As a student going into my second year of the IB program I have noticed an overwhelming amount of advice for students that haven’t started the IB yet, such as how to choose their subjects and what to expect, as well as advice for students finishing the IB, regarding university. However, I feel like it is as important to be well informed and stay on track with your IB work when you have settled into your first year, and are fully in the rhythm of the program. Therefore, I am writing this article to help the new year 12 students that have recently started the IB, and perhaps it will be useful to reread this article as the year progresses and the program becomes more and more demanding. From my experience, students struggle with five main aspects during their first IB year, those being procrastination, burnout, poor communication with teachers or other members of the school community, unattainable expectations and time management. Hence, these are the five topics that my advice will focus on.
Procrastination is a seemingly inescapable habit that has affected all students in some form or another. Even throughout my early secondary or IGCSE years I have dealt with some level of procrastination, however, in the IB program, due to the large number of essays each student is expected to write, along with extracurricular activities and volunteer work, procrastination seems to hunt students even more, and we can afford to partake in it even less.
Perhaps the most important step in overcoming procrastination is understanding where it comes from. I wrote an article in the February edition of The Nest regarding the root of procrastination, but in short one cause of it may be a fear of not being able to succeed, a fear that our work will not be good enough. Thus, we avoid starting it in the first place. Acknowledging this fear allows us to rationally realize that there is nothing to fear, as teachers will always be there to help us with challenging work and we cannot ever learn without trying.
Even after acknowledging this, you may procrastinate due to external distractions such as technology. In that case, it is important to set up an environment that is conducive to work. I recommend putting your phone and other technology that is not needed for your studies away, cleaning your desk, setting up your supplies and perhaps playing some study friendly music if it personally helps you.
Even in a perfect study environment, it may be challenging to start working. Therefore, I encourage you to just start writing, no matter what it may be, since you can always go back and redraft your work while you are in the right headspace. Moreover, starting a piece of work doesn’t always have to mean starting the actual text at hand, it is sometimes helpful to just do research on your topic and take notes as short bullet points to stimulate your ideas.
Furthermore, for me personally the biggest change that has helped me stop procrastinating was a mental shift. I started thinking about doing work not for my present self, but for my future self, and imagining how much more relaxed and free my future self will be if I work now, rather than later. However, if all else fails, getting an encouraging study partner that helps keep you accountable may also do the trick.
Burnout is the feeling of overexhaustion when you lose all motivation and simply cannot work anymore due to overworking yourself for an extended period of time. This is a dangerous pattern to experience during the IB program, due to the necessity to keep up with consistent work assignments that become too overwhelming if they pile up. Therefore, in order to prevent this it may be useful to keep one day of the week completely or mostly free of school work if possible and spend that time with friends/ family, or doing a hobby that is good for your mental health. Moreover, I encourage this hobby to be completely free of academic obligations and something that you do purely for fun, as a comfort during stressful school times.
Furthermore, I believe that a mental burnout can be caused or worsened by poor physical health, thus I encourage all students to maintain a regular exercise schedule, a healthy diet and a decent amount of sleep, even though I know how challenging that is sometimes. Additionally, if you feel like burnout may be approaching in the near future due to you overworking yourself it may be better to take a few days to rest and work less, in order to prevent a full burnout from occurring.
Open communication with my teachers made my IBDP year 1 experience so much easier. I looked around and noticed that my colleagues that were performing the best in school were the ones that asked the most questions and were not afraid to communicate with their teachers, thus I started doing the same. As a student you need to lose the disconnect or even fear that you might feel regarding communicating with teachers, as they are purely there to help you.
One of my biggest tips is: email your teachers a lot! Even for small questions or confusions, as it will help you understand that curriculum much better in the long term. In addition, teachers are busy and may miss some emails, so if they don’t respond for a few days, don’t be afraid to email them again. Be polite and genuinely curious about the course!
I also recommend pursuing bigger projects with the heads of the school if you are passionate about something, as it can help you enjoy the school experience even more, help your mental health when school becomes stressful, as you are doing something you love, and it can also add to your CAS hours!
4. Unattainable expectations
Setting unattainable academic goals and expectations may be one of the most harmful things that a student can do for their mental health. I know that it is easier said than done, but you need to stop comparing yourself to your colleagues, as your academic journey is not theirs, and you don’t fully know what their schedule and life in general is like when they are not in school.
If you do want to improve in a specific subject you can set achievable goals by discussing your abilities with your teachers and see what they believe you can achieve within a given period of time. Moreover, I suggest celebrating your small victories, such as getting a good grade on a challenging assignment on improving by one grade from your previous test, as it will encourage you to stay on the right track and put you in a good mental state.
5. Time management
This is probably the most important topic of all, as I will tell you my advice on when to do some of the main assignments for the IB, from my experience, so I will keep it short and direct. Firstly, throughout the year do your assignments as soon as you get them, even if they seem easy or like they won’t take a long time, as I have witnessed how quickly assignments can build up. Secondly, try to do at least one hour of each strand of CAS per week, and record it and upload your photos and reflections on ManageBac right after each session.
Regarding IA’s, I suggest clearly discussing each of them, or at least as many as you can, with your teachers before the summer holiday, so that you can write the majority of them during the summer, and know exactly what you are doing. If you do this you will also have less work to do during your second year of the IB, thus making you less stressed. Lastly, I will end this article on a memorable note. No matter what anyone says, write your extended essay during the summer. Good luck!