Top 5 Essentials for Studying Social and Cultural Anthropology

IB Anthropology is not as content-heavy as some other IB subjects. This can make it more manageable if you’re not great at memorising facts, but it is by no means easy! Anthropology requires you to challenge your perceptions about the world, understand complex theories, and apply these theories to a wide variety of contexts. This can get a bit overwhelming, so below are a few tricks to help you out!

  1. Be (very) familiar with your ethnographic texts

You will need to be able to reference a variety of ethnographies in your exams. These will fit into at least one (but likely more) of the 3 (SL) or 4 (HL) areas of inquiry that your teacher explores with you. For the main ethnographies you study, you need to be able to recite the ethnographic present (author, location, date etc.), historical context, and a few general characteristics. But that’s only the beginning.

Understanding how the ethnographies are relevant to the areas of inquiry and how they converse with other texts should be the foundation of your anthropological knowledge. Start by keeping notes of the basic information of each ethnography and add to it as you learn more.

  1. Understand the key concepts, big anthropological questions, and theories

The next way to structure your anthropological understanding for the IB is through their prescribed 9 key concepts and 6 big anthropological questions. The key concepts all have IB definitions, and you will be required to define them before using them in an exam essay. 

Both the key concepts and the big questions are designed to challenge you to think about the material you explored in the ethnographies. As for theories, you will learn them throughout your course as they relate to the ethnographies you study. Make flashcards for each and constantly remind yourself of them as you read, discuss, and complete assignments.

  1. Study groups!

Regardless of how you normally study, talking about anthropology with your classmates will help you understand it. Anthropological knowledge is based on conversation and interaction.

It is often subjective, and it’s not so much what you say that matters, but how you argue it.

By talking through practice papers and discussing ethnographies in a group, you can build off each other’s ideas and become comfortable supporting your opinions.

  1. Know your Papers

Knowing your papers is a necessity for any IB subject. It’s even more important in anthropology however, because some of the questions are the same every year! Don’t get too excited, they’re not exactly the same, but they have a prescribed structure with a few words changed. These few words will be fundamental to your answer, but it’s nevertheless very handy to know what to expect. Write yourself a cheat sheet of each paper and question (where possible), along with recommended time limits and point values for each.

  1. Create essay plans

Essay plans are a great thing to do before and during your exams. During exams, constructing an essay plan before starting to write will improve the structure and cohesiveness of your essays and help you manage your time. As a study tool, writing essay plans is a great way to review information and solidify your analyses and opinions. Bonus points for writing essay plans while discussing ideas in a study group!


The IB isn’t easy, but I promise it can be done. Remembering these tips will help you get Social and Cultural Anthropology SL/HL under control. If you want more in-depth support, get some personalised help to crack down on exactly what you’re struggling with!

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