What makes the IB Curriculum
(International Baccalaureate) so
uniquely challenging?

There are many articles across the web explaining what the IB is, when it was founded, the subjects it offers etc. But there weren’t any articles from personal experience trying to explain what makes the IB so unique and how it could potentially impact the development of a student. Since I had transitioned from the Indian national curriculum and was successfully able to top my school’s IBDP, I thought I would be uniquely placed to offer some insight into this topic.

Freedom to pick your own subjects

What I loved about the IB was that it offered everyone the flexibility to choose their own combination of subjects, but with logical constraints. Everyone has to choose some level of Math, one Science, one Second Language, and either Literature or Language & Literature at the Standard or the Higher Level. Three higher level subjects and three standard level subjects must be chosen. Every student must take a seventh subject: Theory of Knowledge (TOK) (more on this later in the article).

These constraints mean that every student must pick those combination of subjects that are appropriate for their aptitude, interest, career plans, targeted universities and majors they offer.

You can find more details on this topic here: How to select the right combination of IB subjects?

International subject matter

If you are transitioning from a national curriculum, then one of the first things to strike you will be the sheer vastness of the world. If you have been used to studying subjects from the lens of your country’s perspective, you will quickly have to adapt to the IB. For example, whereas in the Indian national curriculum, I was reading about India’s Independence from the Indian perspective only, the IB now challenged me to think from all sides, and to evaluate global events as one connected whole. Russian Revolution, Cuban Missile Crisis, Dostoevsky, Camus, Algerian War of Independence – these were just some of the events, people, and concepts I got used to thinking about everyday during the IB.

Memorization versus learning how to think

Regardless of the subjects you choose to take, you will realize that the IB assessment criteria is designed in such a way that it goes far beyond rewarding memorization and reproduction of information. You will mainly be judged on the depth and breath of your analysis of a subject matter, as well as how you are able to express your analysis in a logical order with the relevant examples to back up your assertions. Even for Math and Science subjects, you will be asked to apply concepts in designing experiments and deriving formulae.

Theory of Knowledge

The Theory of Knowledge is an essential component of philosophy that bridges the gap between metaphysics and all other the other topics that logically follow TOK such as ethics, politics, and art. TOK will require you to answer the question “how do you know something?” and require you to question the validity of anything that you may commonly be accepting as fact. You will need to think from multiple perspectives, challenge existing dogmas, and re-think the way you see the world. It’s a truly unique subject that has applications to all the other subjects you study in the IB. 

Focus on writing

Most students that transition from their national curriculum have thus far been used to learning facts, writing in bullet points, and solving mathematical problems. The heavy focus on essay type answers in the IB often takes them by surprise. Most questions will require the student to take some time out to brainstorm ideas, organize the sequence of their argument, and explain their views eloquently. 

The CAS experience

Through the Creativity, Action, Service requirement of the IB, you will see parts of the world you had never seen before and interact with people you would otherwise never have had the opportunity to meet. Through CAS, you will be able to reflect on the struggles of every human being and develop the ability to empathies with people from different strata of life.  These are just some of the things you will be doing under CAS: 

Visiting old-age homes

Visiting orphanages

Helping renovate pre-schools in villages

Hosting events to raise funds for good causes

Learning to act, cook, paint….

The list is endless. 

Managing your own time and energy over two years

Until grade 10, students have been used to taking exams every year. But for the IBDP, students will have to try and retain all the information for two years. To add to this, there are university applications, CAS hours, TOK & EE essays, oral exams, lab experiments, internal assessments, and SAT and SAT II exams. It is essential that you create a long term strategy as well as organize your to-do list for each day in order to plot your way to IB victory.  

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Zeeshan Firasta is the founder of CRACK IB. He was valedictorian at Kodaikanal International School in 2008 achieving an IB score of 41/45 where he was awarded Best Economics HL student. He then went on to study Economics, Business Institutions and Integrated Marketing and Communications from Northwestern University (Kellogg School). He’s also successfully cleared a CFA Level 1 exam in the first attempt, and completed an MSc Finance degree from the Warwick Business School. Zeeshan was the first person in several years from his high school to get a full score in TOK. Since almost no IB teachers were former IB students themselves, Zeeshan is able to provide key insights and strategies in helping make each CRACK IB course solve the real issues faced by IB students and systematically help improve their IB scores.

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