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IB for the Best

September, 2013
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Ever walked a tightrope? If not, a somewhat similar experience awaits you in the IB! Both require determination and motivation even before you begin. Both need skill, focus and balance to reach the other end. When you do, you get a thrill, a sense of accomplishment, and the confidence to tackle more. A tightrope walker uses a stick to balance himself and reach his goal. Likewise, as an IB student, you need to hold on to your other interests in a way that does not distract you from your main goals. There is no grand secret to success, but rather a set of tried and tested techniques reiterated every year by both IB students and teachers. From these, you must find the most effective combination for yourself.

dsc_0061The IB had been a target for me throughout High School and I awaited the challenge at Dulwich College Shanghai. At the end of IGCSE, I was introduced to the IB subjects offered at our school. I realized that the IB gave me considerable freedom of choice according to my interests, capabilities and university requirements. With considerable thought, I chose Spanish, Chemistry and Geography in addition to English A1.2 and Maths. One of my biggest decisions was to take Visual Arts from Group 6 instead of a second Science. My combination proved to be challenging, enjoyable, and useful for me, earning me 45 points and offers of admission at several well regarded universities.

You need to choose wisely, follow your own interests and take advice from those with experience. In order to optimize your IB scores and prepare yourself for university, you need to distinguish the fine line between challenging yourself and biting off more than you can chew. If you are certain about what you want to do, work backwards from university requirements. If you are uncertain, keep your options intelligently open by taking a variety of subjects. Your IB coordinator is a very valuable source of guidance. Once you have decided your subjects, begin the IB with enthusiasm. When you feel overwhelmed with work from all directions, your motivation, determination and ‘can-do’ attitude will keep you afloat.

_pq_2928In the beginning, two years worth of work can seem daunting. In addition to the detailed academic calendar prepared by our IB coordinator, I found that keeping my own calendar from the start kept me on track of both internal and external deadlines, assessments and my extra-curricular activities. Jotting it down as you go along takes the burden off your mind to remember all the dates and tasks, and provides you with a quick reference. After a month, when you look back at what you have achieved, it gives you a surge of motivation to tackle your next targets.

Teachers were my backbone all through the course. Whether I needed a reminder of the weighting of an exam paper or needed to clarify a concept they were always willing to guide me. Consulting them during my study made me feel better equipped to write the exams. So, please don’t hesitate to approach your teachers. Do listen to what they have to tell you, for they hold a wealth of knowledge about their subject and smart study skills. At all times, maintain a relationship of mutual respect with them. Take their suggestions and criticism in the right spirit.

I found that there was no substitute for being thorough with my subject content. Even though we received notes in class, I made my own detailed notes at the end of each chapter to solidify my understanding. Trust me, it is worth your time and effort to read and re-read a concept that is even slightly hazy. This will help you apply it to different scenarios presented in the exam.

Terms like the IA used to bounce off my ears when my seniors talked about them. As soon as I began the IB, these terms came to life and I quickly learned their value. You may have to do several IA’s in one subject and eventually select one to send off for marking. Although this may feel laborious and time-consuming, give your coursework your best shot. You will feel more confident walking into the exam hall with a certain percentage already tucked under your arm.

_xxx9304For the EE, it pays to get a head start on research and reading in order to begin conducting experiments and analyzing results. Time management and planning are crucial for success, as is forming the right research question. It must be specific so that its investigation is manageable and feasible within resources available, yet broad enough to allow scope for detailed research. My EE gave me a chance to combine my interest in both Chemistry and Art and a start in conducting chemical research. Frequent communication with your EE supervisor is key – be receptive to feedback. Look at your RQ from different angles to obtain a working one. Finally, keep track of the 4,000-word limit to keep your essay concise, coherent and informative.

CAS gave me opportunities beyond the IB syllabus. I took risks such as running my first 8K marathon, tried new things such as graffiti Christmas art and fulfilled community service in rural China. Avoid a lopsided CAS portfolio and maintain a balance in the amount of time and energy you put into CAS without neglecting the other core components or your six subjects.  The online system of Managebac helped us track our activities and record our reflections. Write your reflections each time you complete an activity or else they will pile up alongside other work.

You may feel out of your depth at the beginning of TOK classes. The more you familiarize yourself with TOK vocabulary, the more you will be able to use it in your presentations and essays. To strengthen your argument, present counter-arguments showing you have considered different perspectives. Discuss the issue with as many people as you can. For the presentation, try to choose a topic that you are interested in and have a bank of original and personal examples to use in your essay.


Some of the techniques that I employed during exam preparation were:

1. Doing past paper questions as revision and correcting them using mark schemes – this gave me an insight into what examiners look for.

2. Holding study sessions with friends where I could teach, learn, refresh or test my learning.

3. Referring to the syllabus to check I had studied and understood every point.

4. Referring to the assessment criteria for essays in various subjects.

5. Dividing my time and effort carefully among my six subjects, especially because I had HL Visual Arts, which was rewarding but extremely time-intensive, particularly putting up our final exhibition.

6. Stocking up on my favorite snacks for my study!


dsc_0735How often IB students burn the midnight oil! Yet, even research shows that a good diet and sleep are more important than last minute revision, so make sure to get enough of both, not just before your exams but on normal school days, too.

Prioritizing your work smartly will enable you to maintain a balance between your studies, family commitments, extra-curricular activities and social life. Your own judgment of time is invaluable when you choose to work on either work-intensive projects due later and lighter projects due sooner.

Can you avoid burning yourself out? Yes! Throughout the week, I looked forward to my choir rehearsals and voice lessons in the midst of a mountain of work. In my first year of IB, I was appointed Head Girl. Meetings, events and other responsibilities kept me on my toes but also gave me tremendous fulfillment and experience. Keep cultivating your hobbies, find avenues for service, and grow in areas such as leadership and communication. As long as you prioritize and manage your time well, these will help you stay sane and chisel you into a well-rounded, successful IB student.

So, go ahead and walk the tightrope. Don’t forget to enjoy the views along the way. Once you reach the other end, you won’t be intimidated by heights and challenges any more!


By Sonalika Jain, the former Head Girl of Class of 2013 at Dulwich College Shanghai, is also the school’s first student to score a maximum 45 points in IB.


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