IB Assessments 101: What You Need to Know to Ace the Exams!

By IB ++tutor Birgitte J. 

There are two types of assessments within the IB Diploma Programme (DP); Internal Assessment, commonly referenced as the IA, and External Assessments. The number of assessments vary depending on the subject area and whether you are in a Standard Level (SL) or Higher Level (HL) course. 

The Internal Assessment (IA) Grading and IB Moderation

The IA is graded by your subject teacher based on specific IB grading criteria within the subject. Depending on the subject, the IA can be an oral performance, a portfolio, a lab report or essay

Examples of IAs:

  • Oral in Languages
  • Fieldwork in Geography
  • Lab report in the Sciences
  • Investigation in Math
  • Artistic performances and portfolios in the Arts

How the Moderation of IAs work

The IA is assessed by your subject teacher and a random selection of student work is submitted to the IB for moderation to ensure global standards are maintained at IB schools across the world. 

If the moderated sample group is consistent with the teacher’s grades on the assessment, the grade given by the subject teacher will stand. In instances where the subject teacher consistently grades above or below the Moderator, an external IB Examiner, it could potentially lower or increase the grade for the entire pool of students within the school in the given subject. For example, if your teacher consistently grades 2 points above the Moderator the Moderator’s grade will stand. In this way, the IB ensures a fair grading system of the IA.

Tips for Acing the IA

  • Start early. Unlike the majority of the External Assessments, you have time to develop your IA.
  • Become very familiar with the IA Assignment instructions within your subject provided by your teacher. If you are in doubt, consult the IB Subject Guide for how to complete the IA. The IB does not make the Subject Guides available to the public on IBO.org, but a simple browser search should reveal a number of schools that have made Subject Guide available on the internet if your own school has not provided you with this. One important thing to note: Ensure the Guide you are consulting is the most recent by including your graduation year in your search term. Also include the exact title of your course as some subjects within the IB, such as Math and English, have multiple courses.
  • Review student samples of IAs within your subject area. Your teacher should provide a student sample in your subject. If you have not seen a student sample of the assessment you are about to embark on, a sample of most IAs can be found on the internet. Again, make sure you include your graduation year in the search terms to ensure the IA is complying with the latest incarnation of the curriculum. 
  • Become familiar with the rubric criteria for the IA. The criteria are available in the Subject Guide and should be provided by the teacher before you embark on your work.
  • It is very useful to grade a sample IA on the rubric before you write your own to become familiar with the rubric language and expectations.


How IB Plus Plus tutors can help you with the Internal Assessment

  • Provide detailed instruction on how to complete the IA
  • Consult on topic ideas, organization and structure
  • Most tutors can provide sample IA student samples and examiner comments
  • Light editing and suggestions for revisions


The External Assessments 

External Assessment refers to the way the exam is graded by an IB Examiner instead of the subject teacher. IB Exams are uploaded to the International Baccalaureate Information System (IBIS) by the IB Coordinator at your school in the Senior year and grades are posted by the IB in July (July 6th for the 2021 Cohort).

Two types of External Assessments

  1. External Exams that are completed during the 2-year Programme and submitted to the IB in the Senior year.
  2. Exams in an exam room setting are offered in May and November. (IB World Schools in the northern hemisphere tend to work with the May examination schedule, many schools in the southern hemisphere follow a November Examination schedule. 

Tips for preparing for the External Assessments

  • Re-familiarize yourself with the requirements of the specific exam you are about to take ahead of the exam. You can find assessment details in the IB Guide but your teacher will likely prepare specific instructions shortly before the exam.
  • As per IB specification you can only bring black or blue pens for the hand-written exams. If you are a messy writer or you edit while writing, it may be beneficial to purchase erasable black and blue pens as there are no specific IB rules banning these. No pencils are allowed.
  • To ensure fair exam conditions, the subject teacher will not be proctoring an exam in their subject, so if you have any questions about your exam, ask in advance. 

Tips for the Exam Room

Get a good night’s sleep, breathe and remind yourself that this too shall pass. Then enter the exam room as instructed and be aware of the following:

  • You will be provided with lined paper from the IB. As per the instructions by the exam proctor, number your pages on the lined paper and make clear which prompt you are responding to when there is a choice by marking the boxes at the top of your page. 
  • Do not put your name on any of the exam papers. You will include your IB Candidate Personal Code you will receive in your Senior year. The Candidate Code replaces “name” on all IB exams to limit biases that may exist based on cultural names and gender. The proctor will instruct you on where to write your code on exam day. 
  • Use your time wisely. There is a 5 minute additional reading time before you can begin writing on all IB exams. Use this time to familiarize yourself with the exam text, questions or options if you have choices and if you have time left towards the end of the exam, also use that to review and edit. You’ve worked so hard for the past two years, don’t short-sell yourself now!
  • Write on every other line as if you’re double spacing your handwritten essay. There are two reasons for this; it is easier for the examiner to read your handwriting and if you have something to add during writing or revision, it is easier for you to add a sentence between the lines. 
  • Write very clearly. You don’t want the examiner, who is grading your essay, struggling to understand what you mean.
  • If you think of something later during the writing and you need to add a paragraph or sentences, you can add a note and draw an arrow to a paragraph somewhere else on the page. Please make sure this is very clearly marked so that the examiner does not make a mistake when reading your paper. 
  • Don’t write a draft of written exams. It is unlikely you have enough time for this.
  • You can ask for as much lined or draft paper as you need at any time by raising your hand.

How IB Plus Plus tutors can prepare you for the External Assessments

  • Provide practice exams and exam questions
  • Provide student exam response samples 
  • Provide examiner comments on student samples
  • Consult on a step-by-step approach to the exam
  • Consult on how to manage your time during the exam
  • How to identify key terms 
  • Provide detailed instruction and guidance in the writing on externally moderated exams that are not in an exam room setting


Useful links

IB terms and abbreviations

IB Past Papers by Subject

Assessment guide for parents and teachers

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