The IB Diploma is one of the more demanding and academically rigorous secondary education systems in the world. Contrary to what most would like you to believe, the IB is not hard, at least it doesn’t have to be. There is, depending on your choice of subjects, a substantial workload. This workload is comprised of easily understood material. The complexities of the syllabi are not the issue here, the student’s choice of subjects is. And this is the issue with the IB Diploma, the student’s over, or underestimation of workload per subject. Depending on your choice of 6 subjects, you may either find the course extremely depressing and overwhelming, or enjoyable and challengingly rewarding. Regardless of your choice of subjects, in the following article, you will be presented with several key strategies and recommendations from various IB students who have now completed the course. These individuals range from recovered failures, good-from-the-start model students, and plenty of others who despite their failures, surpassed their own limits.  



This is the only time in your lives when your only real responsibility is to learn. Try to remember how lucky you are every day. -MIT Professor

Let’s skip the introduction of the IB, this is something best explained by your IB coordinator, or simply by reading the IB guide. You will start the IB soon, and you must be ready, you cannot afford to mess this up. The IB can be tamed. It can be made to fit your rhythm and no one else’s. Additionally, it would be preferable to find out your own rhythm as soon as possible, and stick to that rhythm from the start. This rhythm will be your own, personal pacemaker, and pace-keeper. You will have a rhythm for studying, for social activities, for sleep, for exercise, and for sleep. You will not be an automaton, but you will be lucid, and introspectively aware of your own performance.

Two years might appear to be an excessive amount of time compared to the demands of the IB. And yet, those two years will be required. This 2 year requirement is in part due to the substantial workload provided at the IB level (not the difficulty), but also due to the ‘standard’ program duration at the secondary education level; what do we do with all these 17/18 year-olds who finished school? As you’ll soon come to find out, the IB is chaotic, and most of it really isn’t your fault. This is perhaps due to the disappointingly low number of seriously qualified IB teachers. Not only that, but a general lackadaisical approach to teaching on the part of far too many teachers in the IB system, including those qualified. Perhaps the long holidays offered by academic professions are, indeed, far too appealing. As a result, the IB becomes a sort of hilariously dangerous teacher lottery. Hey, think about it this way, you can either be granted with a massive advantage, or a valid excuse to fail your IB diploma.

Granted with the advantage, you will find school an enjoyable and rewarding experience, one in which teachers and students gather themselves in harmony for teaching and learning, because this will go both ways. You will find lessons to be nothing less than rewarding experiences, filled with genuine teaching. You will most likely be motivated by the brilliant educators, to perform even better, under the belief that it is your duty as a good student to study to the best of your abilities.

In the case of a valid excuse to fail your IB diploma, you will not have been lucky enough to find yourself in the company of brilliant teachers, tough, I guess?. In this case, you have option A, and B. Option A consists in persistently grunting, complaining, and consequently failing (or almost) your IB due to ‘lacking professionalism and qualification from your teachers’. The real issue, in the end, is the student’s ways of coping. May I propose option B, in which despite all odds, you manage to take control of your own studies and future. This option B is one you may very well be faced with, it happens.

This is what this guide is for, to guide you when faced with adversity, with psychological walls, if you prefer. Those walls are your textbooks being opened and read, internal assessments being started and completed, homework’s being written down and consequently completed, and finally, your exams being taken with maximal mental and physical performance*.  


 prerequisites to mastering the ib

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The IB has its faults, sure. That being said, it remains very clear from the start what attitudes it expects from its students. Those are, I think, organization and planning, sustained motivation and persistence, and an interest in personal improvementYes, there will always be the top students, those with 40+, on the podium. Yes, you might never become a top student. You must come to terms with whatever cards you were dealt, whether that be at school, socially, or emotionally (dealing with stress, baseline mood, etc). School is not everything, and it never was and never will be. Perhaps you prefer to develop your life outside of the school environment, and you are ready to sacrifice some academic performance for it (hint: this is a good thing to do…). Whatever the case, the IB is still there, and you must still pass those exams, to the best of your ability. You can do this, and as the Americans like to say, you must simply give yourself the means to reach your dreams, the rest being lots of work (not hard work, but smart work, no this is not a joke).

This hard work can be transformed into one of the most enjoyable, transformative, and instructive moments of your life. You have to pull your own meaning out of life’s events, secondary education is no different. Don’t like school? Treat it like a day job, where your pay is your report card and grades. Don’t like the teacher? Teach yourself, there are plenty of resources out there, especially on the internet. There is also, it seems, a pattern differentiating the academically struggling from the academically performing individuals. There is a noticeable difference between academically ‘successful’ students, those just below, and the rest. The academically struggling, those finding it hard to surpass their own limitations (not necessarily straight 3 students), all face some, or most of the following academic concepts, psychological barriers, and methodologies.  


 Organization and Planning

Organization is one of your saviors. From the beginning, it is primordial to develop effective coping, action, and anti-procrastinatory mechanisms. Once those are in place, you are golden. Getting it all out of your mind, and down on paperThis is something of uttermost importance. In the introductory weeks of your IB-1 (First year, year 12), it would be advisable to seriously assess your current life situation. A fantastic way to do so is information mapping. While writing down everything, you could be asking yourself the following questions along the way: What do I do in my life? What do I do for enjoyment? Are there things I do but do not really enjoy? What are my time sinks? How could I optimize my days for maximum play, and maximum work? What are my priorities this year? Below is a quick example of what I would start out with, maps vary according to the individual, naturally.


While this may seem tautological in the sense that ‘yes, this is my life encompassed in an overly simplistic mind map’, you should realize that most individuals’ days and weeks follow very similar patterns. These patterns (monday is the day I have swimming, tuesday is my ‘chill’ day, thursday is maths homework most of the time) will tend to repeat themselves throughout the first year, and then, perhaps with subtle differences, again throughout IB-2.

Now that you have a basic visual understanding of your life’s components, it’s now time to prioritize them. When prioritizing, remember that priority means the actual order of importance, as opposed to the preferred order, or current order of importance. When prioritizing your life’s components (leisure, study, daily must-dos, etc), there might come a time when selection, elimination, and reduction of components come into play. That is to say, there will, undoubtedly, come a time during your IB-1 and you IB-2 years when a shift of attention and effort is required. This is, for example, your end of Year 12 exams, and your final exams.

Where the above relates is in the time management strategies your choose to incorporate into your life as a result of external stressors. These stressors might be Internal Assessment deadlines, Extended Essay deadlines, or even disconcerting CAS realizations. Choosing your time management strategy and organization methodology - There are countless applications, systems, and methodologies who’s purpose are to enhance, stabilize and aid one’s studies. The trap  comes with choosing, and sticking with one set of methodologies. Due to this very ‘issue’, below is a list of popular, free and paid task management, planning, and time tracking applications. These will help you get organized, manage your time more effectively, and keep track of homework and other school tasks.  


 Sustained Motivation, Persistence, and Consistency

Do not, under any circumstances, base your work ethic (intensity and length of studying, structure) on anyone’s personal structure. All student requires varying amounts of studying per week to reach similar levels of understanding. Shape your study rhythm to your needs. That is to say, it is possible that 1 hour of maths revision be sufficient for you, while one of your friends struggle for an entire evening. Analyze, and utilize your subject based strengths and weaknesses. If you are good at maths, don’t spend more time than necessary. Likewise, if you are struggling with languages, work on that, as much as you need.

Motivation is an aspect of academic life that is one of the most important to acquire and utilize. Unfortunately for most, it’s not something that comes naturally. Motivation is not drive, and therefore, motivation remains a part of the full toolset required for successful studying and academic achievement to occur. Once motivation, a reward-seeking behavior, is acquired and consistently present, then drive can follow. Drive is the action succeeding motivation. But, how do you find motivation? How do you transform this behavioral energy into something useful, into drive? 

Mindset – When approaching your studies, whether that be homework, an IA, or some other form of project of assignment, it is imperative that you do so with the appropriate, and most beneficial mindset possible. Your mindset when approaching, and consequently engaging in IB related activities (and most other activities in life actually) is crucial to your perceived success. This success is not measured by the grade on your transcript, but where you were, and where you are now, and where you think and want to be in the future. You were at a 2, you moved to a 3, and then all of a sudden you now find yourself at a 5.  The mindset, the favorable mindset, in approaching your studies is that of a challenge. This challenge is achievable, with reasonable effort, and mastering it is guaranteed with more effort. You must convince yourself, perhaps even delude yourself into thinking you can, and this type of mindset is what will allow you to constantly surpass, and surprise your previous performances and self.

Persistence and Consistency – No one told you it was going to be easy, because it won’t. As a result, you either delude yourself into thinking that, contrary to the previous statement, it is actually easy to succeed in the IB, or you accept difficulty and times of hardship as wake-up calls and reminders. Persistence is perseverance in times of trouble, in times when all odds seem against you, when attempts seem futile. Consistency is maintaining persistence. Persistence is continuing despite setbacks, despite failure, and despite apathy and lackadaisical attitudes. Consistency arises when there is a stable, permanent positive attitude towards one’s studies. Only when there is a consistent persistence, can there be success in studying.

TechniquesSo, the exciting, important, and mandatory process arrives; time has come for you to select one or more productivity/task management applications and/or methodologies. Luckily for you, there are plenty of good applications (mac OS, Windows, Android, iOS, and paper!) and methodologies for you to keep track of all those little homeworks, assignments, tests, and revision/work schedules. Click here, and you will be redirected to another webpage on Grafitheon with the relevant methodologies and/or applications.


Personal Improvement

It doesn’t matter what level you start at - What matters most throughout these two years is your improvement, no matter how marginal it may be. Times of apparent regression are not so much an issue as long as they are not present for more than two consecutive reports/tests. Family events, personal struggles and developments, and other conflicts are all potential setbacks in your quest to academic and personal betterment.

What matters is raising your personal best – No matter what circumstances you find yourself in, it is of uttermost importance, especially during the next two years, that your focus isn’t on getting a 7, but of getting better than your last grade, even if this means only by 2%. This is what matters, focusing on progression of performance, rather than aiming for the best at all times. Aiming for a 7 when you are currently at a 3 is a clear path to disappointment, self flagellation, and a loss of self-confidence. Do not look at your peers. Do not look at your ‘genius’ friend with straight 7s, he is a terrible role-model: he fits the system very well, he’ll struggle later, you’ll see. In much the same way, you should avoid inspirational talks with your level 3/4 friend. He might have brilliant advice, but as far as you can tell, he either hasn’t put them to use, or they are just mistaken in their choice of study methodologies.

Seeing change, and maintaining satisfaction in steps taken forward - Raising personal awareness of improvement, and consequently reflecting on it is just as important as the improvement itself. Tracking your grades, a.k.a tracking your academic performance is one way to achieve satisfaction in personal improvement.