IB resources

Complete Guide to Understanding IB Command Terms

Mastering IB command terms is crucial for excelling in assessments and meeting cognitive expectations, boosting academic performance and confidence in the IB curriculum.

Grace Magusara
Operations Co-Ordinator
June 18, 2024
min read

In the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, command terms are used to communicate the level of cognitive demand required by different assessment tasks. These terms are aligned with various educational objectives.

Here's a breakdown of common IB command terms based on objectives:

Objective 1: Knowledge and Understanding

  • Define: Give the precise meaning of a word, phrase, concept, or physical quantity.
  • Describe: Give a detailed account or picture of a situation, event, pattern, or process.
  • Identify: Provide an answer from a number of possibilities.
  • List: Give a sequence of brief answers with no explanation.

Objective 2: Application and Analysis

  • Apply: Use an idea, equation, principle, theory, or law in a new situation.
  • Distinguish: Make clear the differences between two or more concepts or items.
  • Explain: Give a detailed account including reasons or causes.
  • Suggest: Propose a solution, hypothesis, or other possible answer.

Objective 3: Synthesis and Evaluation

  • Compare: Give an account of the similarities between two (or more) items or situations, referring to both (all) of them throughout.
  • Compare and Contrast: Give an account of similarities and differences between two (or more) items or situations, referring to both (all) of them throughout.
  • Contrast: Give an account of the differences between two (or more) items or situations, referring to both (all) of them throughout.
  • Discuss: Offer 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.
  • Evaluate: Make an appraisal by weighing up the strengths and limitations.
  • Justify: Give valid reasons or evidence to support an answer or conclusion.

Objective 4: Practical Skills

  • Annotate: Add brief notes to a diagram or graph.
  • Calculate: Find an answer using mathematical methods.
  • Construct: Display information in a diagrammatic or logical form.
  • Draw: Represent by means of a labeled, accurate diagram or graph, using a pencil. A ruler (straight edge) should be used for straight lines. Diagrams should be drawn to scale. Graphs should have points correctly plotted (if appropriate) and joined in a straight line or smooth curve.
  • Measure: Obtain a value for a quantity.

Tips for Mastering Command Terms

Study Strategies:

  • Flashcards: Create flashcards with each command term on one side and its definition and example on the other.
  • Practice Questions: Regularly practice with past exam questions, focusing on how to use the command terms correctly in your answers.
  • Group Discussions: Study with peers and discuss how different command terms should be applied in various subjects.

Practice Makes Perfect: Incorporate command terms into your daily study routine. When doing assignments or practice exams, consciously identify and apply the relevant command terms. This will help reinforce your understanding and improve your ability to respond accurately during exams.

Practice makes perfect

Subject specific nuance

It’s important to understand the command term within the context of the subject. For example, here are some command term interpretation for different subjects

  • Mathematics: "Calculate" often requires showing all steps of your working.
  • English Literature: "Discuss" requires you to explore multiple perspectives on a theme or character.
  • Geography: "Evaluate" involves weighing the pros and cons of a geographical theory or case study.
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To achieve a perfect score of 45 in the IB, understanding command terms for each subject is crucial.

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How to use the command terms to excel in your exams?

So much of doing well in the IB is understanding how examiners mark your work. This all begins with the command term. The examiners are actually making it easier for students to succeed! The command term tells you exactly how to answer the question.

❗ Pro tip! Whenever you are doing an exam, review the command terms core tly to understand exaclty b what is required to get the maximum amount of points


Mastering IB command terms is essential for excelling in assessments across various subjects. These terms not only guide how to approach questions but also ensure that students meet the expected cognitive levels. By familiarizing yourself with these command terms and their applications in different subjects, you can enhance your academic performance and navigate the IB curriculum with confidence.

Pro Tip: Practice using these command terms in your study sessions and past exam papers to sharpen your skills and prepare effectively for your assessments.

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