Revision Tips

How to read an IB mark scheme?

To do well in the IB, students need to understand what they are going to be tested about and how they are going to be tested. Students spend two years practising and studying these two aspects, however, they often overlook another important component: the mark scheme. 

The IB usually uses a mark scheme to grade students. A mark scheme is a scoring guide that sets the outline of the criteria to evaluate the student’s performance on tests. These guides are standardized, therefore, everyone will be evaluated according to them. 

Mark schemes are highly important because students’ marks will be given according to these guides. One can be outstandingly intelligent, but if they do not follow the criteria in the mark scheme, then they will score low.  Students need to study how to best earn points just as much as they should be studying their material.

Firstly, to understand what is being asked of you in a rubric, you need to understand some points:

  • The rubrics will vary according to the subject, paper, and level. 
  • Examiners seek to give you points, not take them away from you. They will try to evaluate in your favour, so do the best that you can following the criteria. 

Here are some tips to help you read and understand a marking rubric:

1. Distinguish between qualitative and quantitative rubrics

As I mentioned before, the rubric will vary according to the subject. Usually, subjects such as Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, and Individuals and Societies mark their tests qualitatively. Since there are technically no right or wrong answers, these papers are an evaluation of the adherence to the criteria and performance.

On the other hand, subjects such as the Sciences and Maths do have right or wrong answers and do not evaluate adherence to the criteria, but rather the resolution of problems. Therefore, their rubrics will be quantitative. 

For instance, for Language and Literature Paper 2, this is the marking rubric:

Criterion AKnowledge, understanding and interpretation10 Marks
Criterion BAnalysis and evaluation10 Marks
Criterion CFocus and organization 5 Marks
Criterion DLanguage5 Marks
Language and Literature Paper 2 Mark Scheme

The paper is a comparative essay. Since each student will have their own unique interpretation of the task, the rubric mark will be assessing their performance qualitatively.

Going further, each criterion will have specific requirements. For example, Criterion C is:

MarksLevel descriptor
0The work does not reach a standard described by the descriptors below.
1The essay rarely focuses on the task. There are few connections between ideas.
2The essay only sometimes focuses on the task, and the treatment of the works may be unbalanced. There are some connections between ideas, but these are not always coherent. 
3The essay maintains a focus on the task, despite some lapses; treatment of the works is mostly balanced. The development of ideas is mostly logical; ideas are generally connected in a cohesive manner
4The essay maintains a mostly clear and sustained focus on the task; the treatment of the works is balanced. The development of ideas is logical; ideas are cohesively connected
5The essay maintains a clear and sustained focus on the task; the treatment of the works is well balanced. The development of ideas is logical and convincing; ideas are connected in a cogent manner.
Language and Literature Paper 2 Criterion C Level descriptors

Therefore, the subjects that evaluate qualitatively will have specific criteria to follow and should be studied in-depth. There will be more tips regarding these rubrics later on.

When it comes to quantitative rubrics, for example, here is one used in Maths Analysis and Approaches SL:

The score will be given by the answer boundaries. These boundaries are determined each year according to the scores of that year. They are never consistent, but the most recent test boundaries should give you some guidance. 

2. Identify common terms 

Usually in qualitative rubrics, although the requirements are not always the same, there are some common terms. These common terms can be applied to almost all qualitative rubrics and should be taken into consideration as basics:

Understanding and interpretation

The task should be clearly interpreted from the beginning. Usually, in essay-style exams, interpreting the task should be the first thing to do. This means showing understanding of what is being asked and the scope of what the task entails. Answer the question they are asking, do not ramble about other topics.

For an easy way to score marks in this area, students should look into the command terms of each subject. Command terms are instructional words that can be used to further understand the task given. For instance, in Physics, the command term “identify” means to give an answer from a number of possibilities. Knowing each subject’s command terms will help your understanding of a task.

Analysis and evaluation

Usually, when the rubric asks for strong analysis and evaluation, one should give a compelling point and logical reasoning. It’s not just about facts, but also how the facts are interpreted and what they mean.

Focus and Organization

Organization in the IB is a huge deal. Essays in all subjects should always be organized in a way that is logical, clear, and easy to read. This might not be important to some students, but the presentation of your work makes it simple for the examiner to follow your train of thought and award you marks.


This is usually a criterion for Language and Literature, as well as Language Acquisition, but it’s always important to keep in mind for all subjects. The message of the essay should be clear from the introduction until the conclusion. This means that the thesis of your essay—your answer to the task—should be clear and consistent from the beginning. All arguments should contribute to the construction of the thesis of the essay.

Note that this is not an exhaustive list and that each individual subject will have its own criteria. However, with the examples provided, I have hopefully given you a general idea on what to look for and how to make the most out your mark schemes!

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