Discussion on IB Psychology Command Terms

By Sonali Khemka

(English Literature, English Language, LNAT tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

IB PsychologyYour success in the IB Psychology examinations will depend mostly on your ability to recognize and fulfill the requirements of the question’s command terms. Some command terms deserve more attention and practice than others, especially those for the Extended Response Questions (ERQs.) Today, we will be looking at one of them.

Discuss: This command term is usually mixed up with the term “evaluate.” Unlike an evaluation, you do not need to necessarily weigh up strengths and weaknesses because it is likely that the question is about something that does not have strengths and weaknesses to begin with. For example, most “discuss” command term questions are about things like ethical considerations, or factors surrounding a phenomenon or the effects of something. Naturally, factors/effects/ethical considerations do not have strengths or weaknesses to begin with. What do they have instead? They have different sides. (see example below) You give a balanced review of each side or in other words, you give a balanced argument where you look at both sides of the topic in question.

Let’s look at an example:

Essay question (from Abnormal Psychology):

Discuss ethical considerations in diagnosis

Ethical considerations do not have strengths or weaknesses. So when you are discussing them, you are looking at both sides of the argument and asking yourself questions like:

  • Why is x an important ethical consideration to begin with?
  • If the ethical consideration is ignored, would things be as bad as we think?
  • Is this ethical consideration even necessary, why?

As you can see, rather than looking into the strengths and weaknesses of the ethical consideration itself, you are looking into its various sides. Imagine you are verbally having a discussion with someone on any topic – what do you do? You bring your differing sides to the table.

IB Psychology mental patientsSuppose the ethical consideration you pick for discussion is “labeling” and the effects it has on mental patients. You would start your paragraph with going into labeling as an ethical consideration and why it is so important – those labeled and diagnosed with mental disorders may face prejudice and stigmatization. You would also back this up with a study. Now, in order to discuss the ethical consideration, you would also need to look at the other side of the argument. Well, is labeling as bad as we think it is? Sure, labeling may lead to prejudice and stigmatization but it is unavoidable and perhaps the real issue is the after-effect of labeling (e.g. society unfairly stigmatizing those diagnosed with a mental disorder) as opposed to the labeling itself. Ideally, you want a study to back up the other side of the argument as well. (Psst! There was a study by Gove & Fain which found that labeling may not actually cause that much harm and that recovered patients had better lives, despite the labeling.)

As you can see, discussing is something we do naturally already – it involves bringing different sides to the table by asking yourself important questions about the topic. In the IB Psychology exam, you do this by looking at various sides of the topic in question AND backing it up with evidence i.e. a study. Because “discuss” falls under the Command Term Level 3 – “Synthesis and Evaluation,” it follows that you are required to in most cases, read beyond just the Course Companion or notes given by your teacher and actively find alternate arguments and studies to back them up. If you put in the time and effort, this command term is highly manageable and can easily score you some big points. Good luck!


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