I’m sure at least some of us have heard rumors about how hard the International Baccalaureate (IB) is and how no one should take it if they still want a social life. But is that really true?

To find out, I interviewed three different alumni, who are now in college, to share with us their experiences and provide some tips on how to (successfully) survive the IB.

Tip #1: Structure your work before you start studying

Ilinca Astratinei, 2020 AISB graduate.

“I probably recommend in terms of the method to plan as much as possible,” says 2020 graduate Ilinca Astratinei. “You need to allow as much time for planning as you do for actually completing the assignment.”

Ilinca is now studying interior and spatial design at the University of Arts London (UAL) and she looks back at her high schools years with nostalgia. She says she values the level of critical thinking taught at AISB, which is currently helping her in university.

Since many students hate planning, considering it to be a waste of time (myself included!), perhaps we should reconsider.

Breaking up the subject and telling yourself to study a specific part of it is also a part of planning that will save you time and trick your brain into perceiving there’s less subject to study, motivating you. Ilinca says she didn’t use any specific apps or gadgets to study; the only thing that helped her was laying out everything and writing to-do lists of what she had to finish.

“Once you have a structure set in place and everything is laid out for yourself, everything becomes automatically easier to complete,” explains Ilinca.

AISB’s DP coordinator, Aliza Robinson, provides some addition insight into what the DP expects from students in regard to Ilinca’s advice: “Planning helps us to determine what we need to do and how to do so effectively,” she says. “For DP students, learning to manage tasks and to plan how to approach them is extremely helpful.” Planning leads to a more successful final product because you know everything that needs to be done.

Tip #2: Perseverance is key

The fact that the DP is hard is not hidden. Everyone knows that. The most important aspect of it is how we deal with the stress and pressure. 

The IB is a lot more difficult than say, A-levels or the Romanian Baccalaureate, which is why very few students pass with a high score of 42-45. 

Andrei Volcov, who is studying political science in Amsterdam, recalls how necessary perseverance was in receiving his diploma. 

Andrei Volcov, at his university in Amsterdam.

“There were definitely times when I was stressed and pressured,” he says, “but I kept pushing through.”

Andrei studied using the Pomodoro technique, which is studying with no distractions for 25 minutes, taking a 10 minute break, then repeating the cycle until you finish studying.

Sommer Blohm, a college counselor for 10th-12th grade students, also supports this method, and adds that alongside proper study techniques, we need to give ourselves grace.

“Awareness without judgment [is key],” she says. “Be like ‘Ah, I’m having that kind of thought again; I’m worrying about how I’m gonna do on this thing that hasn’t even happened yet.’”

Although everyone will get distracted at some point, it’s important to understand that it’s ok and move past the thought, to continue doing what you have planned, either homework or studying.

Tip #3: Before choosing your DP classes, make sure you know what they’re about

Another tip from Andrei is to pay attention to the classes you choose at the end of 10th grade— the ones you will base your college decisions on. 

“Many schools, what they do is like a fair and so you just go around and ask information about classes, like what’s different about them. Don’t make a rushed decision when choosing your IB classes because you’ll be stuck with them for two years,” explains Andrei.

Niki Bhasin, a 2021 AISB alumni

Even though you can change your IB classes, it’s important to analyze all your options and choose the ones that will most benefit you. Nikita Bhasin, who is now majoring in business and minoring in film at Rutgers University in New Jersey says that you shouldn’t choose based on what others want you to do.

“You have to want it yourself and that’s the time I actually enjoyed the IB … when I was finally doing the classes I wanted to do,” says Niki.

You’ll be stuck with the IB standard and higher-level classes for two years, so this can make or break your DP experience. Niki also advises that it should be a compromise of what you enjoy learning and your preferred college requirements for a possible career. Where you want to study in the future should include things you actually enjoy, if they don’t, consider changing your college options.

Going around and asking people about the classes you want to take is similar to college fairs that many schools do in senior year. In the past 40 years, college fairs have become more popular and they help advise and introduce students to colleges. So if it works for colleges, why shouldn’t it work for IB classes as well? Whether you ask teachers or students, any kind of information is helpful to make an informed decision.

Tip #4: Don’t stress too early on

This may go without saying, but there really is no need to put pressure on yourself too early on and worry about something that won’t happen anytime soon.

Ilinca say, “Don’t feel pressured to do things in a way that is as complicated as possible, it’s ok to find things easy and it’s ok to simplify things for yourself.” You can get the same grades and credit if you simplify things, and it saves you time and stress. 

“I wish I knew that things didn’t matter as much as I thought they did and I shouldn’t have stressed that much,” Niki reflects.

Not stressing from early on is the one tip that I learned from all three students—that by itself should say something. Andrei also explains that we “should not stress from very early on in terms of university; what do you want to do in the future because the future is very uncertain.”

Anticipatory anxiety is a symptom of an anxiety disorder, where you stress excessively about the future, which is uncertain and can change at any point. An example of how uncertain the future can be is how students who graduated in 2020 didn’t end up taking their IB exams which is what they had been preparing for the previous 12 years of their lives.

The point is, if you stress about the future, you’re wasting your time and energy (which is something you don’t have a lot of in the DP) on something that may or not happen. It’s hard to listen to teachers when they say “Oh, it’s just a test don’t worry about it.” But hearing it from a student put my anxiety at ease.

Tip #5: Take care of your mental health

One of the most important aspects of school is mental health. While it’s hard to prioritize it over school work, it has significant effects on attention spans and energy levels, and it overall hinders performance if it becomes neglected.

“Lack of sleep seems to be one of the first coping mechanisms [when students are stressed or struggling with mental health],” says Ms. Blohm. “This is the first thing people start to sacrifice when they feel they’re running out of time for things.”

Whether it’s staying up at night to complete an assignment that was due at 11:59 pm or scrolling through TikTok, sleep deprivation is caused by regularly not getting enough sleep. Even though lack of sleep is common amongst teens, it’s important to listen to your body and get the sufficient amount of sleep you need, even if that means sacrificing a part of your homework.

Our AISB college counselor, in her office in the high school lobby.

“The students that are sleeping and getting some sort of movement tend to be the ones that look to be coping most holistically with their program,” Ms. Blohm expands.

Andrei says that, unfortunately, taking care of your mental health is easier said than done. “I was way too busy with school and what was going on around me to focus on my mental health,” he remembers.

Niki explains that her way of coping with stress was to spend more time with her friends and family. Of course, this only works if you’re an extrovert; she says that introverts might find comfort by taking time for themselves—really anything to forget about school for awhile.

She also admits that “At times it was difficult and there was a lot of pressure on trying to achieve the best grades rather than the best work.” While grades are important to a certain extent, Niki says that it’s more important to produce good quality work.

Tip #6: Enjoy your time

Image source: Pexels.com.

Even with all the stress and the large amounts of work the IB provides for students, everyone I talked to seemed to look back on their time full of nostalgia.

The students, the teachers, and the community at AISB are the most important part of the experience—something you only experience once. The students commented on how the teachers never stopped caring about them, and that they felt they’d always be their students no matter how much time had passed. 

Andrei values “the fact that [he] got to work with amazing people on different papers and [they] helped each other out.” This is something he thinks back on throughout university. Everyone helping each other out was an important part of the AISB experience and one he truly values. 

While I was talking to Niki, she emphasized how everyone should “enjoy it because everything that people tell you about not getting that time back is more than 100% true.” Instead of wasting these valuable moments stressing about the future, find a balance between parties/ social life while still focusing on school.

“AISB is my favorite place on earth,” says Niki. “I take any chance I get to explain to my friends how cool it was to just be there.”

Sometimes we don’t realize how important and valuable AISB is until after we graduate; then we get nostalgic for that time we didn’t know we’d miss.

Niki also advises to “Take advantage of the opportunities you get because you can do sooo much at AISB.” You can create your own club, have leadership opportunities, etc. It’s not only great practice for university, but it’s also an important part of life in general.

There you have it: six tips on how to survive the IB program from students who have been here and done that. Whether you will enter the DP soon, or already are in the middle of it, hopefully, some of these tips will help you in the future.