1. Contents of IB ESS

ESS is one of two interdisciplinary courses in IBDP, which you can take as either a group 3 subject or a group 4 subject. The SL course is the only course that is available and students will learn scientific topics such as energy flow and diversity, and social problems such as human population and pollution management.

ESS is known as the subject where students learn case studies in each topic, find problems and solutions, and discuss them. Students are often required to look at those case studies from different aspects including history, economics, geography, politics and ethics. So, it allows students to practice their knowledge from other subjects and their experience in different countries.

Topics covered in ESS are following:

  1. Foundations of Environmental Systems and Societies
  2. Ecosystems and Ecology
  3. Biodiversity and Conservation
  4. Water and Aquatic Food Production Systems and Societies
  5. Soil Systems and Terrestrial Food Production Systems and Societies
  6. Atmospheric Systems and Societies
  7. Climate Change and Energy Production
  8. Human Systems and Resource Use



2. Criteria for IB ESS

IB has two ways of assessing students: External Assessment and Internal Assessment (IA). Students have External Assessment as final exams in May or November and are assessed by IB examiners. On the other hand, IA is assessed by the school teacher and they will submit students’ scores to the IB headquarters. 75% of the final grade comes from the External Assessment and 25% comes from the IA.

External Assessment Paper 1
  • All the topics
  • Weight: 25% (40 marks)
  • Duration: 60 mins
  • Calculator: allowed
  • Contents: Students will be asked to analyze the data, graphs, pictures, and information based on an unseen case study. 
Paper 2
  • All the topics
  • Weight: 50% (65 marks)
  • Duration: 120 mins
  • Calculator: allowed
  • Contents: In section A, students will get short-answer and data-based questions (worth 25 marks). In section B, four structured essay questions are given and students will answer two of them (worth 40 marks).
Internal Assessment Individual Investigation
  • Weight: 25%
  • Contents: Students will carry out research focusing on a specific problem related to ESS and produce a written report with the application of the result to environmental and/or social problems in real life.



3. Pros of taking ESS

Students can take ESS as a group 3 subject or a group 4 subject, so it is recommended to those who are not sure about taking history, business, physics, and chemistry. Here are some advices and pros of ESS from IB graduates.

  1. Recommended for those who want to practice outside knowledge as ESS is closely related to biology, geography, history, and economics.
  2. Recommended for those who are interested in environmental problems and good at writing essays since there will be many discussions over environmental problems based on your point of view.
  3. Recommended for those who want to spend more time on other subjects as there are only 8 topics in ESS.
  4. Recommended for those who are not good at math since only simple math is needed for the calculations in ESS.
  5. It might be hard to memorize a lot of case studies, but it’s relatively easy since they are closely related to your everyday life.



4. Tips for ESS

Like other subjects, ESS requires some time to and amount of study to get a good score. However, once you know how to study or prepare for the exam, you will find it easier to master the subject. If you have any problems, make sure you go to your teacher or IB graduates.


4.1 Tips for Final Exam

Understand Command Terms

Command terms are demanding verbs used in questions on exams. Questions with certain command terms are worth higher marks than those with others. So make sure you know what each command term is asking you. Here are examples of command terms.

  • Compare… Compare two or more things or situations. Focus on similarities. Rather than explaining one thing more than the other, it’s better to spend the same amount of writing on each subject.
  • Discuss… Rather than drawing a conclusion of yes/no, explain the subject with different perspectives and argue the problems that occur for such differences.


Know Some Case Studies in Real World

In order to get high scores on the exam, students are required to clearly apply their knowledge to case studies in real world. To do that, you should not only memorize the case studies discussed in class but also pay attention to the newspaper or the news and find examples of what you’ve learned in the course is practiced. If you’re aiming for 6/7, you might also want to be able to explain how they link to the given question as a tool of analysis.


Check Model Answers

Students can get marks by showing important points of the topic especially in paper 2. Model answers include vocabularies that are specified for the answer, so you might want to make a list of those vocabulary for each topic.


Master the Use of ESS Terms

In order to use ESS terms appropriately in the final exam, you might want to practice using them beforehand. You also want to make sure you know the definition, connection to the topic, and how to use it in the context. Quizlet is a good tool to review and memorize.


Master the Use of Calculator

Students are allowed to bring their calculators to the final exam. So it’s best to practice how to use it when you review the topics. Otherwise, you will have to spend extra time on figuring it out during the exam.



4.2 Tips for IA

Students conduct research on a problem related to ESS contents and produce a written report in 1,500 to 2,250 words. Students are required to carry out primary research (e.g. interview, survey, observation, and experiment) and/or secondary research. The most important things through writing IA in ESS is the following:

  1. Identify an ESS issue and focus on one specific topic
  2. Think carefully about methods to develop your knowledge and understanding of the topic
  3. Apply your conclusion to ESS contents

In addition to these, students are suggested to apply their investigation to local, regional, or global environmental issues and provide possible solutions or talk about current policies and regulations on the environment. The deeper your analysis becomes, the higher your chance of getting a good grade on your IA.


4.3 Tips for EE

Writing EE on ESS is recommended for those who are really interested in environmental problems and ecosystems. It allows you to practice your knowledge of ESS especially when talking about social issues from various aspects. It also allows you to explore the topic you’re interested in more freely. The most important step in writing EE is choosing your topic. Not only it has to be something you’re interested in, but also it should be something you can practice your knowledge in ESS and something you can develop your analysis.