The IB Diploma – What I Wish I Had Known

IBDP > The IB Diploma – What I Wish I Had Known

By Milly Vaughan > LAST MODIFIED DATE: 14 November 2023 > In IBDP

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As an IB graduate, reflecting back on my journey there are a few things that I wish I had been made aware of before I started. In this article I will share my personal experiences and insights for future IBDP students, in the hope of preparing them for the challenges that lie ahead. 

There is a common misconception about the IB that you will need to say farewell to your social life and hello to bad sleeping habits and rigorous study hours. One of the most important aspects of the IBDP that I didn’t quite understand until my second year of the IBDP is the need for a healthy balance between academics and personal life. The IB program is a very demanding one in terms of the time and effort needed to succeed.  However, it is equally important that you also take time for activities outside of school. In my case, this was being a part of the Varsity cross country team and making time to see my friends in a non school setting. Additionally, your CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) hours ensure you do get to keep a social life.  Setting aside time for activities outside of school such as sport and socializing helps to combat burnout and enhance your overall well-being so it is crucial you don’t get sucked into studying 24/7. 

Throughout your IB journey, one topic of hot debate amongst your peers will be your Extended Essay. If you don’t know already, the Extended Essay is an independent self-directed research project that is required for IB students to complete under the supervision of an IB advisor. Choosing a topic that you are genuinely passionate about can make the process a lot more enjoyable and can look great on your college applications! It can even help you decide what you would like to major in at university. Trying to finish your EE a month before its due is not ideal! Please take your pre-deadlines seriously so that teachers can review your work before it is officially submitted. It’s also important to keep in mind that when choosing an IB advisor for your EE that you choose someone who specializes in your area of study and will be someone who you can rely on to guide and motivate you. Your advisor’s assessment also makes up a part of your final EE grade so it’s much more beneficial to choose an advisor who knows you well and pushes you to do better than someone who doesn’t know you well and isn’t involved in your research. 

In my first few months of doing the IB I didn’t realize the importance of your Internal Assessments (IA). Each IB subject will have an Internal Assessment (IA) which will play a big role in your final IB grades. The IA’s can be challenging but also valuable components of the IBDP in preparing you for university. They are in depth projects or assignments completed within each subject throughout the program. One of the main characteristics to keep in mind for the IA’s is that they are internally assessed by the subject teacher. Your teacher will play a crucial role in guiding you through the process, providing feedback and determining your final grade, so be engaged with your teacher and they will be there to support you. Additionally, depending on the subject, IA’s can take various forms. For example, in English it could be a written task or oral presentation and for Science it might involve a lab report or experiment. It may seem like you have all the time in the world to complete your IA but you do not  want to be that person scrambling to get it finished over a one month period. Summer period, although it may seem like a time for relaxing, is also a great time to get started on your projects such as your IA’s to be ahead in the final year of IB. Try to embrace your IA’s with openness and creativity to showcase your strengths, areas of expertise and ability to apply theoretical concepts to real world situations! 

Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) is one of the components that makes IB different from other curricula. It helps students develop skills outside of their academic skills such as developing their leadership and communication skills while also sharing their knowledge. As an ex IB student, I can understand how CAS can be seen as a burden! Today, I’m thankful for the hours I spent volunteering and taking up activities I wouldn’t usually participate in. CAS was a vital and enriching aspect of the IB which fostered my personal growth, encouraged me to explore new interests and promoted my community involvement. It can be a little overwhelming to fulfill your CAS requirements while also managing your academic commitments. However, if you find suitable activities that align with your interests and passions I can assure you that it won’t feel so overwhelming anymore. 

To do well in the IB, your exams are important. And with that comes mastering the exam technique. A lot of the time, the students scoring a perfect 45 in IB are not the smartest in the room but they do understand the exam technique well. They have it down to a T. In order to really understand the exam technique for each subject you need to practice with past papers. You will be able to find most of the IB past papers for each subject online through different IB resources. In my experience, the more past papers you do the more confident you will feel going into your final exams. Everything you need to know is in the IB guides for you to explore. They will be your best friend throughout the IB. Don’t forget to check out the question banks too as they can be a great resource for testing your knowledge and finding your weak areas to improve on. 

Every IB student has to take a Language B subject, don’t make the mistake of not keeping up with your Language B option over the summer break. Try to find interesting and engaging ways to practice your language. This could be watching your favorite movies in that language or spending time with a native speaker. If you really want to go all out, I had a friend taking Spanish Ab Initio for the first time with no previous Spanish experience and wanted to find an enjoyable way of learning it. Thus she spent 3 weeks over the summer in Barcelona doing a Spanish exchange program. Immersed in the culture and language, she was able to get a 6 in her final year exams! 

If you do feel overwhelmed and need some extra support, remember that there is always support around the corner. It could be your teachers, IB advisor, older peers who have been through the IB or specialized IB tutors. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You also have the option of many Pre-IB Programs that you can take in the summer to help understand the fundamentals and skills required of the IB Program and get that head start you might need to excel in your first year. 

Embarking on the IB program is an exciting yet demanding journey that requires preparation and perseverance. Reflecting on my own experience, I have highlighted the key areas I wish I had known before starting. As long as you are maintaining a balance between academics and personal life, preparing for the EE and IA’s, you should be able to succeed! Remember that not all IB students are academically inclined, just smart with their time management and exam technique! 


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