IB websites may not always be the easiest to navigate, but they are generally comprehensive in coverage even if you have to dig deep to find what you are looking for and then combine available information. I think internal assessment in Business and Management tends to fall into that ‘dig deep and check for additional information’ category. Let’s examine where we should be looking for supporting material. Naturally we start with the programme guide. There are two essential pieces of reading from the printed guide; pages 48 to 54 on assessment details and 55 to 68 for the assessment criteria.
It would be expected that all teachers and students would have a good working knowledge of the relevant HL and SL details from these sections – after all this is the most basic of information. We also have additional and essential information on the OCC that is not in the guide; for example full information on word counts. On that basis, it should be expected that supervisors of the IA access these additional materials and make their students aware of the requirements. The problem is that every session, it is apparent that students appear to unaware of even the guide information, let alone the additional information available on the OCC.
Though a minority fall into this category; it is a surprisingly significant minority. Indeed, students from the same centres frequently make similar mistakes session after session, despite the feedback afforded by the moderators, examiner reports and through requesting moderator reports. In this post I shall highlight some significant mistakes and omissions. These are by no means comprehensive, but are constants session to session. Higher Level: Word counts: These are found on the OCC. The guide only contains word limits for the main report and executive summary.
The report is a maximum of 2000 words, the research proposal AND action plan 500 words and the executive summary 200 words. The report is 2000 words and does not include the 500 words for the research proposal – this is counted separately. The words in the action plan must be included in the 500 words, even if in the form of a table. It is apparent that some centres believe these do not count. It is unacceptable to use tables and boxes for text (for example, for analysis and evaluation), thereby trying to exclude it from the word count.
The word count for the three elements: report, research proposal and executive summary must be stated – preferably on the title sheet. If a student exceeds this word limit, a maximum of 1 mark can be awarded for criterion E. Technically the moderator is not required to read beyond 2000 words, so if the conclusions and recommendations are beyond this the student might be penalised here too, although this would be harsh. Format: There is a REQUIRED format for both the report and the research proposal and action plan given in the guide.
As it is required, students should have each of these elements in their final project. The research question: This should be forward looking and asking a question that needs conclusions and recommendations. The title should not encourage description and should be manageable within 2000 words. Too many investigations attempt a broad investigation, such as examining the entire marketing mix of a business. It is suggested that a focus on one element, such as price, would be more than adequate except possibly in the case of very small organisations.
Research proposal and action plan: to achieve 4 marks for criterion A, the report should satisfy the following. Cover the required IB format. Include not only methodology, but the theoretical framework AND an EXPLANATION of their use, i. e. why a website was accessed or interview conducted. Although not in the assessment criteria overtly, the required format includes reference to anticipated difficulties. These should not be statements of the obvious, such as some people may lie, but operational issues that need to be addressed in the planning process.
It is helpful to suggest potential solutions. Although not in the required format, students should include a BUSINESS rationale for the investigation. For example, low motivation, falling sales or increasing staff turnover. A rationale is not simply a personal reason such as liking the topic or that the student’s parents own the business (however convenient this is). Research and Data: The focus for the HL IA is primary data. Students are expected to conduct a research based on a real organisation.
However, secondary data should be evident, especially where it provides information on the present context of the business and its external environment. Too many projects fail to provide details of the firm and its market, e. g. competitors, nor the economic environment in which it operates. If a questionnaire or survey is used, the student should explain their choice of sample and how this was selected to be as representative as possible. If it is a convenience sample, the limitations should be recognised and addressed through other research, such as secondary reports.
Textbooks should not be used as the major source of information. Analysis and evaluation: The purpose of the IA is to show that students can apply business theories, tools and techniques to data. It is helpful to include a range of business tools. Although there is no hard and fast rule, at least four or five would be recommended, depending on how they are used. There is too much reliance on SWOT and PEST alone. If SWOT is used, the student should say to what the SWOT refers, not just have a title that says ‘SWOT analysis’.
Normally a SWOT relates to an organisation NOT a strategy. The strategic choice is the result of conducting a SWOT of the organisation. SWOTs of potential strategies are almost always a list of advantages and disadvantages masquerading as a SWOT! Students do not generally use a wide enough theoretical base. Conclusions and recommendation: Something happens to some students when they write their IA – they forget their research question. It is not uncommon for the main body of the report to have data and analysis, without directly addressing the research question.
As a result, the student feels the need to include a whole range of suggestions in the recommendations that are completely new and hence little more than unsupported assertion. The recommendations should come from previous analysis and evaluation and be presented in the form of simple bullet points. For 5 marks the student must propose future action to address limitations in their research. This is NOT an evaluation of the efficiency of the research alone, but more importantly how future action could achieve the desired result. Value to Management:
Although some practical value is required to achieve the highest mark band, the key to this criterion is research and presentation skills. If a student fails to source their data and the bibliography contains little more than a course textbook, they will score poorly. Although I would not like to suggest a formulaic approach to Courseworks, the students do need a clear checklist of actions to match their progress against and also need to be aware of the assessment criteria and what they mean. Seeing exemplars and past IAs is very important. All of these are on the OCC under the Teacher Support Materials.
Teacher and student checklists are on the tab marked appendices along with frequently asked questions. The TSM should be viewed along with subject reports, which provide details of grade boundaries and key issues to do with assessment, including internal assessment. The ‘further clarifications’ to the guide also has references to HL IA and should be read and digested along with the relevant sections of the handbook of procedures. At least if students have all the information made available, they will not throw marks away for simple omissions and misunderstandings.