The mysteries of Internal Assessment in IB Economics

Every year I feel disappointed with the moderation feedback from my set of internal assessments. In IB Economics, students create a portfolio of four commentaries, which are marked according to an established set of criteria. Each year I deliberate on the grade that I think each portfolio is worth. Usually the pieces of work are easy to grade, with only the top and lower candidates causing any grief and in-depth deliberation. As the sole Economics teacher, within our school, the moderation process is harder and you are therefore forced to think very carefully about the grades to give.

The the most recent examinations, I graded two candidates with excellent portfolios as scoring 19/20 and 18/20, both were downgraded after moderation to 16/20 My bottom grades 7/20 was pulled up to a 9/20. I might understand that I marked these two portfolios slightly too high. These candidates scored 48 and 49/60 for the Paper 3 Higher Level. On reflection, I still feel compelled to give high grades to portfolios similar to what these students produced. The marking process is subjective, but I feel that the work of my top students is comparable to any exemplars available.

The only comment for the downgrading of these two students was mentioned in the moderation report

Evaluation does remain a problem for a number of candidates. Centres should spend time explaining the nature of evaluation to their students

From this piece of generalisation it seems like a few centers struggle to articulate to students the type of evaluation that is required. Overtime I have read the assessment requirements very closely. There is a noticeable but important difference between the evaluation criteria for internal assessment and the external assessment. This ambiguity is very difficult to share with students. For the internal assessment criterion E (evaluation), one has to be careful about the nature of the evaluation expected.

It is not the ‘generic’ external examination, evaluation of long run/short run, stakeholders, etc. but rather the criteria requires you to evaluate the economic theories and concepts applied to the extract i.e. what are the strengths and weaknesses of the model/concept applied in Criterion D? This is an opportunity for the student to explore the assumptions that underpin the model, for example, and whether these assumptions hold in the face of the situation described in the article.

In my experience, the more precisely the student relates the model and its evaluation to the actual situation discussed in the extract (vs a generic discussion of the economic model in general) the more successful s/he is in criteria D and E. The article should not be used as an invitation to say everything one knows about the economic theory in general but rather through analysis and evaluation to explain how the situation is better understood through the lens of economics theory.

Examples to help Economics students…

The assumption of the model of produciton externalities is that… thinking in a TOK framework 🙂

  • The costs of the externality are easy to measure and quantifiable. In reality the value of the spillover costs is only an estimate and therefore suggesting a value of a tax that fully internalises the externality is impossible.
  • The strength of the model of externalities is that the social and private benefits are shown with seperate curves. This highlights the important assumption that social and private benefits are unique and the difference in benefits is represented as a market failure.
  • The suggestion the negative advertising campaigns can reduce the demand for cigarettes is flawed. Advertising will have a variety of effects of individuals and the effectiveness of the campaign relies of good messages and appropriate targeting. Evidence in the article suggests that advertising will defiantly cause a decrease in demand, in reality this is unlikely.

Slightly different example

  • There are four main central macroeconomic objectives which every government pursues. These are: ____ . . . The difficulty that governments face is that when they pursue one objective eg unemployment or increased growth, it is highly likely that other objectives will come into conflict. For example, when pursuing increased growth it is likely that the economy will experience increased inflationary pressure. . . (You can do this many times, with the different variables)

Some of these comments are borrowed from the forums within the Online Curriculum Center (OCC) for IB DP Economics from Peter Howe at the United World College of the Adriatic. Thanks!

8 thoughts on “The mysteries of Internal Assessment in IB Economics

  1. Jason Welker says:


    I completely agree with you thoughts on the internal assessment moderation! I am also relieved to know that my IA’s were not the only ones moderated down by as much as they were. I think my highest mark was an 18 this year, which I awarded a portfolio that in my opinion could have earned a 20/20. Even that was marked down to a 15, and my colleague, Joe’s highest mark of 19 was moderated down to a 16. This student actually got a 44 in the IB, earning 7s on all three of his external exam papers. Tell me, how does a 44 candidate who earns sevens on the three external papers and in all his HL courses end up earning a 6 on his Economics IA.

    The moderation process is so subjective, and I think the incentives are skewed and that many of the moderators feel they MUST moderate in order to prove to the senior moderators that they are doing their job! In my view, a moderator, every once in a while, could be doing the best moderation by not moderating at all, and recognizing high quality work where it is deserved…

    Thanks for the post, and hey, I love the new blog! I’ll put an RSS feed to it on my blog tonight!

  2. Zahra Dawood says:

    I totally agree. To avoid repetition, the same thing is happening to my IA grades after the moderation for the past two years. Strange enough my IA grades used to be upgraded sometimes in the past!!
    Thanks for bringing this issue up.

  3. Constantine Ziogas says:

    Hi Andrew,

    First of all, nice blog! Both the contents and the aesthetics are great! I too will include a link on mine and will definitely have my year 2 students check out your extended essay September 12 post!

    Concerning the grading of the IA in Economics I have experienced the same problems all along. The most absurd fact is that my students achieve a higher average in each of the 3/2 May papers than in their IA component! It is beyond my comprehension how students perform worse in a task that they control much more effectively than the 3/2 papers they are asked to write under exam conditions. Nor can I understand how teachers (and I am also talking on behalf of other very experienced colleagues in my school) who are examiners or even team leaders in papers fail to mark ‘correctly’ their internals.

    I had repeatedly asked in the past for the possibility of having the IA included in an EUR but it never happened. As far as I know a school can only ask for detailed comments from the examiner and if the school is not convinced it may then request a remarking for all of its students (correct me if I am wrong). That does not solve the problem in my opinion.

    I think that Jason makes a lot of sense when he writes that “many of the moderators feel they MUST moderate in order to prove to the senior moderators that they are doing their job!”.

    Maybe the time is ripe for us to ask the IBO again that the IA is included in an EUR (with the student taking the risk to end up with a lower grade than what he / she originally earned). What do you think?

    Congrats on your blog!


  4. Russ says:

    I ran into a unique problem, when they switched the curriculum the last time, my school’s IB coordinator just gave me the new IA requirement and said to do it. I questioned him and he said do it. He was five months from retirement and IB Economics IAs were the least of his concern. So my students completed it. At the last possible moment, because my school teaches the two year curriculum in one year, he had to petition IB to let the new IAs be graded instead of the older style IAs.

    Long story short, the individual who helped develop the new IA graded my samples and had no problem with them. Gave them strong marks exactly equal to mine. Ever since, with these examiners, my grades have been just like yours, way below what I feel they should be. How can this be? Simple, look at the criteria, this happens to be one of the poorest designed rubrics. They are more concerned with splitting hairs then seeing if the student really ‘gets’ it. My trainer from 2001 best summed it up when he said, don’t let your kids even atempt an EE in Economics, it will get crushed.

    I say it is time for the IB programme to step in and moderate this mess. I will be interested in seeing the new IAs and their moderations. Until then, I just explain to my kids, some time adults think that they are more important than they really are, do your best, learn, and we will work through this. Maybe some of these folks should get a hobby. Sorry for the crude remark, but I have yet to see any grader offer what the originator did several years ago.


  5. Lyuben Ivanov says:

    I got a candidate that earned 44 on the IB Diploma and 7 on all three papers in Economics and then his IA (perfect in my opinion) was downgraded from 20 to 17 marks. Fortunately he got 7, but at the same time I had a very poor candidate that got 2 in IB Economics and her IA (poor in my opinion) was upgraded from 11 to 12. It seems that this guys are just averaging the grades…

  6. mitra says:

    yes Lyuben Ivanov i had also same experience with my student grades. Looks our efforts becoming futile when such things happen

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