Your Ultimate Guide for Acing IB Psychology Paper 1

Written By Rashi S.

Before beginning, feel free to check out how to tackle IB Psychology Paper 2 and Paper 3 if you have not yet and/or are interested!  


Paper 1 is two hours and both SL and HL students must answer it. Section 1 contains three short answer questions (SAQs), each from the biological, cognitive, and sociocultural approaches. All three questions have to be answered and there is no choice. Each SAQ is worth 9 marks, for a total of 27 marks.   

 Section 2 contains three extended response questions (ERQs), one from each approach out of which you only have to answer one. One or all questions from Section 2 for HL students can be from the extension topics, which are the role of animal research, cognitive processing in the digital world, and the influence of globalization. Note that Section 1 cannot be on the HL extension topics. The ERQ response for Paper 1 is worth 22 marks. 

 N.B. You do not earn more points if you answer more than the required number of questions.  

 Study Techniques   


I recommend specializing in one approach or all HL extension topics only for HL students. I did the latter because as aforementioned, either one or all ERQs can be from the HL extension topics, and thus the probability of you finding a topic that you are prepared to write on is higher. For SL students, you can pick the approach that you understand the most and think that you can write on the best. Specializing is beneficial because a question from each approach is guaranteed. Thus, by covering all possible questions from one approach, you can learn it more effectively and can more likely answer any question that appears from that approach.  

 Moreover, you can specialize in two approaches if you prefer, one for backup. This will enable you to pick one question out of the two approaches that you specialized in in case you did not find one of them suitable to write on.  

 Make Outlines 

Once you decide what you are specializing in, start making outlines! A positive aspect of most of the IB psychology exams is that the questions are predictable to a considerable extent. I made detailed outlines for each of the possible SAQ topics and all the HL extension topics.  

 Note that making outlines does not mean writing essays and/or attempting to memorize them. This is counter-effective because first, one normally does not have sufficient time to write essays for all possible topics. Second, even if you do have the time, it is recommended that you do not do this. Memorizing essays is difficult for most people as it is too much content. Furthermore, you most likely have to tailor your answer to the demands of the exam question. Hence, writing outlines is more strategic because it helps you formulate your main arguments and study the psychological studies that you plan on using more effectively. Refer to IB ++tutor Rashi S.: Psych Exams Planning Material to see which topics from each approach questions can be from. 

 Exam-writing Tips  

Pay attention to the command word. For Section A, the SAQs ask you to “outline,” “describe,” or “explain.” Nevertheless, in this particular case, do not follow the command word. Unfortunately, the IB is inconsistent with its use of its command words and it is frustrating. However, students, teachers, and/or examiners have to work with it. Your answer must be thorough under each keyword to secure the maximum number of points even though it appears that questions that ask you to “outline” and “describe” may require less detail than “explain.”  

 Additionally, note that when the SAQ’s emphasis is on a study, ⅔ of your response should focus on the study. For example, “Outline one study investigating schema.” Conversely, when the emphasis in the question is on a phenomenon, ⅔ of your answer must focus on explaining the phenomenon, and ⅓ of the space should be occupied by a study to illustrate your argument. For instance, “Explain how one hormone may influence one human behavior.” 

 Time yourself 

First, because the paper is two hours in total, it is recommended to use one hour for Section 1, allocating 20 mins for each of the three SAQs. Use the remaining one hour for Section 2, for the ERQ of your choice; take 55 mins to write the essay and leave the last 5 mins for proofreading.  


Related Posts:

Your Ultimate Guide for Acing IB Psychology Paper 2 | IB | ++tutors (

Your Ultimate Guide for Acing IB Psychology Paper 3 (HL only) | IB | ++tutors (



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