Disclaimer: The purpose of this blog is not to boast about my grades in any way. It is written for students who may be starting IB soon/ are currently struggling with IB so that hopefully they can learn something from it. Enjoy!
The IB diploma is notorious for being one of the hardest high school qualifications. Not only does it have more subjects compared to qualifications such as A-levels, it also has core aspects of the programme such as TOK and EE that you have to pass to get your diploma.
Many students who did the IB complained of not having a life outside of studying and many sleepless nights trying to write IAs and cram for exams. “Is the IB that bad?” is something I get asked a lot as a student who did well in it.
The short answer is “It depends”. However, it wouldn’t be true to say I never struggled with it. I remember having a hard time at the start and towards the end of 11th grade. This was because I was juggling IB with university application at that time.
Other than that, the IB is very doable and depending on your study technique and motivation, you have a very good shot at achieving a high score! So in this post, I’m here to give you all of my tips and tricks to help you achieve that high score you want!
Motivation for IB
Motivation is very important for IB. If you are just starting out, you need to have a very clear goal of what you want to achieve from it. Do you just want to do the bare minimum and pass? Or are you willing to learn and do your best so you achieve the best?
When I started out, I knew what I wanted. This was because I wanted to study Medicine at university. I needed at least a 666 in my HLs and around 37 points in total. It was not only about the grades of course!
I also really wanted to learn, especially for Bio, Chem, and Psych because I knew they would
lay down the basics for medical school! The IB also helped me learn many transferable skills such as time management that would be useful for life! (cliché but true lol)
So, if you are set on wanting a great score and to learn in the process, always think about what motivates you. Is there a certain degree you want to study? Are there grade requirements for it? Are you interested in the subjects that you’ve taken? Whatever it may be, motivation is required to get through IB!
It helped me get through the stressful times and stay motivated! So, whether you’re just starting or halfway through the IB already, just think about what motivates you to get through! You can do it!
Study Techniques and Resources
Now that the pep talk for motivation is out of the way, it’s time for the section that you’re actually here for: Study Techniques and Resources!
Here, I’m going to be talking about how I studied for each subject to achieve high scores! Do note that everyone’s way of studying is different and what worked for me might not work for everyone. Regardless, this was how I studied and got high grades for each subject.
For every new chapter in Bio, I would print out a list of Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) that we need to cover. I don’t go straight into reading any textbooks because my teacher told me that some textbooks don’t cover all the ILOs. ILOs are things you’ll need to know for the exam so just having a list to tick off helps!
After that, I would read the chapter from my chosen textbook, taking notes along the way using my ILOs to help guide what I really need to cover. My go-to textbook is Pearson’s Baccalaureate Biology Higher Level 2nd edition. I find that it goes into enough detail and mostly helps me tick off all the ILOs.
I know some people say taking notes doesn’t help but it helped me to prepare for the exams
since I don’t want to go read the textbook last minute. It also helps me check my understanding from reading the textbook.
My number 1 tip for taking notes is to only write down what you understand. Don’t try to copy everything off the textbook and try to summarize it. Anything you don’t understand, you mark it off so that you can ask your teacher or find out more about it later.
After reading the textbook, I go over the things I marked off and didn’t understand. If it’s a big topic I didn’t get, I would go onto YouTube to watch Alex Lee’s videos on the topic. His videos explain complicated topics in a very simple manner and I owe half of my success in IB Bio to him! For the small things I didn’t understand, I would first use Google to search for it and if I still don’t understand, I would ask my teacher about it.
For revision, I love using my own notes and the Oxford IB Study Guide. The guide summarizes every chapter into 2 or 3 pages and has the main points you need to know! I like to go over my notes first and then use the study guide. Studying with friends near exams also helps since you can test each other and help clarify confusing topics!
Past papers were my holy grail when it comes to the IB. Trying to answer extended response questions and scoring yourself using the mark scheme is a must for Bio! (This also applies to other subjects too.)
Since these questions are worth a lot of marks, knowing what you’ll need to get a good mark on those will really help boost your grade! Past multiple-choice questions are also worth going through since they can test how much you can retain the information!
I usually do 1 or 2 past papers before each exam we have at school. So, by the time the final external exams came along, I had already done almost all the past papers and felt very prepared!
For Chem, I used the exact same methods as I did for Bio. I would print out the list of ILOs, read my chosen textbook and take notes from it. I also used the Pearson’s Baccalaureate Chemistry HL 2nd edition. This was the only textbook provided to us by our school but just like the Bio textbook, I still like it because it mostly covers all the ILOs.
Don’t have a go-to YouTube channel for Chem since I felt like reading the textbook was enough. To be completely honest, I wasn’t as interested in Chem as I was for Bio so I didn’t spend a lot of time on it. In hindsight, this is really bad, because I would find myself cramming last minute for exams. I would get stressed out all the time when Chem exams come around but I would feel guilty for not spending a lot of time on it.
So, learn from me and don’t ignore a subject just because you don’t like it! It’s wiser to spend a little more time on those subjects rather than focusing all the time on the ones you enjoy/are good at.
But, if you ever find yourself cramming for Chem like I did, the Oxford Study Guide for Chem comes in handy! Again, it summarizes all the chapters in a few pages and has all the formulas you’ll need to know!
Past papers are the most important for Chem because there’s a lot of calculations for Chem! You’ll need to practice them to know how to do them correctly! If you’re super enthusiastic, you can also work out problems at the end of each chapter in Pearson’s textbook/chosen textbook! (I, of course should’ve done those but didn’t oops)
Ah, one of my favorites of all! I heard that the curriculum changed for Psychology and there are added questions/topics for the following years. But nonetheless, I’m going to share how I studied for it!
For Psychology, after we’ve gone through a new topic in class, I would first see whether the topic can be asked as a SAQ (short answer question) or an ERQ (extended response question). Then, depending on this, I would make notes on the topic with core information we have to know to answer the questions (SAQ or ERQ) + the studies we need for it.
I usually use the Oxford study guide for Psychology to find the studies or would use the studies my teacher directed us to because they are usually really good! I had an amazing study partner for Psychology and we would divide the work to find studies for each topic. We share all our study guides with each other and it cut down my workload by half.
An important tip I would give in Psychology is to see if you can overlap studies for the topics. For example, for some studies like Loftus and Palmer it can be used in various topics! This can significantly cut down the amount of studies you’ll need to know and can save you tons of time during revision!
For revision, I just went through all the notes I made with my study partner and we would usually test each other on those! We didn’t have any past papers for our year since we were new to the curriculum change so our teacher just made up questions for us to practice! Shoutout to my teacher for being so great!
Practice is key in Maths! So, that’s what I did. I used the textbooks recommended by my teacher and just looked at example problems from there to learn how to do them. I also learned techniques I could use from my teacher. Then, I just practiced and practiced.
Using multiple textbooks in Maths is key to success because only then you’ll learn the different types of problems. (I’m not mentioning any specific textbooks here because I know the curriculum has changed significantly)
Asking the teacher for help when you are stuck is also important because sometimes the teacher will know a simpler/faster way to solve a problem. This will save you a lot of time in the exams!
Make sure you also know how to use the graphing calculator because in IB Maths, some questions purely test you on this! This is where a lot of students lose points because they simply didn’t know how to do statistics or draw a graph with the calculator! Again, try to do lots of past papers when revising for exams and revisit the topics you’ve learned frequently so that you don’t forget how to solve problems from those topics! Revision Village can also be really helpful when you get stuck on past paper questions because they show you a step by step way of solving them. The downside to this though is that it’s not free.
English Lang and Lit SL
English Literature was that one subject that required a lot of prior reading/writing skills and practice. Many students simply struggle with it because they don’t really understand how to approach/analyze literature. Some excel at it with no effort! This also depends on how much literature you have done throughout your years at school.
My one tip for English is to read a lot of books and try to analyze them at your own time if you can. You can also practice writing commentaries/literature analysis on the books/texts that you’ve read. Our teacher was really happy to provide unseen texts when students ask for them and read the commentaries we’ve written in our own times. He also provided really good feedback so that we could improve on them.
We also got to read excellent commentaries that students have written in the past. This helped me learn from them for our exams. We would also practice reading unseen texts and writing commentaries on them at least once every 2 weeks in class! This really helped me improve my literature skills.
Other than that, we also have books we need to read for our exams. I would jot down any analysis points we come across in those books and important quotes. We needed to memorize quotes from books for one for one of the exam papers (Paper 2). Therefore, writing down quotes and important points as I read the books really helped me stay prepared for the exams!
Burmese was similar to English literature in a sense that it was also a literature class. However, I was better at Burmese literature since it’s my mother tongue and I learned Burmese since I was young.
For this, I also studied in a similar manner as English. I practiced reading unseen texts and writing commentaries in my own time.
I also love reading Burmese novels since I was young and that I would say is one of the reasons why I scored really well for Burmese!
A Few General Tips:
· Balance your time across all subject areas: Don’t focus all your time on the subjects you enjoy/are good at! Make sure to put more effort into the subject(s) you’re struggling with!
· Have a schedule and stick to it! Since you’ll have a lot of subjects in IB, having a schedule of what time you’ll study for what subject is essential!
· Don’t ignore EE and TOK! They are part of the core requirements and you’ll need to do well in them to pass!
· Try to sort out university applications during the summer break! Start researching the schools you might want to apply to at the end of 10th grade and plan out your university essays by the end of 11th grade! IB in 12th grade is intense and you don’t want to leave things to the last minute!
· Don’t beat yourself up if you get a low grade, see what you can improve on instead.
· Pay attention in class! Most teachers will tell you what’s important for exams and you don’t want to miss these! Some teachers also explain things really well!
· Having a bad teacher is not an excuse! Trust me, you’ll come across teachers whom you might not learn well from. But, that can’t stop you from learning! YouTube videos and study guides are there to help you if you don’t understand something so don’t let a bad teacher be the reason you’re getting a bad grade!
· Motivation is key! As I said earlier, think about things that motivate you during the hard times! You can do this!
That’s all for today! I hope you enjoyed my study techniques and tips for IB. If you want to see more posts about IB or specific parts that I didn’t mention in this blog (such as IAs, EEs, TOK), let us know! Follow our IG @international.medics and go read our other blogs on medical school related things and university applications! Have a lovely weekend!