Assessment: Paper 2

In order to help our students to prepare for the IB exams, it is important that we understand how questions are determined from the curriculum guide.  Below is a short explanation of how this is done and examples are given. 

In the online textbook, there is also a section on SAQs, ERQs and Paper 3 for students to help them to better understand the assessment criteria. 

For illustration, I have chosen the abnormal psychology option.

Paper 2: Format

The focus of Paper 2 is "the options" - that is, abnormal psychology, health psychology, human development and human relationships.

Paper 2 consists only of ERQs.  SL students will be required to answer one ERQ based on the option that they have prepared.  HL students will be required to answer two ERQs - one from each of the options that they have prepared.  In other words, HL students may not do two questions from the same option.

Each option is broken into three "topics".  There will be one question from each topic on the exam.

SL students have one hour to write the full exam. The total marks for Paper 2 is 22 marks.

HL students have two hours to write the full exam.  The total marks for Paper 2 is 44 marks.

Option: Abnormal psychology

In order to discuss the way that questions are asked on the exam, we will use the abnormal psychology option as a model.

It is important to remember that the way that questions are asked on Paper 2 is different from the way that they are asked on Paper 1.

On Paper 2, questions can take two different forms.

  1. Questions may be taken from the content column.
  2. Questions may be a combination of the "topic" and the "guidance".
Factors influencing diagnosis

Normality vs abnormality

Classification systems

Clinical biases in diagnosis

Validity and reliability of diagnosis

The integration of biological,
cognitive, sociocultural
approaches to
understanding behaviour

Approaches to research

Ethical considerations

Etiology of abnormal behaviour

Explanations for disorders

Prevalence rates and disorders

Treatment of disorders

Biological treatments

Psychological treatments

The role of culture in treatment

Assessing the effectiveness of


ERQs use the command terms contrast, discuss, evaluate and to what extent.

Valid ERQs

  1. Discuss normality vs abnormality.
  2. Discuss biological factors that influence diagnosis.
  3. Evaluate one explanation for one disorder.
  4. Contrast two explanations of one disorder.
  5. Evaluate one approach to research in the study of the aetiology of disorders.
  6. Discuss a biological approach to the etiology of one disorder.
  7. Discuss assessing the effectiveness of one treatment.
  8. Discuss ethical considerations in the treatment of disorders.

The following questions may not be asked:

  1. Discuss ethical considerations in classification systems.
  2. Evaluate approaches to research in the study of the role of culture in treatment.

NB:  The specimen papers

The specimen papers have errors in them.  Sadly, the IB has said that they will not reissue them, even though the recognize that there are errors in the paper.  Here is a list of the errors on the Paper 2 specimen papers.

Question 1 may not be asked as Discuss the role of culture in diagnosis.  It may only be asked as "Discuss sociocultural factors that may influence diagnosis."  In the valid question, students could use social class as part of their response.

Question 4 may not be asked as Discuss the influence of poverty/socioeconomic status on cognitive development.  The question may only be asked in terms of "development".  The topic may not be combined with the content.

Question 6 may not be asked as To what extent do biological factors influence cognitive development?  They can only ask to the question in terms of development.

Question 10 may not be asked as: To what extent do sociocultural factors explain why relationships change or end?  This combines content and guidance.  The question may be asked as To what extent do sociocultural factors explain personal relationships?  Or Discuss explanations of why relationships may change or end.

Sample options questions

For samples of questions that may be asked on Paper 2, click on the following links:

Writing samples: Abnormal

Writing samples: Development

Writing samples: Health

Writing samples: Relationships

All materials on this website are for the exclusive use of teachers and students at subscribing schools for the period of their subscription. Any unauthorised copying or posting of materials on other websites is an infringement of our copyright and could result in your account being blocked and legal action being taken against you.

Comments 7

Alanna Fields 25 January 2018 - 16:30

John, Thank you so much for this clarification above. This is extremely helpful. Can you verify that my understanding is correct? I pan to teach human relationships. A valid question could be to Discuss biological factors influencing social responsibility. But, an invalid question would be to discuss biological factors influencing bystanderism. Is this correct? I want to make sure I do not have to prepare a student to answer bio, cog, and socio for each content area, but rather the topic area as a whole. Thank you so much!

John Crane 25 January 2018 - 19:43

Dear Alanna, that is correct.

Alanna Fields 26 January 2018 - 22:50

Thank you John!

Virginia Shrader 12 April 2018 - 03:47

Editor in Chief here, you are missing an f...LOL part o their resp

John Crane 12 April 2018 - 04:56


Michael Harnish 15 May 2018 - 11:18

Am I correct in interpreting the "For each option, there will be 3 essay titles to choose from, one for each top in the option." part of the syllabus to mean that we really only need to teach one topic for each option (e.g., just "Personal Relationships" for the Psychology of Human Relationships option)?

John Crane 16 May 2018 - 05:01

Dear Michael

Yes, this is correct. I am going to teach obesity (health issues), origins of disorders, interpersonal relationships and pro-social behaviour. A lot less content. The two human relationships option sections for SL only, all four for HL. I think it will mean a much less stressful paper 2.