WHAT STARTING IBDP IS REALLY LIKE

By Alessia Montecalvo, G11

With uncensored & unabashed quotes from DP students!

Nine months ago, the class of 2021 embarked on the daunting and enigmatic road that every international student must endure; the IB diploma programme. An undertaking dreaded, inevitable but also the ultimate test of your erudite and emotional strength. The IB seems to take the form of this hulking, intimidating black cloud that hovers over you up until the first week of August when you start grade 11, teasing at all your academic fears and self-doubt. And then this ugly storm breaks out. But when it does, it won’t necessarily be what you expect.


 As my junior year has come to a close, I’ve found myself scoffing at the naivete of my sixteen-year-old self—likely a mindset shared by all prospective diploma students. In truth, the realm of the IB is not one that is so easily explained. But here is the closest I can get; a breakdown of your immersion into the esteemed International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.

Amidst the many ill preconceptions and misnomers of this programme, the one most haunting holds true. It must be addressed; the IB carries an immense and burdening workload that manifests itself in chronic sleep deprivation and intermittent stress-induced breakdowns. From day one (at ISPP, at least), everything is geared towards your final IB exams; cementing information in your memory as you receive it and adapting to the techniques and methods of various assessments. It’s fast-paced and ‘unforgiving’ as quoted by a DP student, but the upsides I have found to it are that wearing sweats to school everyday and crying or complaining on a daily basis are always excusable. In all seriousness, the best way to weather this initial onslaught is to cut it down to the days and weeks in front of you. They say the IB is a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t dwell on the overwhelming—find ways to compartmentalize mentally and even out your academic stress with social releases. Graduates of the diploma have told us that “It’s hard!!! But if you prioritise self care it’s not too bad!”; being conscientious of your mental state is easy to forget, but essential.

“Don’t distance yourself, your friends and family make the year the best. Take mental breaks and talk to friends; you sometimes need to cry together.”

An eleventh grade student

The IB does have its redeeming qualities in spite of the harsh rep it has earned. Our polls on The Grapevine’s Instagram revealed that students who are taking the diploma programme feel it “involves and improves many of your skills”, “goes fast, yes, but it’s fun with your friends” and is “hard but interesting since you take subjects you’re interested in!” Delving into the quick-moving world of the IB will push your maturity to develop faster—new-found freedom to choose for yourself, a heightened sense of self-awareness and greater independence are dropped on you along with endless hours of studying (and, let’s face it, wild amounts of procrastination). Independence—which can be a double-edged sword, as many of the gifts of the IB tend to be—gives you self-governance over how you use your time. Another quote that is excruciatingly true: “don’t underestimate the amount of work you’ll need to do.” Even if your teachers aren’t assigning you homework or reminding you to study, the upkeep (outside of school hours) of the content you are learning is expected, and trust me when I say it will help you when you get to summatives and exams. 

This course, at its heart, is not necessarily a test of talent, of intelligence. The realization that I was hit with over these nine months was that those who succeed have maximized their work ethic and committed to the course in a way that surpasses mere brainpower. Self-management, with balancing your time, selecting study methods, paying attention to your mental health, is paramount.  If my word isn’t enough, here is advice taken from real diploma students: “time management is EVERYTHING”, “if you put effort into learning how to manage your time at the start, it will make life a lot easier!”, “be extremely organised”, “maintain a balanced and disciplined routine”. All of this means planning in advance through online calendars or physical agendas, categorizing and coordinating your notes, making study materials like flashcards or revision notebooks, and always recognizing the value that your teachers have as resources to you. All students work differently and determining what skills maximize your potential in your IB career is going to pull you through. Whatever you do, don’t leave all of this until the last minute! 

I think that what the IB is trying to teach you (I have to believe there is method to its madness), before you’re ejected into the real world, to university for some, is that nurturing and building good learning habits or study routines is the most important. It’s measuring your capacity for organisation and forethought, that will likely be useful to you long after high school. “IB students always say that they feel like the DP prepared them well for university—so even if it’s stressful in the moment, it has good outcomes in the future.” Sometimes, we need to look beyond our present discomfort over a week full of deadlines or impulsive anger towards one teacher and see the true impact of the DP in the long run.

“A stressful two years but overall a positive experience; helped me grow a lot as an individual.”

An IB graduate

A prerequisite of this diligence is simply choosing the right classes. Underlying true dedication to your work is maintaining a positive inclination and motivation towards the content that you’re learning and remembering why you picked the courses that you did. Two years of your life are going to be spent diving deeply into six select subjects; make sure they are worth it—the same goes for choosing CAS experiences, IA and EE topics or coming up with TOK essay ideas. Pick classes that are tied to your future plans, or that you find intriguing in course material. This could mean skimming the syllabi for different classes or approaching teachers and older students (feel free to ask any of us on the Grapevine team at [email protected]!) to get a better idea of the class, especially with respect to the way it is structured at ISPP.  I cannot stress enough the importance of maintaining drive in this programme—this will only come from a genuine interest in your course material.

“Mental and physical health before grades—more happiness and better results in the long term!” 

An IB graduate

All of this being said, don’t let the pressures of the IB cloud your potential to have the high school experience you want. Over-studying is an epidemic just as debilitating as procrastinating—one of the most important pieces of advice we received was: “Don’t forget about the social aspect of high school! Studying is important but so is friendship!” I can’t make a lot of promises about your IB experience, but I can guarantee you that developing comfort with your cohort and finding the friends who will be there for you to lean on when you need them will make DP a little less taxing and little more enriching. I’ve found solace in attaining balance; keeping uplifting people close to me and remembering what the IB is instilling in me—don’t forget how lucky you are to be getting the education that you are. It might be demanding and there’ll be times where you really ponder becoming a high school dropout, but a year in, I can say without a doubt that there will be moments of unparalleled joy and memories worth enduring the pain for. The IB will shape you, mold you into someone much more prepared for the real world (call it character development if you want) and who will graduate grounded by the maturity and self-awareness that the diploma denotes.

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