The IB Experience: Part 2

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The most important trial that any IB student goes through comes at the end of their senior year, when certain students make the decision to take the IB diploma and certificate exams. These exams are the ones that truly earn the program its recognition; they are scored by teachers around the world, serve as signposts for standardized education, and have a reputation for rigor. To learn more about this grueling process, I spoke to several current seniors about their experience with the IB exams this year and asked them what practices they recommended for younger students.

The seniors had several tips to offer about the exams and the whole program. One thing they consistently agreed on was the difficulty of the exams. Beginning in junior year, IB courses are divided into standard-level and higher-level difficulty. Generally, students take three higher-level courses and the rest at standard difficulty. For the few (like Rosa Lowenstein) who decide to take four higher-level courses, the exams become much more difficult. As such, both the seniors I talked to and Mr. Chapman recommended restricting yourself to only three higher-level courses for fears of stress and to prevent biting off more than you can chew. However, it does also matter which courses you choose to take. Film, English, and History must be taken as higher level courses, and standard level science classes are also said to be quite complex. No matter the number of courses you decide on taking, Rosa says that you have to be able to manage your time effectively and be prepared for challenges if you decide to take even one of the IB exams.

Most of the seniors also said they had waited until the last moment to study or had crammed a lot, and strongly recommended not following in their footsteps in that regard. Even taking only the Certificate exams can be a challenge. Jordan Picone said he was barely surviving taking three exams, and Theodore Jackson (who was a Diploma candidate) declared the tests to be “very stressful” and said “you should never do them (unless you really want to)”. TJ’s own reasons for taking the tests were that his parents strongly encouraged him to do the Diploma exams, but by the time I talked to him he was extremely enervated. Despite his stressful experience, he found that it was possible to focus only on certain exams even when you’re a Diploma candidate, and essentially gave up on getting the full diploma, concentrating on his strengths (even though you only get your IB money back if you pass). Ileana Garcia and Raina Holt did the same thing from the start, focusing on two or three exams that were their strengths for their Certificates, which they believe was the smart thing to do. Rosa, meanwhile, said in explaining why she became a full Diploma candidate that she believes that by aiming for the Diploma, you take the greatest advantage of the IB courses, since you are being prepared for the Diploma anyway. On the other hand, it is important to carefully consider whether you actually want to take the Diploma, since the amount of money involved is not immaterial.

When taking the actual exams, Ileana said that while AP tests generally want a straightforward answer, IB tests require thought and more of an explanation, and it is not always clear what exactly they are looking for. Finally, Rosa as well as other seniors strongly suggested getting work done during junior year, like the 4000-word extended essay, which ideally ends up needing only minor editing in senior year since students get a whole semester to work on it.

Despite the many challenges of the IB exams, all of the seniors I spoke to had no regrets about their decision to be parts of the IB program, which no doubt speaks for itself.

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