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Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)
Varun Srinivasan
4 IB Guides

Ultimate Guide to the IB Psychology SL Exam

What’s Covered:


There’s nothing quite as rigorous and academically intensive as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, or IBDP when it comes to highschool curriculum. While IB is considered as an equal to APs in the United States, some may consider it as a superior alternative abroad due to its nature of international inclusion. 


Students are required to take 6 subjects over the course of the two-year long program. One of the most popular subjects IB students take is Psychology. It is also considered to have a difficult set of exams, so hopefully this guide helps break down the format of the exams and makes them easier to prepare for.


Overview of the IB Psychology SL Exam


IB Psychology is a group 3 subject, which is Individuals and Societies. Although the class does not fall under sciences, we study for it as such. It is a very research intensive class, so instead of the typical lab hours you might spend for science subjects in IB, your internal assessments will require much more data analysis and field studies.


Internal assessments essentially refer to the portion of the grade for the class that isn’t determined by exams, and instead is determined by in-house/school work. This can range from homework to midterms given in school. 


IB HL vs SL: What’s the Difference?


In order to understand how papers work, we need to understand the difference between higher level classes (HL) and standard level classes (SL). HL can essentially be considered as academically more rigorous than SL due to more coursework being required of the student to study. 


Additionally, HL exams can be considered as a lot less lenient when it comes to grading as HL students are bound to be held to higher academic expectations.


SL exams are, however, not to be considered easy on their own, just easier when compared to HL. Psychology SL requires tons of thorough understanding of coursework, which can involve numerous chapters. Students are also expected to go above and beyond provided coursework and engage in field studies that they are usually in charge of. 


How Do SL Papers/Exams Work?


Psychology is one of the most filled IB subjects when it comes to loads of coursework. The exams aren’t different, are considered to be difficult, and are structured as follows:


  • Paper 1: 2 hours / 46 Points (number of points are susceptible to change)
  • Paper 2: 1 hour / 22 Points (number of points are susceptible to change) 


Paper 1 is a bit more lengthy and is divided into two sections, A and B:


  • Section A consists of three questions based on biological and cognitive psychology
  • Section B consists of more general questions ranging from any part of the syllabus/coursework


The most popular internal assessment schools like to do for psychology is usually a lab study. This is pretty broad but it applies to any practice that uses a scientific approach to prove or disprove a hypothesis in a methodological manner. 


The best way to study for exams is usually to just do past papers, as these can help you recreate exam-like conditions if you wanted to. They’re also likely to be the most accurate practice you can get since they’re just old IBO questions. Additionally, each set of exams comes with a respective rubric/mark scheme. This shows students not only what is the right answer, but how to arrive at it in a way that achieves the most points. 


How are the IB Psychology SL Papers/Exams Scored?


As mentioned earlier, rubrics are used to grade exams/papers. In subjects like psychology, where questions usually require essay-like responses, the rubric essentially checks an answer for keywords. If these keywords are missing, students may lose a point. Of course, the examiner will read your whole answer anyway. 


For paper 1, there are up to 46 attainable points and, for paper 2, there are 22. In order to calculate your grade for the class, you total the number of points earned and divide it by 88, along with an additional 20 for internal assessments. This internal assessment portion is determined by your teacher. This process leaves us with a fraction, and by checking where its relative percentage is on the “final” column, we can determine our grade in the class. The final grade is scaled from 1 (the worst) to 7. 



This process is applied to each of the six subjects in IB in order to get your total grade for the diploma. The possible sum is 42, with the extra three being earned from the extended essay and theory of knowledge. This leads to a total of 45, with 24 being a pass for the diploma. 


Final Tips


IB Psychology exams are a bit more demanding in the amount of time required to prepare for them simply due to the sheer amount of research required. There’s both the coursework and the expectations to study more than what’s provided. 


There are ways we can make these exams easier for ourselves, starting with some self-care.


Don’t Cram the Night Before


The worst thing you can do before an exam is getting little to no rest! Cramming the night before an exam usually doesn’t lead to fruitful or worthwhile studying sessions. Instead, start studying earlier and make sure you put the books away the night before and get quality sleep. This way you won’t feel tired during the exam, or feel like your performance is lessened. 


Don’t Neglect IAs


Your internal assessments (IAs) are almost 20% of your total grade in psychology SL. Neglecting schoolwork or other forms of IAs could mean you’re missing out on a crucial 20% of your grade. Focus on this 20%, as this could be the difference between a passing or failing grade in the class. A 4 out of 7 is a pass, so you really want every point possible. 


Research Outside of Coursework


A lot of IB psychology and other courses are about pushing students to go above and beyond the required coursework. This means read up on more research articles and publishings to strengthen your understanding of what’s taught in class. This extra learning might be beneficial to your performance on exam day. 


How Does the IB Psychology SL Exam Affect My College Chances?


Your exam scores don’t really make a difference when it comes to college admissions directly. Instead, college admissions offices care more about seeing students take part in rigorous and academically demanding classes such as psychology, showing levels of commitment and perseverance. 


There are however numerous other factors that do come into play when it comes to college admissions, such as GPA and extracurriculars. Thankfully, CollegeVine’s admissions calculator takes these factors into account, and provides you with your unique chances of admission to an institute of your choosing. 

Short Bio
Varun is a recent graduate from Arizona State University, Tempe, with a degree in Computer Science. He aims to share his knowledge of computer science, the IB Diploma Program, and all things college-related with high school students. In his free time, he can be found performing DJ sets or cooking!