As I finish my first year of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program and move onto my second and last year, I have learned a lot of new things that I realised I should have done much earlier at the beginning of my IB journey. In this edition of the IB series, these are the tips and advice I wish I knew before I started the IB.

1. Start working as early as you can

This is something that is much easier said than done, but it will pay off in the end because you have two years of content to cover and to remember in your final exams.

  • Take notes the day you learn something new – When you learn a new topic in class, take notes during that class. After school, revise those notes by adding in more details to supplement your learning. I am saying this from experience because we have all been there where we have a test that we realise we do not have any notes for and had to study the topics all over again, which was not fun. You will be able to build up a collection of notes and resources for the two years worth of content and can easily go back to it when you need to revise for the mock and final exams. 

Photo taken by author – my notes for Medicinal Chemistry.

  • Start working on your internal and external assessments (IAs and EAs) – All of your courses will involve some sort of assessment worth a significant chunk of your grade, so taking the time to work on these will pay off in getting the best grades you can. Rushing your IAs and EAs will definitely show when you go to submit it, so time management is key here. 


2. Be 100% informed of your potential courses 

I have shared my tips on how to generally choose your IB subjects here [link]. From my experience, I have been learning Mandarin since primary school and did well for the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) Chinese as a Foreign Language exams in Grade 10, so I did not hesitate to take Standard Level (SL) Chinese B as a second language. 

However, I was not aware of the huge jump from IGCSE Chinese to IB Chinese. Being Filipino and having no Chinese background, I went from learning basic, simple vocabulary to learning more difficult and challenging things as if I was learning it as a second language.

While I have become accustomed to the level of difficulty in my course, I do not enjoy it as much as the rest of my subjects that I am really happy with. So my advice is know your limits, research the courses you want to take and talk to people who are currently doing the IB to get their opinions. 


3. For science IAs: complicated ≠ better

This is geared more towards people doing a natural science subject (physics/biology/chemistry). When choosing what experiment to do your IA on, ensure that it is on a topic you actually understand and can see yourself working on for a long time. The examiners are marking your ability to write a report well, not on the complexity of the experiment and topic. I was able to type up my biology IA fairly quickly because it was an easy topic that I understood well and could elaborate on, while chemistry posed more of a challenge for me. 

Photo taken by me for my biology IA

4. Be aware of your note-taking style

Firstly, I am aware that aesthetic notes that are seen on Instagram and Pinterest may work very well for some people, but it really did not work for me (something I realised too late) because I did not retain the information that I was essentially copying down. When it came to doing class tests, it was much more difficult for me to retrieve the needed information and apply it to the question.

After researching and trying out different studying methods, this is what I found worked best:


5. The Spaced Retrieval Method

What I found to help me learn the best was the spaced retrieval method. One study session consists of asking yourself questions according to the syllabus statements which trains you to retrieve information when needed. This can be done through flashcards or sticky notes.

I personally do mine on an app called Notion. It is a workspace platform that I found through this YouTube video (highly recommend watching). I use Notion to take notes and create questions to test myself on the content for all my subjects.

Screenshot of one page of my Notion workspace

The ‘spaced’ element is distancing out your study sessions so that you are able to improve your memory and remember things from an earlier time, which is extremely suitable to how the IB exams would test you – with two years worth of content. 

If this does not seem like something that would work for you, find your own personal studying style as this will contribute to your overall success. 

6. Solidarity 

Getting through the IB is no easy task and everyone knows it. From my experience, the majority of my peers do nothing but support one-another to remove any competitiveness. 

I would also tend to forget that I was not the only one going through tough times in IB where I was not doing well mentally or physically. So I advise having a strong support system composed of close friends, teachers and family as they will be there for you no matter what. 

Photo taken by author – Taken at school during United Nations Day

I am nervous, but more importantly, very excited for what the last year of the IB program will entail. The journey so far has been both stressful but very rewarding. The program is only two years of your entire life so make the most out of it and good luck.

This article is brought to you by Samantha Sayson. Samantha is a rising senior at United World College SEA East Campus and is currently interning with SNCF. In her free time, she enjoys fencing and spending time with her dog named Ginger.