1. What are “Command Terms”?

You may have seen some of these words in the problem statement of an IB Past Paper.

  • Describe
  • Explain
  • Evaluate
  • Determine

It’s very important in the IB exam to understand what exactly you are being asked. “Command Terms” like the above, are very helpful words that indicate “what the Examiner wants” in answering a question, and can help you get all the points that you deserve!

About Assessment Objective

Have you ever heard of the term Assessment Objective (AO)? This is an evaluation index attached to the command term, and consists of four stages from AO1 to AO4.

From AO1 to AO3, the level of answers required increases and the score increases as the level goes up, while AO4 has a unique answer method for each. subject.

Reasons to study Command Terms

Knowing the meaning of the command term and being able to answer it exactly is essential not only to be able to answer quickly in the exam, but also for getting a high score.

For example, answering AO3’s command term with a short AO1 level is not enough, and it’s also a waste of time to answer an AO1 command with a lengthy elaborate answer. Therefore, knowing which Command term is in which AO is also important in answering correctly and efficiently.

2. What kind of Command Terms are there in the IB?

So what are the Command terms? Let’s take a look at each AO to understand more in detail.

Please note that although the meaning of Command terms are the same in all subjects of IB, some Command terms may not appear in some of your subjects, and AO also has different classification of Command term for each subject group.

Here, in order to capture the overall trend, we will introduce the subjects of Group 3 where AO standards are particularly important.

AO1: IB Command Terms that require you to answer the meaning of a term or concept

In AO1, the IB tests you on whether you have a solid and accurate knowledge about the topic.
Therefore, in order to evaluate knowledge and understanding, there are many basic questions asking the meaning of terms and what a certain concept is.

For example, the following verbs are common.

Command Terms in AO1Meaning
DefineGive the precise meaning of a word, phrase, concept or physical quantity.
StateGive a specific name, value or other brief answer without explanation or calculation.
Describe*Give a detailed account.
Outline*Give a brief account or summary.

*In Group 4, Describe and Outline are under AO2

In order to get a perfect score, you still need to remember the meaning of the term and make an answer that includes all the necessary elements for the answer. It’s just about memorizing, but it’s surprisingly difficult to make a perfect answer. On the contrary, it is a waste to lose points on these problems, so we recommend you to study and memorize so that you can give a perfect answer.

AO2: IB Command Terms which mainly refer to explanatory problems

At AO2, the IB wants to see whether you can apply and analyze your knowledge and understanding.
Therefore, it is required to apply knowledge to a certain situation and describe it. There will be questions asking to explain using frameworks, concepts and formulas for why A is B.

Command Terms in AO2Meaning
ApplyUse an idea, equation, principle, theory or law in relation to a given problem or issue.
DistinguishMake clear differences between two or more concepts or items.
Explain*Give a detailed account including reasons or causes.
Analyze*Break down in order to bring out the essential elements or structure.

*n Group 4, Explain and Analyze are under AO3

At first glance, AO2 seems to be a simple question, but as you can see from the Command terms, there are detailed specifications in the answer. If this is omitted, it will lead to point deductions, so be sure to remember some key hints like “Distinguish requires two or more differences” and “Explain requires reasons and factors”.

For questions that use frameworks, the key point is to apply them to the correct situation without forgetting, so practice solving these problems repeatedly and train yourself. Also, as a matter of course, knowledge and understanding are a prerequisite for answering AO2 questions, so be sure to study basic knowledge as well.

AO3: IB Command Terms indicating the answers should be essay format

Regarding AO3, the IB evaluates whether you can use your knowledge to make comparisons and decide whether a method is appropriate in that situation.
Therefore, it is important to use frameworks as a basis for your argument. For example, in Business Management, a question such as “Discuss whether company A should do X” is asked. The answer box is quite big and you are expected to answer with a short essay.

Command Terms in AO3Meaning
Compare and contrastGive an account of the similarities between two (or more) items or situations, referring to both (all) of them throughout.
DiscussOffer a considered and balanced review that includes a range of arguments, factors, or hypotheses. Opinions or conclusions should be presented clearly and supported by appropriate evidence.
EvaluateMake an appraisal by weighing up the strengths and limitations.
ExamineConsider an argument or concept in a way that uncovers the assumptions and interrelationships of the issue.

In AO3, there are problems which require you to consider the strengths and weaknesses of certain frameworks or concepts, but as you can in the table above, it is important to cover both sides of the argument.

As long as you pick up and remember key points covered in class such as “there are 3 characteristics” or “In this method, there is 1 strength and 1 weakness”, you shouldn’t have any difficulties on the exam.

However, it takes some getting used to answering this perfectly, other than memorizing the frameworks and concepts, you also need practice a lot of questions, and get used to the type of questions being asked, and understand the depth in which you are expected to answer.

AO4: IB Command Terms that require calculation and drawing

In AO4, you will be tested on whether you can properly select and apply the skills specific to that subject.
Group 4 doesn’t have any A04 Command Terms, but Group 3 has problems such as calculation and drawing which correspond to this. Therefore, it is crucial to remember how to use graphs and formulas in Group 3.

Command Terms in AO4Meaning
Label*Add labels to a diagram.
Annotate**Add brief notes to diagram or graph.
Calculate**Obtain a numerical answer showing the relevant stages in the working.
Determine***Obtain the only possible answer.

*In Group 4, “Label” is under AO1
**In Group 4, “Annotate” and “Calculate” is under AO2
***IN Group 4, “Determine” is under AO3

In Group 3 exams, Formula booklets are distributed for calculation problems and you can also use a calculator, so it is easy to score points. However, you wouldn’t be able to calculate without knowing which number to apply to where in the formula, so you should make sure to practice with many questions and remember how to use them.

It takes time to solve drawings but once you get used to it, it is easier to solve than the writing problem, and it is also easier to score points, so practice these type of questions repeatedly.

3. Conclusion

In summary, practice makes perfect! So we recommend you to practice a lot of past papers in order to get familiar with these command terms. If you’d like to read more about the Command terms in detail, you can take a look at the last page of the Curriculum Guide available for each subject.