that how would it be a different if they got a question asking them to discuss or evaluate the model.

Monali Sharma 10 May 2018 - 15:10

Is it that in the command term discuss, they only refer to one aspect- either support the model or negate it through evidence?

John Crane 11 May 2018 - 06:27

Dear Monali

You are correct that on this particular question I do not see a significant difference bertween the two command terms. If they were asked to discuss the model, an evaluation of the model would also be appropriate.

Naomi Resmer 16 May 2018 - 09:04

Dear John,
I noticed that 'comment' is not included here, but is included on the list for AO2. It's not part of Paper 3 for HL.
Where does this command term fit in?
Thank you!

John Crane 17 May 2018 - 05:04

Dear Naomi

We have asked repeatedly and been told it will not be used. Why it is listed in the guide is beyond me.

Daniel Rosen 25 September 2018 - 06:31

Dear John
Have you got a contrast essay example you could share?
Many thanks

John Crane 26 September 2018 - 09:04

Dear Daniel

The only one we have so far is this one: