As we’re all figuring out the new course, including course plans, this first year or two you might be feeling like you’re behind and you’re worried about getting everything covered in time for the exams. This post will explain how you can cut masses of content from your course, while still being assured your kids will be fine for the exams.

Note: I don’t recommend this as a best practice or something to aim to do. These are last resort scenarios if you’re feeling desperate. 


#1. Cut a topic or two from the options

We know in Paper 2 that for each option (Human Relationships, Abnormal, Development and Health) that there are three topics. There are also three exam questions in Paper 2 for each option, and one of those questions comes from each topic.

Why is this important to know?

Because it means you can cut out one of those topics and still give students choice in the exams. If you were really cut for time, you could cut two topics and put your eggs in one basket.

Example: Human relationships has three topics:

  1. Personal relationships
  2. Group dynamics
  3. Social responsibility

There’ll be one question for each of these topics in Paper 2. This means if you’re in a bind you could teach just group dynamics and skip the other two.

If you are using our textbook (IB Psychology: A Student’s Guide link), that would mean skipping Love and Marriage topics 5.3-5.5 (Chapter 5) and Social Influence 3.9-3.11 (Chapter 3). This would cut at least 14 lessons/hours from your course.

Group Dynamics is a good topic to specialize in because all three topics can be mostly covered with realistic group conflict theory, the Robbers Cave experiment and social identity theory (which overlaps with the core).

Example #2: Abnormal psychology also has three topics:

  1. Diagnosis
  2. Etiologies
  3. Treatments

You could focus just on etiologies and treatments and skip diagnosis, or even just focus on etiologies. This would save a lot of time in the course. Again, if you’re using our textbook, it would mean teaching Chapter 4: PTSD from topics 4.1-4.5 and skipping 4.6-4.9 (saving at least another 10 hours/lessons).

I want to emphasize here that I’m not encouraging this because I think it does mean if you cut these topics your students do miss out on valuable learning. But in these first couple of years I think we can be forgiven for doing what we need to in order to figure out this monster of a course. 

For exam success, it’s also better to give students more options so they can play to their strengths. 


#2. Teach Only One HL Extension

In the new course we have been given 30 hours for the HL extensions. But there’s no guarantee that each of those will be assessed in Paper 1. We know for HL students that definitely one essay question will be about one of the extension topics. For this reason, you could just teach one of the extensions and skip (or skim over) the others.

For example, I will be spending more time on the biological extensions than the other topics simply because these are the most predictable and straightforward. I find the sociocultural extension, while fascinating, a convoluted mess in terms of planning. (You can read more here about how to cut content in the cognitive extension and here about how to cut content in the sociocultural extension).

If you’re using our book, this would mean teaching Topic 8.1 and skipping or skimming through Topics 8.2 and 8.3 in Chapter 8, potentially saving another 14 hours/lessons.

It’s important to note that A Student’s Guideis planned lesson-by-lesson, with each lesson being based on about 50-70 minutes. This post can help you out if your lessons are longer or shorter.


#3. Teach ethics and research methods at the end 

In the new course, students need to be able to explain research methods and ethical considerations for each of the topics in the core and options (e.g. genetics, cognitive processing, group dynamics, etc.) It might be tempting to teach about research methods and ethical considerations for each topic in the core and options as you work through the course, but I think this is an ineffective way to go about developing conceptual understanding.

Personally, I will be teaching methods and ethics in the quantitative and qualitative units (Chapter 6 and 9, respectively).

But I will also be using these as focal points during our revision right before the exams. By teaching students about how and why experiments are used at the end of the course, we can look at the same method across multiple topics by getting students to find similarities and differences from all of the material they’ve learned, perhaps even using the same studies for both topics.

For example, we could look at how true experiments are used to study the effects of hormones on behaviour (e.g. The effects of cortisol and emotion on memory, by Buchanan and Lovallo, here). We could use this same study and a similar argument to explain how and why true experiments are used to investigate how variables affect cognitive processes (using the same study). This example can also be used in response to:

  • “Reliability of cognitive processes” (Emotion can enhance memory)
  • “Emotion and cognition” (Emotion can enhance memory)
  • “Etiologies of disorders” (Symptoms of PTSD related to re-experiencing the event)

So in just one lesson/hour, I can potentially prepare students to explain how and why one research method is used, with a supporting study, that will be applicable to five different topics.

Doing this at the end will enhance the chances that students comprehend the arguments and evidence, as well as serving as good revision for the exams.

The HL extension topics also require students to explain methods used, so I would recommend that HL students use the studies from their extensions in preparation for questions in the core about methods and ethics. For example, Sapolsky’s study on rhesus monkeys, cortisol and the hippocampus could apply to the HL extensions for the brain and behaviour as well as hormones and behaviour, but also for those same topics in the core.


Being an effective IB Psychology teacher is about finding that fine balance between breadth and depth: your students need enough content to develop deep conceptual understanding and critical thinking skills, but too much of the former means you won’t have time do develop the latter. While the new course has many flaws, it does make it easy to cut content to get out of a bind.

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