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Environmental Systems and Societies

ESS Study Guide

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Enviros Overview

ESS Aims and Objectives IBDP

Group 3 Subject Aims IB DP

History students (and all Group 3 Individuals and Societies students) will:

  • engage in the systematic and critical study of the human experience and human behaviour; physical, economic and social environments; the history and development of social and cultural institutions

  • develop a capacity to identify, analyse critically and evaluate theories, concepts and arguments about the nature and activities of the individual and society

  • enable the student to collect, describe and analyse data used in studies of society, to test hypotheses and interpret complex data and source material

  • appreciate the way in which learning is relevant to various cultures and societies

  • develop an appreciation of diversity

  • recognise that the content and methodologies of subjects are contestable and that study involves an appreciation of uncertainty


Environmental Systems and Societies Subject Aims IB DP

ESS course (SL and HL) will enable students to:

  • acquire the knowledge and understandings of environmental systems and issues at a variety of scales

  • apply the knowledge, methodologies and skills to analyse environmental systems and issues at a variety of scales

  • appreciate the dynamic interconnectedness between environmental systems and societies 

  • value the combination of personal, local and global perspectives in making informed decisions and taking responsible actions on
    environmental issues

  • be critically aware that resources are finite, that these could be inequitably distributed and exploited, and that management of these inequities is the key to sustainability

  • develop awareness of the diversity of environmental value systems

  • develop critical awareness that environmental problems are caused and solved by decisions made by individuals and societies

  • engage with the controversies that surround a variety of environmental issues

  • create innovative solutions to environmental issues by engaging actively in local and global contexts


ESS Assessment Objectives IB DP

Knowledge and Understanding -- ESS students will demonstrate knowledge and understanding of relevant:

  • facts and concepts

  • methodologies and techniques

  • values and attitudes.

Application and Analysis -- ESS students will apply this knowledge and understanding in the analysis of:

  • explanations, concepts and theories

  • data and models

  • case studies in unfamiliar contexts

  • arguments and value systems.

Synthesis and Evaluation -- ESS students will evaluate, justify and synthesize:

  • explanations, theories and models

  • arguments and proposed solutions

  • methods of fieldwork and investigation

  • cultural viewpoints and value systems.

Use and Application of Appropriate Skills -- ESS students will engage with investigations of environmental and societal issues at the
local and global level through:

  • evaluating the political, economic and social contexts of issues

  • selecting and applying the appropriate research and practical skills necessary to carry out investigations

  • suggesting collaborative and innovative solutions that demonstrate awareness and respect for the cultural differences and value systems of others


IB DP ESS Syllabus
ESS Core Content (Total Hours = 120)
  1. Foundations of environmental systems and societies (16hrs)

  2. Ecosystems and ecology (25hrs)

  3. Biodiversity and conservation (13hrs)

  4. Water and aquatic food production systems and societies (15hrs)

  5. Soil systems and terrestrial food production systems and societies (12hrs)

  6. Atmospheric systems and societies (10hrs)

  7. Climate change and energy production (13hrs)

  8. Human systems and resource use (16hrs)


ESS Practical Scheme of Work (Total Hours = 30)

  1. Practical activities (20hrs)

  2. Individual investigation (10hrs)


IB Exam Command Terms

Students need to have a good understanding of the ESS IB command terms for success in your IB exams. 


ESS IB Assessment Objective 1 [2 marks]

  • Define: Give the precise meaning of a word, phrase, concept or physical quantity.

  • Draw: Represent by means of a labelled, accurate diagram or graph, using a pencil. 

  • Label: Add labels to a diagram.

  • List: Give a sequence of brief answers with no explanation.

  • Measure: Obtain a value for a quantity.

  • State: Give a specific name, value or other brief answer without explanation or calculation.


ESS IB Assessment Objective 2 [2-4 marks]

  • Annotate: Add brief notes to a diagram or graph.

  • Apply: Use an idea, equation, principle, theory or law in relation to a given problem or issue.

  • Calculate: Obtain a numerical answer showing the relevant stages of working.

  • Describe: Give a detailed account.

  • Distinguish: Make clear the differences between two or more concepts or items.

  • Estimate: Obtain an approximate value.

  • Identify: Interpret Provide an answer from a number of possibilities.

  • Use: knowledge and understanding to recognize trends and draw conclusions from given information.

  • Outline: Give a brief account or summary


ESS IB Assessment Objectives 3 and 4 [6-8 marks]

  • Analyse: Break down in order to bring out the essential elements or structure.

  • Comment: Give a judgment based on a given statement or result of a calculation.

  • Compare: and contrast Give an account of similarities and differences between two (or more) items or situations.

  • Construct: Display information in a diagrammatic or logical form.

  • Deduce: Reach a conclusion from the information given.

  • Demonstrate: Make clear by reasoning or evidence, illustrating with examples or practical application.

  • Derive: Manipulate a mathematical relationship to give a new equation or relationship.

  • Design: Produce a plan, simulation or model.

  • Determine: Obtain the only possible answer.

  • Discuss: Offer a considered and balanced review that includes a range of arguments, factors or hypotheses.

  • Evaluate: Make an appraisal by weighing up the strengths and limitations.

  • Explain: Give a detailed account, including reasons or causes.

  • Examine: Consider an argument or concept in a way that uncovers the assumptions and interrelationships of the issue.

  • Justify: Provide evidence to support or defend a choice, decision, strategy or course of action.

  • Predict: Give an expected result.

  • Sketch: Represent by means of a diagram or graph (labelled as appropriate).

  • Suggest: Propose a solution, hypothesis or other possible answer.

  • To what extent: Consider the merits or otherwise of an argument or concept.







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