Writing samples: Cognitive

The following section includes annotated samples of responses to exam questions - as well as strategies for answering questions based on the command terms. The responses are not from the IB.  They are based on work done in-class by students, or they are created specifically for the site. Often the sample is designed to provide examples of common mistakes or in order to show something that should be done for higher marks. 

There is no definitive list of questions for this curriculum - so the list of potential questions below is not exhaustive.  However, I do believe that most of the questions will fall within the list that has been provided below. The questions are grouped by topic and include both SAQ and ERQ (essay) questions.

For the ERQ responses, students will need to include two or more pieces of research. In most cases, a single example will be asked for the SAQ questions.

Potential exam questions: Generic


  1. Explain the use of one research method in one study in the cognitive approach.
  2. Explain one ethical consideration relevant to one study using a cognitive approach to understanding behaviour.

* It is unclear in the new curriculum whether the questions on ethics and methods will be asked on the "approaches" level or the "topic" level.  This list assumes that they will be asked on the approach level.


  1. Discuss the use of one or more research methods using the cognitive approach to understand human  behaviour.
  2. Discuss ethical considerations relevant to using a cognitive approach to studying human behaviour.

Potential exam questions: Cognitive processes


  • Explain one study related to schema theory.
  • Explain one model of memory.
  • Explain one study that supports one model of memory.
  • Explain one study of thinking and decision making.
  • Explain one theory of thinking and decision making.


Each of the questions above may be asked using the command terms discuss, evaluate, contrast or "to what extent" as appropriate.

  • Evaluate Schema theory.
  • Evaluate one model of memory.
  • Contrast two models of memory.
  • Discuss one theory of thinking and decision making.

Potential exam questions: Reliability of cognitive processes


  • Explain one study of reconstructive memory.
  • Explain one study of one cognitive bias.
  • Explain one cognitive bias, making use of one study.


Each of the questions above may be asked using the command terms discuss, evaluate, contrast or "to what extent" as appropriate.

  • To what extent is one cognitive process reliable?
  • Evaluate research on reconstructive memory.
  • Discuss research on cognitive biases.

Potential exam questions: Emotion and cognition


  • Explain one theory of how emotion may affect one cognitive process, using one study.


Each of the questions above may be asked using the command terms discuss, evaluate, contrast or "to what extent" as appropriate.

  • Evaluate one theory of how emotion may affect one cognitive process.

Potential exam questions: Cognitive processing in the digital world (HL only)

ERQS only

Each of the questions above may be asked using the command terms discuss, evaluate, contrast or "to what extent" as appropriate.

  • Evaluate research on the influence of digital technology on cognitive processing.
  • To what extent is modern technology having a positive effect on cognitive processes?
  • To what extent is modern technology having a negative effect on cognitive processes?
  • Discuss research methods used to study the interaction between digital technology and cognitive processes.
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Comments 17

Natalie Denton 12 February 2018 - 19:52

Hi John. May I ask - can Schema Theory and Reconstructive Theory be classed as models of memory? Or is it just MSM, WMM an LOP? Thank you.

John Crane 13 February 2018 - 04:55

Dear Natalie,

I don't see schema theory and reconstructive memory as separate theories. Schema are the building blocks that explain reconstructive memory. Schema theory may be used as a model of memory.

Ghuson Mahammed 28 March 2018 - 09:17

Dear John

I was wondering, for essay why is it so specific to ONE. So does that mean students will cover one research in an essay and not minimum 3?

John Crane 29 March 2018 - 08:04

Dear Ghuson

The IB often specifies that they want students to write about one research method in depth, rather than do a survey of research methods. Students would then have to have two ore more studies in order to explain the method (or whatever else was limited to "one.")

Sarah Leonardis 9 April 2018 - 12:04

Dear John

Can this question be asked like this? Evaluate research on reconstructive memory. I thought that the Research Method and Ethics questions could not be asked below the Topic Level. Thanks

John Crane 9 April 2018 - 13:54

Dear Sarah

Yes, it can. The question does not ask about evaluating research methods - but it is one of the only logical ways to ask the question, since they will only have the words "Reconstructive Memory" to build a question. They cannot ask us to "Evaluate reconstructive memory" or even "evaluate the theory of reconstructive memory." This is the most likely way that the question would be asked.

Paul Wright 21 May 2018 - 04:25

Hi John,

Wondering if this is a legitimate question. I know that you have mentioned that the specimen paper contains errors but not sure if this is a question with an error:

"To what extent do findings from two or more psychological studies related to schema
theory support the understanding of memory processes?"

The concern is the use of TWO in the guide there is not a mention of having to know two studies, although there is reference to "...Multiple studies have indicated that
schemas influence memory..."

Am I to understand that I have to cover more than one study? Also what has slightly confused me is that for Criterion C: Use of research to support the answer, it is mentioned that one piece of research that makes the points relevant to the answer is better than several ...

This to me would suggest that only one piece of research would be adequate to answer an ERQ.

I would like to know your thoughts

Thank you

John Crane 22 May 2018 - 05:11

Dear Paul

Yes, for an essay a minimum of two pieces of research are necessary to get mid or high marks. The comment in the guide is ambiguous. The meaning is that, for example, explaining HM well is enough and better than describing both HM and Clive Wearing. There is really no conceptual difference between the two examples. So, in the question above, two studies that show something different about schema theory.

I cannot see a "to what extent" question for this question as it would be difficult to demonstrate counter-arguments. It is more likely to be "Evaluate research" or "Discuss research"

Bhavna Chopra 18 July 2018 - 09:41

Hi John

What I understand from reading on the your information about the use of research methods and ethical considerations is that it will be only for the 3 approaches, however in the subject guide it states "that contributions of methods and ethics are relevant to all topics.
Kindly clarify

John Crane 22 July 2018 - 18:43

Dear Bhavna

We are still waiting for clarification on this from the IB. It may be asked on the topic level, but this should not be difficult for students in most cases. I think that the reason why teachers are unhappy with this is, for example, in the sociocultural approach. What is the difference between the three topics. Is there a difference between the "individual and the group" and "cultural" (and there are two rather similar versions of the cultural topic.). This is where we are worried about what IB will expect, and why it would make more sense to use the approach level. I hope that we will start to get more clarifications soon as a new person has been appointed to be in charge of the curriculum. Fingers crossed.

Bhavna Chopra 25 July 2018 - 08:09

Thank you John

RWA Psychology1 6 August 2018 - 17:02

Dear John,

For the possible ERQ "Discuss one theory of thinking and decision making", can we use the heuristics theory?
If so, can we stick to one bias only? - for example, the anchoring bias, supported by Tversky & Kahnemann and Englich & Mussweiler.

Marie Umerkajeff 24 September 2018 - 09:10

Hi John, thank you for these potential exam questions, helps us all a lot this first year.

I just noticed that on 'Cognitive processing in the digital world' (HL only) have fallen out.

John Crane 24 September 2018 - 13:55

Dear RWA

That is a good question. There is no such theory as "heuristic theory," but heuristics are part of type 2 thinking in the Dual Processing Model. I would have the students describe the model and then use heuristics as the example.

John Crane 24 September 2018 - 13:56

Dear Marie

I am not clear what you mean by they have fallen out.

Marie Umerkajeff 25 September 2018 - 06:28

On biological and sociocultural it says (HL only) just for clarification but on cognitive it does not

John Crane 26 September 2018 - 09:03

Ah, got it. Fixed.