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Master Your IB History Internal Assessment: Expert Tips and Tools for Success

Henrik M.
Henrik M.IB Tutor and Writer
Subject-Specific Insights
clock iconNovember 05, 2023

Stuff that happened in the past shouldn't be that daunting, right? However, the IB History Internal Assessment can feel overwhelming at the outset. Especially because it makes up a substantial portion of your grade.

But don't look at the History IA as a challenge to overcome. Instead, consider it an adventure you get to embark on as you dive into a subject you love in a personal and engaging way. Not only does it teach you essential skills like organization and time management, but it challenges you to think, analyze, and find something that links you to the past.

We know that the History IA is a lot, but in this guide, we'll give you insider tips and expert tricks to master your History IA without the stress.

The History IA: Bringing History to Life

The International Baccalaureate History Internal Assessment (IA) is a 2,200-word historical investigation. It counts for 20% of your final grade if you're a Higher Level student and 25% if you're Standard Level. It is the opportunity to explore an area of history you find fascinating or have a personal connection with.

Broken into three sections, the History IA has clear guidelines to help you excel.

Section 1:

  • Six marks
  • 500 words
  • Focuses on the identification and evaluation of your sources
  • You have to critically analyze two key sources
  • Includes your research question

Section 2:

  • 15 marks
  • 1300 words
  • The investigation portion of the assessment
  • Includes a variety of sources and evidence
  • You should answer your research question in this section

Section 3:

  • Four marks
  • 400 words
  • Opportunity for you to reflect on your methods, challenges, and struggles encountered by other historians

The History IA allows you to personalize your learning and get you thinking like a historian. The IB History Diploma Program focuses on the political, economic, social, and cultural spheres, offering plenty of variation in topic choices.

The skills you learn completing an History IA can also help you navigate ToK hurdles and IA’s in other subjects like Math.

Your Topic is Everything

The topic you choose for your History IA is vitally important. You want a topic that you genuinely find exciting but also one with plenty of quality evidence.

The history course covers six key concepts to help you choose a topic.

  1. Causation
  2. Consequence
  3. Continuity
  4. Change
  5. Significance
  6. Perspective

Remember, this is a historical investigation, so the event you are investigating can't have happened in the last ten years.

Most History IA's fall into one of three categories:

  1. An investigation of a historical theme, person, or event
  2. An investigation based on fieldwork or a historic building/site
  3. An investigation of a local history

Your research question should be researchable, focused, and engaging. The History IA is an academic piece of writing that should be unbiased and offer a thorough analysis. A clear research topic can keep you on the right track.

Pro Topic Tip: Consider choosing a topic based on a local place you are familiar with or have easy access to. Local history offers you a wider variety of sources, particularly primary source options. You will also have access to museums and historical sites. Choosing a local topic will help you narrow the scope of your investigation. Remember, you only have 1300 words to answer your research question.

Research, Analyze, Cite, Repeat

Answering your research question is all about, you guessed it, research. Your evidence should be clear and relevant and lead you to an evidence-based conclusion that responds to your research question.

Using primary and secondary sources is the best way to comprehensively cover your topic and gather evidence for your argument.

Primary Sources

  • Original documents and artifacts from a period or place
  • Firsthand perspectives and accounts

Secondary Sources

  • Analyses of primary sources by industry experts

There are four key factors to consider when looking at sources.

  1. Origins. Where did the source come from?
  2. Purpose. Why was the source created?
  3. Content. What information does the source contain?
  4. Limitations. Is there anything that makes you question the validity of the source?

Pro Research Tip: Cite as you go. Use sticky notes to link ideas and keep track of valuable insights. Use different colored highlighters to emphasize evidence so it is easy to cite and add to your bibliography. You don't want to plagiarize because you failed to cite evidence correctly.

Strict Structure: One Less Thing to Think About

The structure of the History Internal Assessment is clearly explained in the guidelines and marking criteria. Don't look at this as restrictive. Instead, see the strict structure as the blessing it is. Understanding how to layout and format your assessment means you have one less thing to think about. The guidelines help keep you focused, which is vital if you want clarity and connection throughout your History IA.

Your introduction should explain the purpose and scope of your investigation. Then, you should use a series of investigative paragraphs that include your methodology, analysis, and conclusion. Headings and subheadings help you create a coherent argument that is easy to follow.

How to Structure IA

Section 1 should include your thesis question, and it's crucial that you pose it as a question and not a statement. Many students lose marks because of this mistake.

The more detailed your research question, the more clear and organized your argument will be.

Section 2 should explain why you chose the two key sources, including their strengths, weaknesses, and purpose. A detailed explanation is a simple way to score higher.

Section 3 can include some background and context, but it should focus on your research question.

Don't be generic in Section 3. Reflect on things like what you learned, the limitations of your investigation, and the struggles other historians encountered. But don't describe why you're interested in the topic you chose.

Section 4 is not a conclusion (that should be included in Section 2.)

Your paragraphs should have a topic sentence and connect to each other and your research question.

The List of Tips form Our IB Writers

Structuring your History IA correctly and nailing the research portion are two ways to improve your score. But there are a few insider tips that can help you submit a History IA that not only scores well but that you are proud of.

1. Break It Down

2,200 words isn't so bad, right? No, it's not a crazy word count, but that doesn't mean it isn't a daunting project. In fact, the word count can be an issue because you have to be clear and concise and get your point across in Section 2, which is only 1,300 words.

The best way to tackle your History IA is to break it into manageable chunks. Check the criteria because it gives you a detailed breakdown of what your investigation should look like and how it is scored. Armed with that information, you can create a framework with milestones and deadlines to keep you organized and on track.

2. Refine Your Research Question

Start with a broad topic and then ask yourself what interests you most. Can you narrow it down to a place, person, date, or event?

Avoid questions with yes or no answers because that leaves little room for investigation. Make a list of keywords related to your topic that will make searching for information easier.

3. Analyze, Don't Describe

Students often lose marks because they describe their sources rather than analyzing them with a critical eye.

Think about how the source contributes to the historical event you're investigating. 

Compare and contrast to uncover trends, patterns, and differences. 

Be transparent about the source's limitations.

4. Self-Editing

Editing, revising, and proofreading are seriously underrated skills when it comes to polishing your History IA.

Here are some easy self-editing tips to help you catch those pesky mistakes and tighten up your arguments.

  • Take a break for a day or two before reading through your finished assessment.
  • Read aloud.
  • Check for clarity and cohesion by assessing if your writing has a logical flow and obvious connections.
  • Double-check your citations.
  • Check that each paragraph has a clear focus that contributes to answering your research question.


The History Internal Assessment can be challenging if you're unprepared, but that is why we've put together this guide. There is a roadmap for success, and we want to offer the guidance and support you need to excel.

The investigation is a chance to explore an area you're genuinely interested in and flex your sleuthing chops as you find sources and analyze evidence to uncover the secrets of the past. With the correct information, you can confidently tackle your History IA, but if you need some inspiration, we're here to help.

Last edit at Nov 05 2023

Henrik M.

Henrik M.

IB Tutor and Writer

With over a decade in the educational realm, Henrik has guided countless IB students towards academic excellence. Combining a deep understanding of the IB curriculum with practical strategies, Henrik is committed to making challenging subjects approachable and essays memorable.

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