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IA Overview
The most important aspect of the environmental systems and societies course is hands-on work in the laboratory and/or out in the field. The syllabus not only directly requires the use of field techniques, but many components can only be covered effectively through this approach. Practical work in this subject is an opportunity to gain and develop skills and techniques beyond the requirements of the assessment model and should be fully integrated with the teaching of the course. 

The purpose of the internal assessment investigation is to focus on a particular aspect of an ESS issue and to apply the results to a broader environmental and/or societal context. The investigation is recorded as a written report. The report should be between 1500 and 2250 words. This does not include titles, annotations on images and graphs, bibliography. Data (qualitative and quantitative) is not included but variable tables or error analysis tables do count.  You should be made aware that external moderators will not read beyond 2,250 words and I will only mark up to this limit.

The internal assessment investigation consists of:

  • identifying an ESS issue and focusing on one of its specific aspects

  • developing methodologies to generate data that are analyzed to produce knowledge and understanding of this focused aspect

  • applying the outcomes of the focused investigation to provide understanding or solutions in the broader ESS context.

Your work is internally assessed by the teacher and externally moderated by the IB. The performance in
internal assessment is marked against common assessment criteria, with a total mark out of 24.


IA component

  • Duration: 10 hours

  • Weighting: 20%

  • Individual investigation.

  • This investigation covers assessment objectives 1, 2, 3 and 4.


IA criteria
The new assessment model uses five criteria to assess the final report of the individual investigation with the following raw marks and weightings assigned:


































Click on the links above to get more detailed information about the assessment


Ideas for ESS IA

Selecting a suitable Internal Assessment is just as important as the Internal Assessment itself.

  • Be certain that your question is as clear and specific as possible. 

  • Avoid general terms, and refer to the specific independent (manipulated) and dependent (responding) variables you will be testing. 

  • Be specific about the direction and magnitude of the change you expect to observe in the dependent variable as a result of changes you make in the level of the independent variable.

Here is a listing of examples. The titles below are general, to give you a sense of direction, but they are not sufficiently specific to serve as a research question. You will have to modify the title to make it more specific and focused. In most cases, this will involve indicating the variable(s) chosen for investigation.​

  • Growth of lichen as affected by the distance from a highway

  • New York City's COVID-19 Shelter-In-Place Policy and CO2 emissions.

  • CO2 effect on global atmospheric temperatures.

  • A wealth of a country relating to carbon emissions

  • Construction of a new school multi-purpose building effect on the local ecosystems

  • ​Carbon emission policies

  • Impact of development in Albuquerque, NM on the Rio Grande silvery minnow

  • Impact of the United States Border Wall on the migration of desert bighorn sheep 

  • Agricultural fertilizer's effect on the diversity of stream macro-invertebrates in the Arkansas River

  • Impact of a person’s income on the size of their ecological footprint

  • Pesticide use effects on species diversity

  • Salinization effects on the rate of growth of plants

  • Acid rain effects of plant growth/germination

  • Degradation rates of various recyclable materials

  • Age group effects on environmental philosophies

  • Deforestation affected the rate of erosion

  • The rate of decomposition of biodegradable plastics

  • Level of economic development on carbon emissions/acid rain

  • Evaluation of school recycling program

  • How wildfires affect climate change

  • Plastic recycling

  • Vegan only Tuesday in School Cafeteria

  • River Models

​Below, are several exemplar IA's to help you with writing your own.

I would recommend starting with investigation 1. Next, read the annotated copy then the moderator comments

Important Points

A perfect score would be 42. IBCA adjusts actual marks to reflect the 25% weighting

Your laboratory work and report write-ups will be assessed (that means ‘graded’) using very strict IB criteria.  All IB science teachers worldwide must use the same criteria and apply them in the same way—quite a challenge!!  To ensure that everyone is following the rules and applying the criteria correctly, schools must send samples of graded student lab reports to IB for monitoring.  If a teacher is being too hard or too soft, that teacher’s marks which were awarded to students will be adjusted accordingly.

All IA  (Lab) assignments are to be typed and submitted electronically through ManageBac on or before the assignments due date. Please note IA submissions are to be submitted by 12AM - no exceptions. For this reason, it is recommended IA assignments be submitted a day early so that any problems can be discussed BEFORE the due date and time occur.

I will decide if your research topic is like another research topic. You must get the approval of your topic directly from me before you run the experiment. 


LabWrite is an online tool to help structure good-quality write-ups. Work through the steps of a lab report using this resource and check your report against the checklist and rubrics above. Does it help you work towards those ‘complete’ marks?

Frequently Asked Questions

The following links are from BiologyForLife.  These are based on IB Biology Internal Assessment criteria. However, they are very applicable to Environmental Systems and Societies.  Please feel free to use these as a guide for your Internal Assessment




























This is a great review if you are still struggling. This video is from a series guiding you through the IB Environmental Systems and Societies Internal Assessment from Science Sauce



















This is out of order but great to understand the structure of your report.



















This is geared for Biology but very helpful for ESS















Internal assessment of internal assessment

The purpose of the Internal Assessment (IA) is to enable you to demonstrate the skills and knowledge you have gained during the course and to pursue a topic that is of personal interest to you. The IA focuses on a particular aspect of an ESS issue and applies the results to a broader environmental and/or social context.

The IA involves the completion of an individual investigation of an ESS research question that you have designed and implemented. The investigation is submitted as a written report. The IA needs to address specific assessment criteria (see below). If you are undertaking an ESS extended essay, it must not be based on the research question of the ESS Internal Assessment.

You are allowed a total of 10 hours to complete the IA. The 10 hours include:

  • Time for an initial explanation of the IA requirements by your teacher

  • Time to ask questions

  • Time for consultation with your teacher to discuss the research question before the investigation is carried out, and throughout the execution of the IA

  • Time to develop the method and collect data

  • Time to review and monitor progress

  • Time for final report writing.

Successful IAs have research questions that are based on a topic within the syllabus that is of particular interest to you. Each person in your class needs to have a different research question. You need to make sure you carefully follow the IA criteria and hit the marking points that the IB are looking for.


You should be aiming for the highest marks possible in your IA as good marks will give you confidence as you approach the exams, and will help support your overall mark. The IA is worth 25% of your final ESS mark, and a good performance can raise you to the next grade if you are borderline between two grades.

The main problems students encounter with IAs revolve around design (especially suitable sample sizes and sampling techniques), proper treatment of data (this is closely linked to lack of data stemming from poor design), vigorous discussions of the data in a broader context and an analysis of strengths and weaknesses of the design. Specific issues concerning each criterion are discussed below.

The report should be 1500 to 2250 words long. External moderators (who check the marks given by your teacher) will not read beyond 2250 words.

The Internal Assessment investigation consists of:

  • identifying an ESS issue and focusing on one of its specific aspects

  • developing methodologies to generate data that are analyzed to produce knowledge and understanding of this focused aspect

  • applying the outcomes of the focused investigation to provide understanding or solutions in the broader ESS context.

The focused research question should arise from a broader area of environmental interest (the context), so that in conjunction with evaluating the research process and findings of your study, you can discuss the extent to which your study applies to the environmental issue that interests you at a local, regional or global level (the application).



The discussion should lead you to develop creative thinking and novel solutions or to inform current political and management decisions relating to the issue. For example, if you carry out a study on the impact of wind turbines that had been erected in the vicinity of your school, you may suggest solutions for the erection of wind turbines in other areas based on your findings.

The following methodologies may be applied:

  • Values and attitude surveys or questionnaires

  • Interviews

  • Issues-based inquiries to inform decision-making

  • Observational fieldwork (natural experiments)

  • Feld manipulation experiments

  • Ecosystem modeling (including mesocosms or bottle experiments)

  • Laboratory work

  • Models of sustainability

  • Use of systems diagrams or other valid holistic modeling approaches

  • Elements of environmental impact assessments

  • Secondary demographic, development and environmental data

  • Collection of both qualitative and quantitative data.

The following analytical techniques may be applied to data:

  • Estimations of NPP/GPP or NSP/GSP (Chapter 2, pages 93–94)

  • Application of descriptive statistics (measures of spread and average) and inferential statistics (testing of null hypotheses) (Appendix)

  • Other complex calculations

  • Cartographic analysis

  • Use of spreadsheets or databases

  • Detailed calculations of footprints (including ecological, carbon, water footprints).

Investigations may consist of appropriate qualitative work or quantitative work. In some cases, these are descriptive approaches and may involve the collection of considerable qualitative data. In others, establishing cause and eflect through inferential statistical analysis (a scientific approach) may be used.

Individual Investigation Ideas

Some Individual Investigation Ideas to Start

Many teachers are rightly worried about how to complete their IA or just support students' skill development with their PSOW while schools are still online and students can't access all their resources. On this page, I will try to offer some guidance and potential ideas for secondary data labs and simple experiments that can be done using materials that students may have at home. Some very simple germination labs can be done at home. Encourage your students to be ingenious and inventive in how they might investigate a problem.

Before you start

Remember that a good individual investigation always starts with an environmental problem/issue. If you jump straight to the suggestions below then students won't have had the opportunity to think about how they might research a problem and therefore not make the necessary connections needed for a good IA report.

Think about what resources are available to your students at home. Do they have internet access? Are they allowed to leave their homes? Can you supply them with basic resources to their homes? Do they have gardens? Are they allowed to go to a park?

How Rigorous is the Sampling Strategy

When doing an experimental investigation it is fairly straight forward to follow a standard guideline for the sampling strategy. 5 conditions, e.g. 5 different salinity concentrations with 5 or more repeats at each condition. The tricky part of this, that students usually don't think about adequately, is why have they chosen those 5 conditions. This requires preliminary research and in best cases some pilot studies for experiments. For example, what is the point of choosing 1%, 2%, 3%, 4%, 5% salinity if the seeds only germinate at 1%?


It doesn't tell you much. What is the context of the experiment? If it is seawater intrusion then find out what are typical salinity levels. If it is poor irrigation strategies, then what are typical soil salinity levels, etc.

When doing an ecological investigation then the sampling strategy changes. Perhaps you are comparing two conditions (shade and light) and so you don't have 5 conditions but you need to have sufficient data in each condition to draw statistically robust conclusions.

In this case, you might want to consider using a running mean to see the number of species found, or you might consider a 10% sampling strategy. For transect studies, you will need to do 3 repeat transects (this is guidance in the Subject Reports each year) but how many samples along the transect do you do? What will be sufficient to show a trend in the gradient being investigated? I would suggest at least 5 points so that these are equivalent to the conditions in an experimental investigation. Ideally, you would do 5 transects to improve the reliability of the statistics.

For surveys, it is challenging but there are guidelines about how much data is sufficient data. I have written about it here  Designing Surveys and Questionnaires. Survey monkey has a calculator that you can use to determine the sample size needed of a population at a given confidence limit.


This is nice because if a student is sampling their grade level and doesn't get enough responses for 95% confidence, they can then talk about what level of confidence there is in their data. Students need to understand that they have to justify each question they ask and that each question should be directly related to answering their research questions. They find this difficult.

Secondary data can be challenging as there are so many different possibilities and do it depends on the question being asked. For a correlation between two factors, e.g. a demographic factor and a socio-economic factor then at least 30 data points should be used. Time and changing air pollution could be a possible investigation. Again it will depend on the research question.


If it changes over a number of years, then when are you going to sample the air pollution from a database? There may be no point in comparing January data with August data for example. What sampling strategy will work for this? If you are looking at the amount of waste recycled or incinerator or sent to landfills, what are you comparing? Is it different economic groups? Is it one country over time? For each, a different sampling strategy is necessary.

Comparing the economic groups then you might want to try for the 5 conditions rules and 10 data points per year sampled. For one country, how many years will you sample, and why? Has a new policy been implemented? You need to be careful to keep these within the limits of an IA as they can verge on an extended essay if you are not careful.

So there are some guidelines but in each case, the student needs to think carefully about what they are trying to show and how they will treat the data. Will they have enough data to apply some basic statistical tools to the data?

  • Environmental Problems and Potential Research Areas

  • Ecological Footprint of a School or Individual or Family

  • Comparing food miles in a vegetarian and non-veg meal from school menu or family menu

  • Factors affecting ecological footprint

  • Ecological footprints by family occupation

  • Climate Change

  • Impact of salinity on germination and growth

  • Impact on the growth of trees as measured by growth rings

  • Transpiration and temperature

  • HDI and CO2 emissions

  • Investigating improvements/variables of a solar cell

  • Habitat Change / Land Use Management / Agriculture

  • Distribution of species changing with environmental change

  • Gradient / vegetation / rain intensity on soil erosion

  • Mulching and water loss

  • Growth of algae with different water samples


  • Distance from the road and particulate pollution - lichens or particulates

  • Relationship between pollution and species in water bodies.

Acid deposition and plant growth

Comparing plastic pollution in different areas - which is the most common type of plastic?

Resource Use

  • Biodegradation of a material, e.g. comparing different compostable bags

  • Investigating the energy needed to produce a particular type of bag

  • Human Demographics

  • What is the relationship between a demographic factor and a socioeconomic factor?

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