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Group 3 Essay-Writing Skills

Choosing the right subjects can set up a student for life. Make sure your child starts the IB on the right foot by speaking with an EIB Consultant to pick the perfect subjects.

For Economics, History, and all other Group 3 IB subjects, you will be required to write an extended response as part of your final exam – whether you are taking the subject at Higher or Standard Level. Finding reliable advice on how to structure your essay can be difficult, so we have put together a guide to writing a Group 3 essay which we hope will help!

How to structure your answer

Essay questions for group 3 subjects can take a number of forms; for example:

  • Discuss three major strategies a manager may use to resolve conflict in his organisation. [10 marks]
  • Examine the impact of the US policy of containment on superpower relations between 1947 and 1964. [15 marks]
  • Evaluate the view that increased investment is the most important factor in achieving a faster rate of economic growth. [15 marks]

It is key to look at the command term and question word(s) to see what is expected of you in the question. Here, the command terms Discuss, Examine and Evaluate are used to indicate that a balanced approach to the question needs to be taken, considering the strengths and weaknesses of your arguments, as well as the assumptions they make. Whilst these command terms are relatively similar, it may be the case that your approach to questions can differ if the question word “why” is replaced with “why and how”. This means half of your answer will be devoted to how an event occurred, and the other half to why. Similarly, the number of marks will indicate how much depth you need to go into, which will also shape how you organise your timings in the exam.

Typically, your response will consist of the following sections:

  • Introduction – Define the keywords in the question and outline your argument
  • Analysis – Include any diagrams and explain the key theory or idea relevant to the question
  • Evaluation – Introduce other theories and  criticisms
  • Conclusion – Summarise your essay and definitively answer the question

This will vary depending on the subject you are studying; for example, Economists will include diagrams within their analysis paragraph, whilst Geography students may include annotated maps. Nevertheless, the core skills remain the same. Here are a few of the core skills you need to master:

– For those interested specifically in History, Graham, an IB teacher for 30 years, has written an article on how to conquer the notoriously difficult history exam. –

Defining keywords

Your first paragraph will often define the keywords in the question. Although this can be repetitive, this demonstrates that you understand the key building blocks of the course and gives the examiner a good first impression of your essay. For example, defining globalisation and internal migration shows a Geography examiner that you are able to identify the important part of the question and establishes the focus of your answer on these. Similarly, showing that you understand international development or realism at the start of your Politics essay will bring the examiner onto the same page as yourself. It may also act as an interesting analytical point later on in your exam; for instance, if you had defined international development in terms of the Human Development Index, rather than the Gini coefficient, would you have come to a different conclusion?  

Diagrams and technical jargon

Group 3 essay subjects are unique as they mix essay writing and graphical skills, often in the form of a diagram, flow chart or map. This means you are being tested on clarity of presentation as well as the strength of your content; therefore, it is essential that all diagrams have a title, axes that are fully labelled (with units!) and a short analysis paragraph explaining their function. To make sure these communicate information clearly, always draw diagrams with a ruler, even when practising.

Like diagram drawing, effective use of technical language is a key skill for group 3 essays. For example, the Business Management mark scheme rewards students who use appropriate terminology throughout their response. However, this should only be included if it has a purpose and enhances your essay. It is likely that you will be expected to define terminology that you use, so be efficient with your key terms. For example, in certain subjects, such as Geography, describing the social, cultural, political, demographic and environmental impacts of a policy will score you high marks for use of subject-relevant terminology and help structure your evaluation.

An example of a fully-labelled Economics diagram

Using relevant facts and examples

After defining your key terms, you will begin constructing an argument within your answer. However, it is important that you support your argument with evidence in the form of facts or examples. Firstly, these should be backing up your assertions, not forming the main body of your text. For instance, the fact that Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 needs to be used to support your argument that Napoleon was a poor leader of the French army. Your evidence is there to support why you are arguing this point of view.

In addition, in subjects like Global Politics, you can refer to academic theories to support your assertions – establishing why these theories are useful, and relating them to the question and examples you are using. Relating these to practical examples demonstrates that you understand the foundations of these theories and their implications in the wider world. For instance, using critical and foundational theories in Global Politics is a useful way to include both theoretical and critical analysis, as critical theories like cultural Marxism were developed in direct response to the real-world pitfalls of foundational theories.

Similarly, demonstrating the link between a theory and your specific case, in a subject like Business Management, shows that you can relate theory to a real world scenario. You demonstrate a clear understanding of what impact theories have in practice, by outlining their impacts across the balance sheet. Additionally, it may be possible in subjects such as Business Management and Psychology to link examples to more than one area, meaning you can condense your revision to a few key case studies that you know well.

Multiple perspectives

Having relevant examples to use enables you to demonstrate multiple perspectives on the question – another key skill for group 3 essay questions. For instance, an Economics essay discussing the question:

Evaluate the use of fiscal policy in a time of economic crisis

will require you to look at the strengths and weaknesses of fiscal policy, and its alternatives in response to an economic crisis. Establishing the different responses that a government or central bank could take shows a well-rounded understanding of the topic and an ability to think critically.

When looking at multiple perspectives, it may be possible to refer to different theorists (again gaining marks for knowledge and use of examples). In Philosophy, this can be best achieved through referring to responses offered by different philosophers, such as Robert Nozick’s famous utility monster retort to Utilitarianism or Hilary Putnam’s ‘Brain in a VAT’ response to Descartes. This will enable you to score highly for explaining and analysing different approaches to philosophical issues. Your evaluative paragraph may assess the advantages and disadvantages of a theory, look at the impact of a policy on stakeholders, or talk through the causes and consequences of a historical event. However you choose to structure your evaluation, make sure that it leaves room to analyse from multiple perspectives and show a broad range of ideas.

At the end of each paragraph of your evaluation, try to apply the “so what” test. For example, if you had a paragraph discussing the merits of female empowerment, it is important to link this back to the central question of development. Linking female empowerment to the millennium development goals, or criteria for the Human Development Index, is a good way to show why your argument matters. Similarly, establishing what effect a theory will have on a business, or affirming the philosophical insight you have offered, will show the examiner that your writing has value.

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Your conclusion

At the end of a group 3 essay, it is very likely that you will need to conclude and link back to the question. You may have ventured into several different theorists’ ideas, so bringing all of your content back together is a sign to the examiner that you have remained focused on the question throughout. This can be done by summarizing your argument, mimicking the introduction, and highlighting the most important point(s) you have made. This need not be as binary as a “yes” or “no” answer, and it can be beneficial to be more nuanced. The best answers in Economics, History and Global Politics are usually context-dependent, and so arguing that “it depends on” the specific case can be effective, but you should try to give concrete examples of when one policy would be favourable over another.

We wish you the best of luck in your group 3 essay and hope this guide has helped you to score as well as you can! For more articles like this one, please visit our resources page, and to learn more about us, please visit our tuition and courses pages.

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Timothy Hoffmann