Choosing your IB Subjects: Don’t Panic!

If you are in the year before starting your IB Diploma, your family and school will have started to get you to think about what subjects you should take for the IB Diploma. In chats at dinner you discover your mother wasn’t just suggesting you should be a lawyer because you are good at arguing, she was actually being serious! Or suddenly, you find yourself wondering if, while it never occurred to you before and you hate blood, maybe you should do Chemistry HL just in case you want to be a doctor. If you find yourself panicking right now or are just plain confused, don’t worry, you are not alone. So what can you do to help yourself through this exciting time?

Layla Moran, an IB teacher and Academic Manager at OSC, shares her thoughts about what you can do to help yourself make this important decision.

As the title suggests, the most important thing to do is Do Not Panic!

The thing to realise is that, while you may feel pressured, you need to take the time to make the right decision. The other thing to remember is that if you do change your mind half way through the Diploma, there is always another route. Some people change courses and get extra tuition to catch up. Other students decide too late and then take an extra year’s study at University. Do Not Panic. Life always works out.

Do your research

In the introduction I mentioned the fact that to do Medicine you probably need Chemistry HL. In most countries this is true. If you are thinking of entering into a profession make sure you do your research into what are the likely requirements of that course. For example, often you need Maths SL to do architecture, or Physics HL to do engineering. Use the internet, ask your guidance counsellor and feel free to call up universities to ask. In some cases your school may not offer a subject you would like to take. This is not unusual as the IB has a huge number of interesting courses on offer. There may be other options like online learning through Pamoja Education, or getting a private teacher. While these suggestions may not be possible, if you have no choice there is no harm in asking your school or parents to help you look into them. And if there is no option then there may be a way around it such as taking a foundation year at University. The moral of this story is that there is always a way, but don’t always expect that way to be the obvious one.IMG_2542

Talk to your teachers

Every teacher I have ever worked with genuinely wants you to reach your potential. Have a chat with your subject teachers about if they think their subject is right for you. Also, make sure you fully understand the leap you are about to make as some IBDP subjects are taught in a very different way from IGCSEs for example. Ask for a 5 minute appointment during break or, if you are moving to a new school, ask to speak to the Head of Department on the phone. Trust me, they will agree to talk with you and respect you for asking for their opinion. They will also be honest with you. If Maths HL is too hard for you they will not be saying that to put you down. It is probably because they recognise that to pass the course you may have to spend so much time on it you will not be able to do your Extended Essay, and CAS, and have a life. The IBDP is about that balance. Remember they have been through this with thousands of students in some cases. Take their advice and consider it carefully.

Play the ‘points game’

Now, to be clear, there is no such thing as an ‘easy’ IB class. The IB goes out of its way to ensure all courses are academically rigorous and that is why so many universities like it. That said, by this age you’ve probably realised you are better at some subjects than others. Most universities ask for X number of points to get in for a certain course. Some may also ask for specific grades in your Highers. If you are desperate to go to, say, UCL, ask your guidance counsellor to give your some examples of old offers or look at their prospectus (usually available online) to get an idea of what to aim for. Again, do your research and make sure you pick subjects where you stand a reasonable chance of getting those grades.

Other support is available

As well as your teachers and Guidance Counsellor, other support is available to you; for example one of the OSC Summer Schools. External support will provide you with new perspectives and will help you to really understand what is right for you.

OSC’s Pre IBDP Summer School is an excellent preparation programme that is academically rigorous and concentrates on getting you up to speed with the main IB subjects – ensuring you go into the first year feeling confident about your subjects and at the required starting level. The programme also helps you to develop and the necessary skills and knowledge you need to carry throughout your IB Diploma, and will give you access to guidance and support from IB teachers and Guidance Counsellors who have years of IB experience – an invaluable opportunity. Not only will the Summer School ensure a solid grounding, you will get first-hand experience at living and working at prestigious universities with hundreds of other IB students, another good source of support and good chance to get to know yourself.

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Last but not least, follow your heart.

I have never met anyone who regrets doing what they love. If you simply have no idea what you want to be or where you want to go, if in doubt, do the subjects which excite you. Chances are you will spend longer studying them anyways because you like them and do better overall as a result.

So that is it for now. While it may seem scary right now, if you do all of the above you cannot go too far wrong. Good luck!

3 Comments
  • Charlotte
    January 19, 2016

    If I’m choosing psychology as a major in college, what courses in IB I should choose? (we don’t have IB psychology in our school)

    • Mike Meads
      January 22, 2016

      Hi Charlotte,

      I reached out to one of OSC’s academics, here’s what she said:

      First of all, you should choose subjects that you are interested in. Secondly, if I was going to recommend one subject that would help you in your future studies, I would say biology. Much of our psychology is based on biology.

      Hope that helps.

      Best,
      Mike

  • Sue Aw
    December 13, 2016

    Hi. I am more interested in the arts / social sciences, but don’t really know yet what subject I’d like to do. To keep my options open, would it be better to do English A Literature HL or English Language & Literature HL?

    Thank you,
    Sue

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