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IB Survival Guide

Written by: Carla Turbides and Hannah Gun

From: Lima, Peru

Edited by: Luana Mayer

When we think about the IB, the first thing that comes to mind right now is something completely different from what we thought the demanding program was like one year ago. Currently, words that come to mind are: immersive, advanced, and stressful. Although it is easy to think that the IB is too hard, it is all about having the right mindset.  

In this short article, we are going to write about things that we would have liked to know before taking this program, as well as our general thoughts and first impressions over the last 6 months of this new learning challenge. We will address 4 main topics: workload, Theory Of Knowledge & CAS, IB during the pandemic, and qualities of the IB learning. However, firstly, for some context, we  want to clarify that the IB in our school, Markham College, unlike many others, is an optional program that is mainly targeted to those students that look for an extra challenge. This is because the IB program requires students to stay an extra year in school, which is not demanded by the national curriculum or the ministry of education. Before the IB program, everyone is expected to complete 7 IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) courses. Furthermore, so that you get to know us better, this is a little bit about ourselves: 

  • Hannah: Hi! I’m Hannah, and I am currently the head of the Adventure council at my school, which focuses on taking risks and challenging ourselves in any way possible, as well as a prefect. I would consider myself to be a creative person, as reflected by the subjects that I chose, and I love learning about the natural sciences and the universe. I also love to explore the outdoors and go on hikes in my free time. The subjects that I’m taking are; Higher Level: Visual Arts, Physics, and Maths Analysis and Approaches; and Standard Level: Spanish (A) literature, English (A) literature, and Psychology. 

  • Carla: Hi! I’m Carla and this year I am the head of the International Council, which aims to promote internationalism and collaboration between students our age around the world and also a prefect. I love reading and talking to new people, as well as in my free time, I help organise cultural workshops for kids from schools with fewer resources through zoom.  For the IB program I chose; Higher Level: Chemistry, Psychology, and Biology; and Standard Level: Maths Analysis and Approaches, Spanish (A) literature, and English (A) literature. 

→ Workload (Hannah)

According to our school’s IB curriculum, we are expected to complete 8 hours of homework per week. This is, of course, an additional 8 hours of work after our daily 8 hours of zoom lessons. I must admit at times it is hard to manage and more than once, deadlines for different subjects, works and exams have overlapped, which is certainly not ideal. However, the IB itinerary is organized in a way that allows for one to be able to work without overlapping deadlines in important assignments and exams. In my opinion, the workload you get for each subject depends a lot on the teacher and said subject. Per se, for visual arts, we are assigned deadlines with a lot of space and time. However, when the date comes you are expected to present a decent amount of work in proportion to the time given. For other subjects like ToK, we are given shorter deadlines and more work to complete over the week. Personally, I find my number-based subjects (maths and physics) to have the least amount of workload but it is because they require plenty of study and practice to understand properly. Overall, I consider my workload to be balanced to an extent: some days I get to relax and others are full-studying. One thing that I find quite stressful though is that teachers expect us to work all the time and attend classes every day as it is now online. This also means that when we are feeling ill and unwell, we are still expected to complete work with no extensions. I must admit that when I've been sick I still went to all my zoom classes simply to not have to deal with the consequences of catching up with the workload later. I know this does not apply to everyone, as I said it varies depending on the subjects and teachers as some are more flexible than others.

→ TOK & CAS (Carla)

Theory of Knowledge and CAS are both part of the IB core curriculum and help make the IB education more well-rounded. You need to complete both classes in order to achieve your diploma. Personally, I love CAS because it allows you to focus on activities that you already enjoy and dive deeper into new things, thus completing the learning objectives. Anything can count as being part of the CAS branches (creativity, activity, and service), so there really is no limit on what you can do. For example, I love MUN and debating, and I volunteer by tutoring younger students, which counts as part of my creativity and service branches for CAS. 

The other aspect that is mandatory for the IB is Theory Of Knowledge, which is a concept that was completely new to me. TOK dives into the fundamental questions of how we know that what we’re learning is true or isn’t, and serves as a linking course from all other IB courses. From the past 6 months of the IB, TOK hasn’t been one of my favorite courses, but it goes without saying that some of the discussions which I have had during these classes have been extremely interesting and have helped me broaden my understanding of the world around me. 

For example, I remember when we were talking about language relativity and determinism as part of the Language Elective for the course, I felt conflicted with both ideas. One proposes that language is innate, and that our brain already has structures in order to understand different aspects of language, and therefore thoughts affect language (as seen by all languages structuring their vocabulary through verbs, nouns, etc.). On the other hand, the other proposes that languages are completely different and shape the way in which we view the world, therefore causing the problem of no cooperation between other languages as we see the world in completely different ways (language affects thoughts). I am someone that speaks 4 languages fluently, and this is something that comes natural to me, so I am able to shift between languages in the middle of a sentence, for example. This is why initially, I would have thought that thought is what affects language. However, through the conversations which we had in our ToK classes, I found myself wondering whether the opposite could be true as well. These are the things that I love about ToK, because it helps you understand and challenge what you may already assume to be true. 

My tip for TOK is to ask as many questions as possible as it can be very interesting to see other’s opinions on the topic, and it will also greatly help you understand a topic better if there is discussion and debate on an issue. 

→IB & Online School (Hannah)

The IB program is not easy and the fact that we have to undergo it online does not help much. Personally, I am a kinesthetic learner, meaning that I learn better by carrying out activities rather than through lectures or watching video demonstrations. The online learning method mostly focuses on lectures and demonstrations as we can not really do much at home from a screen. It has been hard understanding new unknown concepts in subjects that would normally have a lot of practical work involved such as physics. I also struggle with maintaining my attention focused for long periods of time and having distractions such as my phone at hand, do not help subdue these. Not to mention the lack of division in between our home lives and school lives, as they have now merged into one sole space. Moreover, I think most of us have at some point been tempted to google search for terms or questions during exams, and of course, this is not ideal as we are not learning as much as we should. It is also quite sad not being able to see our friends everyday at school as we used to and have conversations with people we normally don't talk to as much face-to-face. The online learning method is not perfect as it has just been implemented. Nonetheless, I have been able to find a couple of advantages from this new method of learning. For example, it is more flexible. We can attend classes from anywhere, meaning that while you are traveling to get vaccinated or just for early holidays, you don’t have to catch up later with the missed content as you would have done in regular on-site classes. It is also nice being able to wake up a little bit later than usual. 

→ Qualities and Tips

As we mentioned before, although it may seem hard sometimes to keep a positive mindset with the workload that we have to hand in, this is what makes the difference for us in terms of gaining the most out of the program. We would say that someone that wants to do the IB should be incredibly organised and avoid procrastination (albeit we’re still working on this), as, if you leave things to the last minute, everything will start to pile up. As well as, the best tip that we could give someone that is starting their IB or thinking about starting the IB, is to be balanced in all senses of the word. This includes prioritising your mental health sometimes, because, especially with exams, everything can be stressful, but in these scenarios, it is crucial to think about yourself first. In addition, it is also important to be balanced in the responsibilities you take with outside school activities, because it is great to also have other hobbies, and not just focus on schoolwork, but also ensure that you don’t take on an overwhelming amount. Lastly, make sure that the courses that you choose are a mixture between requirements for university (if you already know what you want to do study), things that you may genuinely enjoy doing, and courses that you feel you are strong in, as it is a 2-year program, which you may get bored of if you don’t have a class that you enjoy. 

Finally, if you have any doubt, do not hesitate to contact

IB Survival Guide: Arts Articles
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