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 All the IB expectations. These can be found at the beginning of each chapter in the textbook or on the   IB ESS Guide

Paper 1 

35 marks
Duration: 1 hour
Weighting: 25%


  • Students will be provided with a range of data in a variety of forms relating to a specific, previously unseen case study.

  • Questions will be based on the analysis and evaluation of the data in the case study.

  • All of the questions are compulsory.

Paper 2:  65 mark

Duration: 2 hours
Weighting 50%

  • Paper 2 consists of two sections, A and B.

  • Section A (25 marks) is made up of short-answer and data-based questions.

  • Section B (40 marks) requires students to answer two structured essay questions from a choice of four. Each question is worth 20 marks

  • The final part of each essay in section B (9 marks) will be marked using mark bands.

Section A – This is the DataBase and Short Answer Section. You must answer all the questions in this section.

  1. DataBase: Expect multiple DataBase questions (or one long one with multiple diagrams). In the 2014 exams, 15 marks came from the database alone and it went on for 7 pages. Remember to answer what the question is asking (look for keywords, like “identify” or “describe”  or  “compare”)

  2. Short Answer: You may also be asked to label and or annotate diagrams here, complete punnet squares.

Section B – This is the Long Answer Response Section with choice.

  • You will be presented with 4 questions (with multiple parts to them). Choose 2 questions to respond to.

  • Each question is worth 20 marks 

  • There is an additional 1 mark per question for quality and clarity. 

  • This is where you might see “draw and label” questions. See the home page for possible "draw and label" questions.

The aim is to find the descriptor that conveys most accurately the level attained by the student's work, using the best-fit model.

A best-fit approach means that compensation will be made when a piece of work matches different aspects of a mark band at different levels.

The mark awarded will be one that most fairly reflects the balance of achievement against the mark band. It is not necessary for every single aspect of a level descriptor to be met for that mark to be awarded.

Marks Level descriptor

  • 0 The response does not reach a standard described by the descriptors below and is not relevant to the question.

  • 1–3 The response contains:

    • minimal evidence of knowledge and understanding of ESS issues or concepts

    • fragmented knowledge statements poorly linked to the context of the question

    • some appropriate use of ESS terminology

    • no examples where required, or examples with insufficient explanation/relevance

    • superficial analysis that amounts to no more than a list of facts/ideas

    • judgments/conclusions that are vague or not supported by evidence/argument.

  • 4–6 The response contains:

    • some evidence of sound knowledge and understanding of ESS issues and concepts

    • knowledge statements effectively linked to the context of the question

    • largely appropriate use of ESS terminology

    • some use of relevant examples where required, but with limited explanation

    • clear analysis that shows a degree of balance

    • some clear judgments/conclusions, supported by limited evidence/arguments.

  • 7–9 The response contains:

    • substantial evidence of sound knowledge and understanding of ESS issues and concepts

    • a wide breadth of knowledge statements effectively linked with each other, and to the context of the question

    • consistently appropriate and precise use of ESS terminology

    • effective use of pertinent, well-explained examples, where required, showing some originality

    • thorough, well-balanced, insightful analysis

    • explicit judgments/conclusions that are well-supported by evidence/arguments and that include some critical reflection.

Section B – This is the Long Answer Response Section with choice.

  • You will be presented with 4 questions (with multiple parts to them). Choose 2 questions to respond to.

  • Each question is worth 20 marks 

  • There is an additional 1 mark per question for quality and clarity. 

  • This is where you might see “draw and label” questions. See the home page for possible "draw and label" questions.

Quality and Clarity Marks

  • Write neatly and clearly and in a size that does not require a magnifying glass to read  

  • Do NOT ramble. Be concise. 

  • Stay on topic and focused (do not just starting talking about everything you know about the general topic)

  • Your answer should have a logical flow. The examiner should only have to read your answer ONCE.

Other Exam Notes....

  • Write in the boxes. Sometimes the exams are photocopied and sent to various markers. If you write out of the boxes, some of that info may not get passed on. You can ask for the additional paper if your response is lengthy 

  • You may write in point form, however, make sure you complete your thoughts!!!!

  • ex: Don't say "Substrate-level phosphorylation is indirect and oxidative phosphorylation is direct". What does that mean????? Indirect what? Direct what?

  •  IB does not award half marks, so be complete in your answer (especially in comparison questions)

  • Even though they don’t award half marks, sometimes questions are worth half a mark. For example, a question asking you to draw and label the digestive system may only be worth 5 marks, meaning they want you to label 10 items. If you correctly identify 8 items, you would receive a 4 out of 5. If you identify 9 items, you would still only receive a 4 out of 5.

  • Make T-charts in comparison questions and make your points line up.

  • Don't ramble, however, if you know you are supposed to make 4 points about something make 5, just in case they don't accept one of your points.  Do not contradict yourself.

  • Don't be afraid to draw diagrams.

Ess Command Tearms


                                                             Revision Techniques


The techniques for absorbing facts, concepts, case studies and diagrams vary between individuals and what works for one candidate will not work for another.


Nevertheless, there are ways of maximizing your revision time – this may be achieved through understanding the techniques which work best for you.


They might include mnemonics, word pictures or acronyms and numbered lists. Your teacher could advise you, but ultimately you must decide.


During the exam


Time mismanagement: every year, students lose marks through time mismanagement. The most common tendency is to spend too long on the first question at the expense of the others.


Make sure that you are aware of the time allocation for each question and that you stick rigidly to it during the exam. Note that five minutes of reading time is allowed before the start of each exam.


Question choice: in paper 1 all questions are compulsory but in paper 2 you get to choose two extended answers out of four. Again, your revision should be thorough, and no sub-topic omitted.


Generalization: for example, “desertification in Africa”. Africa is a massive continent and not all of it suffers from desertification – be precise with the examples you choose.


Lack of evidence: essentially ESS is about the real world and in longer responses there must be plenty of factual support, examples and statistics.


Lack of correct terminology: correct use of terms shows understanding and avoids clumsy description.


For example, a situation where “a population keeps on growing due to a lot of young people who are likely to keep the birth rate high for some years into the future” could be described as “population momentum”.


Inadequate reading of the question: for example, if you were asked to “outline an example of positive feedback in global climate change” and you described negative feedback, you would inevitably lose marks.


Ignoring commands is common and is highly likely to lose marks.


Missing the focus of the question: read the question at least twice; underline the command terms, other keywords, or the focus of the question.


To maximize your marks, you need to ensure that you have given the question its broadest interpretation. It is very easy to forget a category despite having plenty of knowledge about it.


The following summarizes key information when sitting your exam:


  • Read the instructions on the cover of your exam paper to remind you of the exam regulations, such as the time allowed and the number of questions you should answer.


  • Underline the command terms in the questions and focus on these as you work through each question.


  • Write a brief plan for essays, to give your answer a logical structure. This should be written in pencil to allow for secondary thoughts or inspiration that comes to mind later.


  • Observe the mark weighting of the sub-parts of structured questions.


  • Give sufficient attention to the parts of the question requiring evaluation, discussion or analysis. These carry a heavy mark weighting.


  • Complete the correct number of questions.


  • Make sure that you all your answers are legible, correctly numbered and in numerical order.



  • Pad your answer with irrelevant content just to make it look better. Examiners are impressed by quality, not quantity.


  • Leave the examiner to draw conclusions if you cannot decide.


  • Bend the question to fit your rehearsed answer.


  • Spend too long on your best question at the expense of others.


  • Invent case studies; these will be checked by examiners.


  • Use lists or bullet points – these do not help detailed analysis.

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