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Good Schools Guide

Doing what you love can help in the race to ace those exams

Planning a regime that balances study, rest and your favourite hobbies can be the strategy for success in reaching that perfect score

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 10:18am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 10:20am

During the frantic months of late nights and intensive revision leading up to the final IB (International Baccalaureate) exams, the chances of scoring a perfect 45 can seem like an impossible dream.

But once again, a select number of Hong Kong students have managed to achieve just that. And now, after a well-earned break to celebrate and relax, their thoughts are turning to the next big challenge as they finalise plans for university and career paths beyond.

Among this year’s top scorers, the individual reactions to success were quite varied. Some admitted to being not just surprised, but almost overwhelmed by the news of their results. Others, without being overconfident, perhaps had secret hopes of a perfect score based on all the hard work they had put in, but still knew it was an extremely tall order.

What becomes apparent, though, is that each student rose to the challenge by recognising early on which study methods and strategies worked best for them. They also realised the need to maintain balance and perspective by getting away from their books every now and then and keeping up with other activities and interests.

IB high-flyers ready for the next step on worthwhile career paths

“The final few weeks leading up to the exams were very stressful, so finding a way to relax was very important,” says 18-year-old James Kean Chow, of the Canadian International School of Hong Kong. “Therefore, I made sure that I kept up my exercise routine and allocated enough time to just sit back and relax.”

During his 14 years at the school, Chow has played team sports such as basketball and volleyball, always enjoying the camaraderie, besides taking part in Habitat for Humanity building projects locally and overseas.

His main plan now is to study medicine at the University of St Andrews before practising as a doctor and building a career helping others. His advice to those entering their final year is succinct.

“Make sure you continue doing all the extracurricular activities that you love,” he says. “Even though the IB Diploma Programme can be very difficult at times, these other activities are so important for a balanced lifestyle and are often the best parts of the overall high school experience.”

For 17-year-old Daniel Sin Zhen Ye, of Victoria Shanghai Academy, the next step is not yet certain, but his outstanding results mean there are two good options.

At present, he is deciding between biomedical engineering at Chinese University of Hong Kong and biological sciences at Durham University in England. Much depends on the response to his application for a Hong Kong government scholarship.

“I’m planning on a career in research, preferably about microbes,” says Ye. “I’m really interested in that area because a lot about microbiomes is still unknown to us, and this information can be converted into useful technologies.”

He kept sharp for the exams by jogging and playing basketball, while involvement with a youth service group linked to the Aberdeen Kai Fong Association – visiting the elderly and helping young children – was a way to keep things in context. He also offers a few general tips.

Medical degree proves popular choice for Hong Kong ESF students who aced International Baccalaureate exams

“Start your coursework early,” he says. “Flash cards are a good revision method, and get lots of sleep the night before exams.

Fellow IB top scorer Cherrie Liu Cheuk-yin, also from Victoria Shanghai Academy, similarly believes that finding the right balance between revision and relaxation was a key factor in her success.

“I made sure to leave several time slots in my schedule blank, so I could enjoy some free time with close friends and family, play badminton, and keep volunteering with the Kids4Kids Buddy Reading Programme for children from low-income families,” she says. “Also, when studying, I took short breaks to prevent myself from becoming too stressed out.”

Over the summer, Liu will take a holiday in Hokkaido and then expects to study medicine at a university in Hong Kong. She sees that as a natural extension of a longstanding interest in biology and chemistry plus her own childhood experiences of being treated by doctors. Her advice to other budding scientists is to start their required projects, experiments and extended essays in good time.

“Many unpredictable events and accidents can occur, for example the contamination of Petri dishes, so don’t leave everything to the last minute.”

Two 18-year-old students at the German Swiss International School, Harriet Kwok and Matthew Ho, achieved the maximum mark of 45 and are now looking forward to their first year at university.

Looking back, both also confirm the importance of having other pursuits during the pre-exam period to “de-stress” and stay mentally and physically alert.

Kwok is preparing to study medicine at the University of Hong Kong and, further ahead, has thoughts of a career in public health or perhaps as an oncologist specialising in breast cancer. Her interest in medicine stems from her time as a volunteer establishing a temporary clinic in rural China, where she recognised the link between proper health care and socio-economic development.

“At the end of the day, the IB exams do not define you as a person,” says Kwok, who researched the potential of metal ions in managing diabetes for her biology extended essay. “I did fencing and picked up Muay Thai to take my mind off academic studies.”

For Ho, the way is now open to study law at Oxford University, a logical step after his roles as debate president, captain and coach while at school. He believes that path offers the prospect of civic engagement and being able to “help real people in real-life scenarios to redress inequities and injustices”.

Regarding the best route to IB success, his advice is quite down to earth. “It is crucial to have good time management and plan your revision schedule well in advance,” he says. “I also took power naps between chunks of intensive study time, which I found particularly effective.”