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My Choices in IB

November, 2017
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“Choose subjects that you are most interested in, because ultimately those are the ones in which you have the best chances to improve.” – Joseph Hua, graduate of Wellington College International School.

“Choose whichever [subjects] you like, the option doesn’t matter.” – Chenny Jiang, Northwestern University. 

“For those applying for U.K., choose the subjects related to your prospective major and check the requirement of your dream university.” – Florence Zhang, University of Cambridge.

ib-choice__florenceAs a Grade 10 student of Shanghai United International School (SUIS), I was bombarded by countless older students warning me of the nearing and inevitable academic warzone more commonly known as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IB DP). I did not take their words of wisdom into consideration because, like every other foolish student, I thought that they were all exaggerating and that I knew what I was getting myself into. That is probably why I chose Physics, Math and English Language & Literature as HL (higher level) subjects with Economics, Geography and Mandarin B as SL (standard level) subjects, even after having heard that my HL subject combination will make me cry myself to sleep every night.

The IB DP requires students to choose six subjects, three HL and three SL; three go more in depth and three go less in depth. In other words, three where you feel like you have made the biggest mistake of your life and three where you can feel slightly better about yourself, respectively. To add fuel to the fire, students are required to complete the core compartments of the course, which include writing an Extended Essay (EE), taking Theory of Knowledge classes (TOK) and completing 150 hours of Community, Action and Service activities (CAS). The maximum mark you can get in IB is 45; 7 for each subject and 1 mark each for the core subjects, and the passing grade is 24. Luckily, the effort and diminishing confidence is not all for nothing, as the IB DP, an internationally recognized program, has been known to help students get into prestigious universities such as the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, Northwestern University and Stanford University.

Towards the end of our IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) year (Grade 10), the deadline for handing in our IB choices was imminent and at that point many people had one question: What do I want to do in the future? When students, who are two years away from graduation, are faced with a choice that could change their lives, it is only natural that the choice is a hard and stressful one to make. This is when the later graders who have gone through this process come in handy.

ib-choice__chenny-jiangAt that point I was confused and hesitant towards my subject choices, so I asked Chenny Jiang, a graduate of SUIS who is doing a double major in economics and engineering at Northwestern University, for advice on this matter. He advised me to “choose whichever ones you like, because the options don’t really matter. If you’re unsure, choose whatever you like since there’s no easy way to know what you really want to do. Even I had no idea.” Feeling comforted by the fact that he went into IB without any idea about his future, I decided to ask two more people and see if they would say the same thing. “Choose subjects that you are most interested in, because ultimately those are the ones in which you have the best chances to improve,” Joseph Hua, who is a student from Wellington and currently taking a gap year to teach physics, said. After I thought about it, I realized that it did make sense. Not only would I have a chance to improve, I would also be stuck with those subjects for the next two years, and I plan on coming out of IB alive, thank you very much. Finally, Florence Zhang, a student of SUIS Gubei who is currently studying economics at Cambridge, gave me advice that was directed towards those applying for the UK. Her advice was “to choose the subjects related to your prospective major and check the requirements for your dream university.” As I had no idea about my dream university or what exactly my prospective major will be, I also asked her “What if I don’t know what I want to do in the future?” She said, “Read about a wide range of topics to identify something that interests you. An alternative is just to pick the subjects you are good at.”

Bearing all of the advice in mind, I proceeded to cancel out all the subjects I could not do and all the subjects I was not qualified enough to do (the C I got in art back in Grade 8 would justify my reasons for not taking IB Art), which left me with the subjects I am currently taking. I thought if I did fine in IGCSE I would do well in IB DP.

The first week of 11th Grade proved me wrong.

Among all the other subjects, I would say TOK classes confused me the most. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not impossible, it just takes some time to get used to. What TOK encourages is critical thinking and Socratic questioning. Among students, we call them questioning what we think we know and questioning questions. In-depth thinking regarding topics we would not usually think about, which in turn broadens our worldview and makes us think in multiple perspectives; what is doubt? Is doubt the key to knowledge? Is there a key to knowledge? How can we ensure that the knowledge we gain is reliable?

Another difficult part about IB that has been addressed many times is time management. In IB one simply cannot afford to waste time; each hour you spend procrastinating is an hour you could have spent studying and understanding a difficult topic, and it’s all about prioritizing your activities and studies in order to allocate time more efficiently. This was difficult for me to get used to, because procrastination was, and probably still is, one of the things I excel at. It is really a matter of priorities; compared to flipping through blogs or playing games on my computer, I would much rather work at getting a 7 for all my subjects.

One of the hardest times I have had so far was when I found myself lost in Physics class; Newton’s three laws were being covered and while everyone seemed to know what was going on I was the only one who seemed lost, and I did not intend on doing anything about it. After accepting that the numerous physics videos I watched (that were not loading) did not help, I realized that I could just let the teacher know I did not understand instead of tiring myself unnecessarily. I let the teacher know and she was very enthusiastically helping me by referring me to resources and clarifying concepts I was unsure of, and it made me realize how I really should not be afraid to ask for help.

ib-choice__lauren-liew-1As of now, I have seen many ways in which the curriculum has impacted me. I have found myself procrastinating less and working harder on my studies, and trying to get things done as efficiently as possible. Whenever I did not understand a concept, instead of cowering in the corner I have started asking teachers for help and looking into it myself. Furthermore, I have started thinking about what will be my EE topic, my university major, and my dream university – all the things that just a while ago felt so far away.

A recurring problem for me during these few weeks has been my lack of sleep, which is definitely a problem many IB students have been facing. Not because I’m staying up playing video games, but because I spend time trying to get a better grasp of my subjects. When I finish homework I feel like I haven’t done enough, and so I look through notes to understand parts I am not sure about; I do practice questions and work hard to make sure I am keeping up with the pace of the class. I also spend time planning events like Ping-Pong competitions, assemblies and the upcoming Halloween party with my fellow prefects, and at the same time brainstorming ideas for future activities. Furthermore, I manage to make time for piano and violin classes, writing articles, orchestra rehearsals and various other activities, not because I have to but because I want to; I like to. Quite strangely, I like feeling busy!

Of course, I’m working hard in order to do well for IB DP in hopes that when I eventually decide on where to go for university, I will be able to get in. As for my major, I am still undecided, but hopefully over the next year or so I will figure it out.

IB is a challenging course, but it is rewarding in a sense that it helps students further develop the academic and social skills they already have, and the course requirements help students to further build their character. During the year there will be many impediments to your total understanding of a topic, but these problems are not impossible to overcome. Hopefully, with my personal experience so far and with the advice from some of our many successful seniors, future graduating class will go into IB with more self-knowledge and a clearer idea of the future than we did.


By Lauren Liew,

Co-leader, LittleStar Student Team


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