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IB vs. Activities: How to Manage the Balance

February, 2011
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You have heard stories, I presume, of how International Baccalaureate (IB) students have no life. I disagree; this is my life. Like many of you, I find myself juggling schoolwork, extra-curricular activities, friends, and unsatisfied parents. It came to a point when I just had to say "No" to certain activities that I absolutely love and "Yes" to the mountain of homework piling up on my desk, or in my MacBook, to be exact. So how do we determine when to say "Yes" and "No"?

3-mimi-visitng-an-orphanage-in-xuzhou-2nd-from-the-lefte589afe69cacSchoolwork is important, but so is the upcoming basketball game. Can you excel in both? Yes. But can you also fit in student council, Model United Nations (MUN), robotics, service projects, photography, chess, youth group, table tennis, and SAT classes? Probably not. The key word is to prioritize. Say "Yes" to activities that you are passionate about, challenge yourself to something new, and wholeheartedly to it.  Say "No" to activities that are not meaningful to you, and do not blindly join boring activities just because your friends will be there. Although you may develop a new hobby once you join a club, if you know you will waste your whole afternoon in the martial arts club painfully wishing you were somewhere else, or will stay up until 2 am doing homework because you have 3 after school activities in a day, say no.

I kept my main activities every year throughout middle and high school: volleyball, basketball, student council, piano, and church. I also attended various other activities such as the school musicals, badminton, and service projects. Unfortunately, I had to sacrifice soccer, dance, and MUN. I still feel a hint of regret at not being able to do these things. I love group activities because I can meet other enthusiastic people and become more motivated to achieve certain goals. Sports games and other events brought excitement into my life, and gave me an overwhelming sense of accomplishment when they went well. As an emotional human being, I noticed that when I was in a good mood, I was more likely to be energetic and ready to tackle difficult assignments, especially those dreadful analytical essays.

2-mimi-2nd-row-2nd-from-the-leftHow many activities should you join? Aim for at least three big projects, and participate in as many activities as possible when you still have the time and energy. Depending on your personality, you can lean towards group or individual activities, as long as you have a mix of both. Group activities are great for socializing while individual activities such as reading and playing the violin can be very refreshing. Fill out all your CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) forms and reflections as the activity is going on, because your life will be in chaos by senior year.

From endless lectures, you already know that time management is crucial and procrastination is deadly. It is especially evident as IB diploma students attempt to accomplish internal assessments, extended essays, language orals, Theory of Knowledge essays, exams, and the required CAS hours. What worked very well for me was to take a 15-minute snack break after I get home from after school activities, and then start on my homework right away. My concentration level would be very high and I could actually get a lot done before dinnertime. Once my brain switched to relaxation mode after dinner, it was much more difficult to focus again. Give it a try for a few days and see if it works for you. Instead of daydreaming on the bus, mentally list out your homework and the order you will do it in. This saves time and gives you a goal. All nighters may work once in a while, but sleep deprivation will just lead to lower concentration levels and more all nighters. Just remember, if you do not feel like doing work now, you will not feel like doing it later either.

The perfect balance between activities and IB varies among individuals, but there are a few universal tips. Remember, say "Yes" to studying during study period, doing productive work instead of chatting to people on Facebook, and sleeping before midnight. Say "No" to messy desks, over-commitment, and any type of distraction that will cause procrastination. Life should never be extremely boring or painful. Just learn to say "Yes" and "No".


By Mimi Hung

Gr. 12, Shanghai Community International School - Hongqiao



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  1. Liam Conley
    January 17th, 2018 at 13:30 | #1

    Hi, I think you may have just saved my life ha ha. I am a junior following the IB diploma pathway who is about to start swim in February and will be taking the SAT in March. I’ve tried the 15 minute break after school and it has helped. I’ve been wondering how to manage clubs and CASS hours and I think your experience has helped my frame my schedule.

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