The International Baccalaureate (IB) can be an intense experience – but perhaps never as intense as for the Class of 2020. We asked this year’s top scorers to share their study tips with future IB candidates. If they worked for students in a year of so much uncertainty, they’re going to help in any other year.
Figure out what works for you. Everyone has different schedules and plans; what works for other people may not work for you. Which is why one top tip would be to constantly experiment with different studying techniques and schedules to see which suits you best.
It may seem slow and unproductive at first, but once you find out the optimal way for you to study and manage your time, the speed and efficiency with which you can study and work will make all the trial and error worthwhile.
Don’t think of your work as a chore – learn to enjoy the process of learning. It might sound slightly crazy, but I genuinely enjoyed a lot of my subjects. I perceived an inherent joy in exploring the things I was learning about, especially in subjects like English: I had a great teacher who instilled in me an appreciation for literature. I enjoyed my IOCs (Individual Oral Commentary) and Paper 2 preparation so much, I didn’t at all mind the time spent working on it.
The hardest thing for a new IB student is having to submit long essays: you might not have much experience of writing an essay from scratch. Reading other examples – not to copy them, but get an idea of what to write and how to use references – is helpful.
For psychology exams specifically, when you have to write three short essays and one long essay – which adds up to more than 10 pages – it’s impossible to do it alone. The only way is to work with classmates and put together your ideas. Just make sure you go into the meetings armed with some points to cover.
It’s really important to have a lot of self-discipline and motivation during IB, especially as the exams approach. It’s important to take frequent study breaks – swimming and netball are what worked for me.
It’s also important to always strive to improve your current result. With the IB, it was really important that I was understanding the content, rather than just memorising it.
In general in the IB, it’s very important to prioritise your tasks. When you have a maths IA (internal assessment) due in five days and a unit test tomorrow, you have to make the decision of whether it’s more important to perfect your IA or cram for your test.
Even if you manage your time really well, at some point, the sheer amount of things you’re doing will result in situations where you have to put something aside to focus on what’s important – and doing that is not a failure.
When it comes to exams prep specifically, do lots of past papers and read the marking schemes to figure out exactly what examiners want from you.
I recommend reviewing concepts frequently, while trying to tackle certain topics that might be more challenging than the rest. I found it very useful to do past paper questions and review the mistakes that I made consistently.
When you’re taking notes, it also helps to review with your friends and build a strong support system to encourage each other.
I recommend trying out different revision techniques and finding out one that works the best for you as soon as possible. You would also want to have different revision techniques for different subjects.
For example, I used Quizlet flashcards to remember economic terms and their definitions for HL Economics but I wrote notes based on each syllabus statement for HL Biology.
I think that the most important thing when studying and revising is making sure you are aware of the syllabus (i.e. what will be covered in the exam). The second most important thing is studying the mark scheme: this is vital to making sure your answers include all relevant keywords.
Notes are infinitely important for any subject. Make sure you have them written out well before the exam preparation period. What’s more, I think it’s important to properly write notes only after you have digested the information you have learned from class, textbooks, videos etc, so you can present the information in a manner that you understand and are able to look back at easily.
It’s crucial to find the learning method that works best for you. Some remember better from detailed explanations, while others find that they revise best with straightforward, concise notes.
Working hard is important, but it’s easy to become demotivated when hard work isn’t repaid in stunning results, so it’s important to work hard in a way that will help you in the future.
I also strongly suggest always looking at past paper questions and mark schemes when making notes to better grasp which parts of the syllabus focus on, and possibly include reminders as to common ways certain knowledge is applied in tests.
Personally, I relied a lot on my peers throughout the two years. As a non-native speaker, it took me a while to get used to writing long English essays, especially for Economics. Reading other student’s texts and remembering some key phrases to use later on was very helpful.
I wrote my EE in a foreign language, so I profited a lot from talking to native speakers and asking them when I was unsure about vocabulary. For Language B, I found it very helpful to talk to native speakers outside of class, or even watch the news in the language when preparing for the orals.
Talking about a subject can also help with your understanding of it. When I struggled with a specific topic in Physics, I discussed it and tried solving past papers with other students. Seeing how somebody else explains and approaches a problem helped me enormously.
Probably the most important thing is to try to figure out what study method works for you. There isn’t really a “one-size-fits-all” study technique – for example, I worked in sporadic bursts while taking mini-breaks in between, but other people do things differently.
Also, try to figure out what is and isn’t on your syllabus. Make sure you’re revising the stuff you actually need.