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Building IB Success

September, 2014

IB study is obviously difficult for many High School students. Only about 5% of the students worldwide who sit the IB exams receive a score higher than 40. Only 147 students around the world of more than 135,000 students who sat the exams last year got the maximum score of 45. So how can you be successful in IB? Two graduates of Yew Chung International School of Beijing share their IB experiences and useful advice…


ycis-bj-junting-yeung-graduationJun-Ting Yeung from Australia, Class of 2014 of Yew Chung International School of Beijing, received 44 points in the IB.


I was absolutely delighted when I received my results and I immediately shouted the news to my parents. I called my friend to discuss our scores, but what I remember most from that night was the relief I felt. This was due to the fact that for most of my subjects, I was a borderline 6 or 7 and I had done well on the subjects I thought where I wasn’t as sure. But overall, I am satisfied and pleased because it means the effort I put in during the last two years did not go to waste and my final score is proof of that.

Taking the IB is like walking in a desert, with the mirage of paradise in the far distance. There are long stretches where the rays of the sun are sizzling on your back, your mouth is dry from the lack of water, your feet are tired from the aimless walking and you don’t know when it will end. There will be many weeks during two years of the IB that are the same. IAs begin to pile up on top of each other, deadlines seem closer than they were a few days ago, you begin to sacrifice your sleep for few more minutes of studying…and so on. There will be countless nights for you to push through, fixing and perfecting those minor bibliographical details in your EE and weeks where you wish it were the weekend when it’s only Monday. The most difficult aspect of IB is time management – having enough time to finish everything. Most IB tasks are manageable given enough effort, but since we have so much to complete in such a short amount of time, the physiological stress is what makes the IB seem difficult. If we treat each task individually and push through with enough perseverance, the mirage of paradise will soon become reality.

I believe my perfectionist attitude was one of the major reasons for my success. I make sure I fully grasp the concept before I move on to the next syllabus topic, and I often go the extra mile, asking questions that do not necessarily relate to our syllabus. This may seem excessive, but through this process I can be confident that I understand each idea and apply them in the right way. Often at times, I believe teachers move over certain syllabus topics too quickly, in order to keep up with the course outline, at the disadvantage of some student’s learning. This may suit quick learners, but slow learners or learners who are better suited to other learning styles may not. As a result, students who do not understand the core concepts fall behind easily as later topics are built upon the core ones. I would advise students to make sure you fully understand ideas first before doing past papers uncontrollably. You may understand the format of the IB questions, but when questions are put forth differently, you will have trouble answering because your understanding is incomplete.

ycis-bj-junting-as-drjekyll-mrhydeI chose Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics at Higher Level and English, Chinese and History at Standard Level. The main reason why I chose these subjects was because they were prerequisite to my undergraduate degree at university, and it should be the same situation for most students. The IB Programme will be the final two years of High School, so by now you should have some idea of the direction in which you are heading. You’ve had some time to contemplate which subjects to study and you should have explored your interests fully in Year 10-11 so you are fully prepared for your final two years. 

Also, the great thing about having 6 subjects to choose from in the IB Diploma is that one subject usually becomes an ‘interest’ subject, one that is not needed as a prerequisite. As a result of this, I had the opportunity to choose History SL to continue pursuing my interest in the topic. Aside from the humanities, the flexibility in having the choice to choose another science over an art subject in the IB takes away the strictness of having to choose prerequisite subjects. You are still given the choice to choose subjects that are purely for your personal interest, so don’t be frightened!

When studying for the sciences and mathematics, it is absolutely essential that you fully understand one concept before advancing to another. Doing hundreds of past papers will not help if you keep getting the same questions wrong. Do, however, review the concepts that you are unfamiliar with to make sure you can answer questions of a similar nature with confidence in the future. Quantity is not essential for math, but the quality in which you complete, review and prepare is. When studying for the humanities and languages, you will have to undertake a completely different path. Reading books consistently will help develop your vocabulary, while reading essays will be helpful in assisting you to formulate your argument logically. Also, practice being concise when writing and learn how to express your thoughts in as little words as possible, as this will improve the organisation of your essay.

Not getting enough sleep is almost definitely a characteristic of an IB student. Initially, I would go overtime in completing easy tasks (and have little sleep) because I wouldn’t hand my work in until it was ‘perfect’. Eventually, when I realised I had to let go of my work and learn to prioritise more important tasks, I had more time to myself. Aside from prioritising and learning to stop at the 5th draft (before it’s ‘perfect’), learning how to focus on one task is important. I personally believe humans aren’t that good at multitasking, so I used to turn off my Wi-Fi or phone when I was completing my assignments. Fewer distractions meant less mistakes and higher efficiency for my work.

I was able to maintain a balanced school life with a handful of extra-curricular activities. These activities, ranging from leading the football team to organising the 30 Hour Famine helped take my mind and body off facts and figures. The sports helped relax my muscles from sitting too long completing assignments on my computer desk, while the community service events helped my mind tune out the stresses of upcoming deadlines. It was actually many of these service events outside of school that sparked many ideas for my assignments. My math exploration on air pollution in Beijing was actually based on the experiences of our cycling club. So it is important for us students to remember that the IB is just an examination. It is more important to cherish the last two years of High School with your friends. Just because the IB is seen as difficult doesn’t mean there is the pressure to go the extra mile all the time. If you are confident you have grasped the concepts, congratulate yourself by taking a break. There is no need to study all the time!

It was only until late into my second year of IB that I discovered I was a prominent visual learner and I was not using this knowledge to my advantage. I strongly recommend that every student finds out what kind of learning style fits their learning as early as possible, be it Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic (VAK). There are dozens of tests online, and once you find out how you can maximise your learning, preparing for exams will be much more efficient and productive. For example, flowcharts, infographics and diagrams help me understand how a cell divides by mitosis much better than listening to someone explain it to me.  But the reverse can be better for an auditory learner, who is much more suited to talking and listening. Finding what suits you is the key to receiving and understanding information, and preparing for those finals.

Advice for fellow IB students at school: One important piece of advice for future IB students is to be sensible in your choices. You may think you can handle 4 HL subjects, but why challenge yourself unnecessarily when you can spend more time fine-tuning your skills in your weak subject? Ultimately, all universities look at is your score out of 45. This advice may seem target-orientated, but you are not taking the IB to know everything, or become IB’s best student. You are here to take your IB examinations and prepare for a future at university. So when you have the chance to go the easier route (while meeting the requirements of the IB Diploma of course), like taking English Language and Literature instead of English Literature, or Chinese B instead of Chinese A, or Math SL when you’re at Math HL level, choose the former and the IB won’t seem as difficult as the rumours suggest.


ycis-bj-huangyun-lee1Huang Yun Lee from South Korea, Class of 2014 of Yew Chung International School of Beijing, received 41 points and an IB Bilingual Diploma.

Looking at my IB results, I totally feel the relief and heaviness: relief from the rigorous IB programme and heaviness from everything the number represents.

The IB programme is undeniably difficult. I was overwhelmed like many of my friends when I first started the programme. IB has no intention of making the programme easy, so it is up to us to cope with it. I have experienced some anxiety during the past 2 years from keeping up with deadlines, acquiring CAS experience and studying for exams. There was an ongoing pressure that forced me to move forward and explore uncertainties. This pressure I believe has helped me become more well-rounded and efficient.

The highly experienced and qualified teachers at YCIS Beijing are certainly one of the main reasons for my success. Their guidance helped me navigate through my struggles. Another reason I would consider important is having a goal. My goal was realistic enough – my UK university entrance requirement. My requirements were specific and I devoted my time and effort according to what was deemed most vital and important, in my case Mathematics. Having a specific target acted as motivation, and motivation is fuel to rigorous work and effort.

The subjects I chose were English and Chinese as first languages, Math, Biology, Business & Management and Economics. I tried to align my subjects with what I was planning to study in university and work in the future (in my case, Economics and Business). The subjects you choose should also be enjoyable to you because you must spend a considerable amount of time doing personal research. If a subject is frustrating and tiresome, then it will probably be wise to consider an alternative.

My favourite subjects are Economics and Math. The subjects that were most challenging to me were Chinese and English Literature.

ycis-bj-huangyun-lee-30-hour-famine1For Business & Management, I’d say common sense and experience is most important, as Henry Mintzberg (Professor of Management) would say “you cannot create a manager in a classroom, let alone a leader.” You can acquire such experience and logic by participating in activities involving sales, leadership, finance etc. in CAS activities and group work. For Economics, read the news. Applying theories in real world scenarios can help answer a lot of questions (or create even more). It will also come in handy when you work on Internal Assessments.

Time management helped me cope with pressure. I spent a lot of my spare time completing non-study related work such as updating my CAS portfolio. I kept my portfolio well above the minimum requirements at YCIS Beijing so I could be fully devoted to my exams or assessments without having to worry about anything else. I certainly did stay up late for assignments but I still consider myself to be an early sleeper since I don’t procrastinate much.

Reading a lot in IB is inevitable, and it’s essential. I admit I was not a very proactive reader before IB – I found it tedious. However, I would like to thank my first language teachers for selecting some of the most fascinating literature for us to study such as Waiting for Godot, Heart of Darkness, and The Awakening, which developed my interest towards reading.

Life in the IB years is balanced. The programme is designed in a way such that students cannot be studying all the time. CAS is compulsory and it allowed me to devote some time to other hobbies such as badminton and playing the guitar, as well as in the community with service projects such as the 30 Hour Famine. You should ensure that you are spending a sufficient amount of time doing community and self-enriching work without affecting your studies.

I spent an enormous amount of time reading the course syllabus and exam reports. This was so I didn’t waste a huge amount of time writing things the examiner didn’t want to see. Doing past papers exposed me to a wide range of questions, which helped me anticipate what the examiner was looking for and perhaps possible questions for my upcoming exams. Past papers also helped me develop the right habits for my exams such as labeling my diagrams so I didn’t lose “easy marks” for careless reasons.

Advice for fellow IB students at school: In addition to time management and avoiding procrastination, the most important advice I would share with students studying IB is to get help. Don’t let your ego and self-confidence get into the way of your studies. Help from teachers and peers is your most valuable resource at school so use it well – no one understands your struggles better than they do.


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