History at IB Level: Russel Tarr Introduces the New International Baccalaureate, Assessing Its Advantages and Disadvantages Compared with A Levels
Tarr, Russel, History Review
From Autumn 2009 history teachers at International Baccalaureate level will be delivering a new syllabus. With IB becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to A-Level study, this is therefore a good time to review what exactly IB entails.
History at IB is a two-year course which, unlike the AS/A2 model, has no external assessment element midway through the course. Students choose to study History either at Standard Level or at Higher Level. All of these students produce an Internal Assessment (IA) on a topic of their choice during the course, and sit for two examination papers: Paper 1 consists of four sourcework questions, whilst Paper 2 requires students to write two essays. Higher Level students additionally have to study some extra topics for Paper 3, which involves the production of a further three essays. This means that the overall grade for Standard Level and Higher Level students is calculated differently:
Assessment Grid for IB History Standard Higher Level Level Internal Assessment 25% 20% Paper 1 (60 mins) 30% 20% Paper 2 (90 mins) 45% 25% Paper 3 (150 mins) 35%
At the time of writing, the IB board has not made available any sample papers for the new syllabus. However, it is unlikely that they will substantially change the existing approach of each paper. With this qualification in mind, up until now Paper 1 has consisted of five accessible sources; written sources are rarely more than 200 words long, and there is usually at least one visual source such as a cartoon or photograph among these. The four questions, adding up to 25 possible points, follow a predictable format, with a clear mark scheme:
1a. 'Why, according to Source A ...' (3 marks)
1b. 'What message is conveyed by Source B ...' (2 marks)
2. 'Compare and contrast the views expressed by Sources C and D ...' (6 marks)
3. 'With reference to their origins and purpose, assess the values and limitation of source A & D to this historian studying ...' (6 marks)
4. 'Using the sources and your own knowledge, explain to what extent you agree that ...' (8 marks).
This examination paper is traditionally divided into five sections of five questions each. Students will be required to answer two questions chosen from different sections of the paper, hence the requirement that students study at [east two of these topic sections in depth (see below). The five questions within each section will range from the narrowly specific ('To what extent was the rise to power of either Hitler or Mao due to personal appeal and ability?') to the very open-ended ('Assess the importance of ideology for rulers of twentieth-century single party states'). Another popular style of question in Paper 2 involves the comparison of different regions ('Analyse the foreign policy of two rulers of single-party states, each chosen from a different region'). This genuinely synoptic approach to History--chronologically, geographically and thematically--is one of the most challenging but stimulating aspects of the IB course.
Only Higher Level students sit this paper. The IB board produces several Paper 3 examination papers, each of which tests knowledge of a different world region (for example Europe and the Middle East, the Americas). The teacher will declare in advance which of these papers his or her students will be sitting--in my case, I teach towards the European paper. The paper consists of a list of 25 essay questions covering up to 200 years, from which candidates must answer three. In contrast to Paper 2, these questions are not organised into themes, and are not particularly synoptic in nature: instead, they are in-depth questions on particular topics ('What were the main causes of the Spanish Civil War? …