The summer is going to be over soon and some soon to be 11th Graders will start the IB program in international schools around the world. I have finished doing this program about a year ago before attending college. For those of you unfamiliar with the program, it’s similar to the AP classes, only you have less flexibility over what you choose and you also have to do something called CAS, Theory of Knowledge, and the Extended Essay. I’m going to apologize right away and say that if you are not in this program or are planning on doing this program, this post will not be that useful for you. However, a lot of people had asked me about my experience with this program so I felt like writing this honest reflection about it. Here, I will be discussing the large concepts about the program rather than stuff like study tips.
A lot of people say that the IB program is incredibly difficult and that you will have no sleep for the 2 years (11th and 12th Grade) while you are doing it. And those people are liars. The IB program is actually incredibly easy and manageable. In my 2 years of IB, I pulled 0 all nighters, spent 1 semester watching Game of Thrones instead of studying, and ended up with all 6’s on my exams without even studying for them (I probably would have gotten 7’s if I did study). The trick of doing this is to manage your time properly and to not make your life more difficult than it should be. So in this post I will give you a step-by-step guide of the IB and how to do well in it, with the least amount of work.
Choosing the Right Subjects
So let’s start at the beginning: with picking your classes. Chances are, you will have some choices (options) when it comes to the classes that you will have to take. Each school is different in terms of the classes that they offer so this part might not be 100% applicable to your situation. In total, you will have 6 classes. The basic framework for classes is that you need to have 1 Math course, 1 foreign language course, 1 English language course, 1 science course, and 1 Social Studies course. For the 6th Course, you can choose between an Art, another Social Studies course, or another Arts course. You also have to have 3 of those courses at Standard Level (SL) and 3 at Higher Level (HL).
When it comes to picking those courses, pick what you are good at. Despite what other people will want you to believe, the IB is NOT the time for you to take risks. So choose courses that you know you will do well in. If you are not that great at a certain subject, choose it at the standard level. It’s better to get a 7 in SL Math than a 3 at HL Math. If you are good at memorization, pick subjects such as Psychology, History, or Biology for Higher Level. If you are better at problem solving and applying your knowledge, pick subjects such as Math and Physics for HL. If you are good at making stuff up and bullshitting essays, take Economics or Language and Literature as your HL. If you are bilingual and your second language is offered as a foreign language at your school, take that language as HL. On the other hand, if you are not bilingual, do not take a foreign language as your HL. Don’t make your life more complicated than it has to be. Also, don’t get creative and pick 7 courses instead of 6 (or 4 higher levels instead of 3). This will only make your life more difficult than it has to be. Keep it simple. Pick only the required courses and the ones that play to your strength.
I personally picked HL English Language and Literature, HL Economics (because I’m good at the art of bullshit) and HL Psychology (because I also have a good memory). For SL’s, I picked Chemistry, German (because I’m not a native speaker) and Math. This combination turned out to be pretty easy for me because it played to my strength. So do the same with your subjects. Remember. It’s better to get a 7 in Sport Science than a 2 in HL Math.
The Recommended Workload
Your workload through out this two years will not (and should not) be equal. At the beginning of 11th Grade (1st Semester), you will not have that much work to do, a lot of concepts in your classes will be relatively easy, and you will still have a lot of time a head of you for major assessments (in my school, we didn’t even start with the major assessments at that point.) My Psychology teacher called this “the honey moon” period. Therefore, I would recommend for you to use the first semester to work on getting your CAS out of the way as much as possible. The second semester of 11th Grade will be harder than the first one. You will be introduced to more harder topics and you should start working on your long term assignments. During the summer between 11th and 12th Grade, you should get your major assignments (Extended Essays, IAs, etc…) done. The beginning of 12th Grade (until about November) will be incredibly difficult because you will be busy with college admissions as well as your normal academic work. After that, (if you follow through on everything in this guide) your life will become incredibly easy and a bit boring. You will be walking around and complaining about having nothing to do. So make a list of TV Shows that you want to watch for this time.
CAS is the Creativity, Action, and Service requirement that you will have to do. Different schools deal differently with this requirement and the rules have changed from the time that I’ve done the IB. However, the advice that I can give is: find your school’s rules and do the bare minimum. Ask yourself, “Do I really need to run for High School’s president to fulfill this requirement or will a less demanding activity/role allow for me to complete the requirement?”. If the answer is the later, don’t run for High School’s president and do the less demanding role. Even if you do the bare minimum, you will still have plenty of stuff to write about on your college application so don’t make your life harder.
Choose the activities that you can tolerate in each category. Don’t make your life more miserable than it has to be. And, obviously, if an activity gives a higher number of “hours” for the time spent, do that activity (if your school still counts hours). For example, in our school, one MUN conference gave 50 Creativity hours for one week and the school didn’t even check if you prepared for it or not. All you had to do was show up wearing a suit for the day and sit in your place, pretending to know what’s going on. On the other hand, Art Club only gave 4 Creativity hours per week. I think we can all agree that the first choice was a better way to full fill the requirements (back in my day, you had to get to 150 hours to be done).
For your CAS reflections, simply write them out and don’t get creative. Don’t make videos or something else. Simply write a paragraph reflection for everything. Also, feel free to bullshit (lie about) the learning outcomes. It’s not like the IB can read your thoughts. For example, for the ethical dilemma learning outcome, I wrote about how I felt tempted to overlook the mistakes that my High School team had made when I was refereeing for Volleyball. This was a complete lie and bullshit. I didn’t care about my High School team’s success and spent more time fighting boredom rather than trying to influence the game. Basically, if you can bullshit your way into making an activity match with the learning outcome, do that instead of doing an activity that would actually match the learning outcome. Also, don’t try to get a CAS award or extra points for doing CAS. It’s much easier to do well on your subjects than to get this extra points and your CAS award will not matter in the long run.
Time Required: will very wildly depending on your school.
The first part of making your life easier when it comes to the extended essay is choosing the right subject. I would recommend choosing psychology or literature or language and literature and avoiding subjects such as economics or natural sciences. For natural sciences, you will have to do experiments and for economics, you will have to collect primary data. This is extra work and it will also make it harder for you to write your extended essay over the summer (if you decide to write it during the summer).
The second part is choosing the right research question. The question should be easy to research, straight foreword, related to the subject, and be complex enough to allow for you to have a discussion. This question doesn’t have to be something that you are interested in. As long as you can research it, provide arguments and counter arguments, and have an intelligent discussion in your Essay, you are good to go. Make your life easier and pick something that is easy to research.
The third part is actually writing it. This is the hard part and you can either do it my way (lock yourself in your room for two weeks during the summer and get it done) or the proper way (write it slowly over the year that you have). Both ways are fine and you should do whatever works for you. I have written mine in Psychology but different extended essays have different rules that you need to follow so I can’t say exactly what you will need to do. What I can say is that you should read the rubric and focus on making your extended essay meet all of the requirements. You should also focus on making your essay sound academic. You can procrastinate on it and get it all done over the summer. If you pick the right subject, it will be doable. However, a better approach would be to not procrastinate and get about 1/2 of it done before the summer and 1/2 over the summer. Than, after you will be done with it, find a friend who is good at the subject to have him/her edit it for you and give you constructive feedback.
Time Required: I wrote my first draft in two weeks (about 12 hours each day) over the Summer and then spent one week (about 4 hours each day) editing it.
TOK (Theory Of Knowledge)
The TOK should be renamed “the art of bullshit”. For this subject, you will need to write an essay and do a presentation. For the presentation, it will be best for you to stick with the Power Point presentation and to not make it too fancy. You are not being graded on how pretty your slides look so why bother making them look pretty? However, you are being timed and graded on your ideas as well as on how you can convey them. Therefore, you should practice the presentation. Also, make sure to adhere to all of the required parts of the presentation and the written assignment. You can gain or lose a lot of points if you do or don’t follow the rules.
For both of this assignments (the presentation and the essay), the trick is to make yourself sound profound. Raise questions and than answer them without a real conclusion by using different perspectives. Choose something controversial for the questions to come more naturally to you. Pretend to be a philosopher, who is debating the meaning of life with himself or herself to get yourself in the mood. Basically, bullshit the presentation and the essay and you will be fine.
Time Required: 1-2 weeks (about an hour/day) for the essay. About 2 weeks (about 2 hours/day) for the presentation.
For your subjects, you will also need to do IAs (internal assessments). Different subjects will have different IAs so I can’t say exactly what you should write for them. However, I will go through the subjects that I had and the tricks to writing/doing easier IAs for those subjects:
Language and Literature: In this subject, the IAs are written tasks (one creative and one analytical), an Individual Oral Commentary of one text, and a Further Oral Activity.
For the creative written task, do not actually get creative. I know. This sounds Ironic. However, you will not get extra points for being super creative, while you might get points deducted for not following some things in the rubric. Make sure that the written task is relevant to the course work and pick the text type that’s easy to work with. Writing an 800 words news article is much easier than writing 800 words of poetry. It’s also much easier to write a good written task about the literature part rather than about the language part (so you should prioritize doing well on the literature written task.) Just like everything else in IB, the major component of how well you do will depend on your ability to bullshit. What I mean by this is that one of the most important parts of your creative written task is the rational, in which you should explain how your creative piece relates to the course. Even if your written task is not that great, itself, if you write the rational well, you will get a 5 or 6. Therefor, you should spend about the same time on this part as you spend writing the actual creative piece.
Time Required: 2-3 school days
The analytical written task is simply you writing an essay about some text. This part is easier to be done on the language part. Simply pick an article online that relates to the language part of the course and write an 800-1000 words essay on it. That’s it. (I really can’t add anything else to this part).
Time Required: I wrote mine in 1 school night. And than spent about 1 day editing it.
For the Further Oral Activity, pick an article or an advertisement and analyze it. Make a Power Point presentation. Again, the Power Point presentation doesn’t need to look fancy. Therefore, don’t waist your time making it look fancy. Instead, focus on your analysis. Again, if you are good at the Art of Bullshit, you will be fine.
Time Required: I spent 2 hours making my best FOA at the last minute.
The Individual Oral Commentary will be like an exam. Your teacher will pick a passage from one of the texts and it will be your job to analyze it. You will most likely know the passages in advance, which means that you will have some time to prepare for this exam and practice analyzing them at home. Record yourself doing the analysis and than listen to it. Or practice with a friend who is good at the subject. Also, as part of your preparation, you should write what happened before and after each passage and memorize it. This part should be in your introduction and you will gain some easy marks by simply stating the “context”.
Time Required: I studied for about a week for it.
Psychology: This IA is all about following the rubric. As long as you follow the rubric and write everything that is required of you in an academic tone, you will get an IB 6-7. For this IA, your writing style should be as concise and academic as possible. Do not write anything poetic or get too creative with your experiment. Remember, the less creative you will be, the better.
Time Required: 1-2 weeks
Math: The Math IA will be extremely long and will actually require for you to put in the effort. However, just like everything else in IB, the effort is not the actual Math part. Yes. Your math should be correct. You should not have any incorrect calculations. You should also make your math relevant to the course. However, it is only about 20% on the rubric. Your “presentation” or things like grammar, your ability to make the equations look pretty, the use of graphs and charts, and your writing counts for the rest. Therefore, spend most of your time on making your IA look pretty.
Time Required: I wrote mine over the summer
Chemistry: For the Chemistry IA, you will need to do an experiment and your IA will basically be a write up of that experiment. Doing the actual experiment will be the most time consuming part of your IA. If you screw this part up, feel free to make up the data for your experiment. Is this ethical? No. Will you get caught? Probably not. Is it easier than redoing the experiment from start if it failed? Of course. Just make sure to make your data look realistic. With this said, you do need to actually do the experiment (or pretend to do it). What I mean by this is that you have to show up to the lab, even if you will be making up numbers. You don’t want your Chemistry teacher to know that you plan on making up data.
Just like the Psychology IA, the Chemistry IA is also all about following the rubric. As long as you do everything on the rubric, you will get an IB 6-7. So go over the rubric as if it was a checklist.
Time Required: Due to the experiment part, it was about a month. But I did love smelling one of the chemicals so I probably would have gotten done faster if it wasn’t for this part.
German: For your foreign language, the IA’s will be written tasks and they will be incredibly short. Your main focus should be on getting the grammar and the format right. The content should obviously relate to the course. Make sure to pick an easy format/text type. You will also need to do an individual oral and an integrated oral. The best thing that you can do for your foreign language class is to study the language and worry less about the actual assignments. You can’t really prepare for the speaking IAs in a day or even in a week. If you know the language well, you will do well. If you don’t know the language well, you will not do well, no matter what you do.
Time Required: Learn the language as best as you can in a year of IB or in a year before IB. The assignments, themselves, will be incredibly easy this way.
Economics: The hardest part of this IA will be finding the article to write the commentary on. You should find an article, with which you can use two different concepts in order to explain it. The IA, itself, will not take you a lot of time to write and it is mostly about you making logical things up, in accordance with the subject. As long as it’s logical and makes sense, you will get points. With this IA, you will actually have to get a bit creative, since it’s hard to find a news article to which more than one concept will relate at the same time but which will be narrow and specific at the same time. This is the reason why I said that the ‘Art of Bullshit” is important in this subject. You will have to write 3-4 of those articles, focused on different sections of the course.
Time Required: About a week to find the article. About 8 hours to write the actual commentary on it and edit it.
Predicted Vs. Actual Scores
Your predicted scores are more important than your actual scores, if you plan on studying in the US. Your predicted score is what your grade is based on. Which means high predicted score = high GPA. Therefore, your priority should be on getting a high predicted score rather than an actual. If you plan on staying in Europe or going to UK, if you get a really high predicted score, you can get an “unconditional offer”. An “unconditional offer” means that it doesn’t matter how you do on the final exams. Your University can not resign your offer over you IB score results. Therefore, my recommendation would be to suck up to your teachers and show a lot of potential to get those high predicted scores. And than relax your final semester of IB and not bother actually doing well on the exams. I had gotten an unconditional from my University, which is why I didn’t even study for the finals.
So here you have the basic recommendations that I can give about the IB program and how to do less work in it. Keep in mind that a lot of those things will be specific to your school and some of them will be out of date. I might make a follow up post to discuss the actual exams. However, over all, if you focus on the right things and not make your life harder than it has to be, the IB program will not be as hard as people make it out to be.
Remember. IB is IBS,