Choosing IB Diploma subjects: 6 tips for parents and students to know

If you have a child or are a student, going into the IB Diploma Programme next year or in the future, subject choices are a big deal. It can be very confusing when you first start doing your research. A student needs to take all three Core components, and in addition 6 subjects across at least five different subject areas – three at Higher Level and three at Standard Level. And beyond meeting just the basic requirements for a complete diploma, there are other factors that need to be considered. Here I am offering you my ‘little’ advice as an IB Diploma Coordinator on what to consider when making your choices.

  1. Choose your subjects with university entrance in mind – Students interested in studying Economics will need Mathematics at HL, medics will need Biology and Chemistry at HL, law students are advised to take English A HL, etc.
  2. Choose the most rigourous combination of subjects and levels that is still manageable – do not overbuden yourself with an excessive level of challenge. Choosing one or two subjects that are more of a ‘strech’ and compensating with other subjects that are more manageable to create a balanced combination.
  3. Research subjects you are unfamiliar with – talk to the subject teachers or to me, to try to find out more about subjects you are unfamiliar with.
  4. Understand how subjects are assessed – all IB subjects are assessed to some extent by your teacher and by the examiner. However, the balance between internal and external assessment varies from subject to subject. Most subjects are examined through exams, but some, such as Visual Arts, do not have any written exams. Some subjects require more essay writing, while others will require short answers, such as B&M.
  5. Understand the difference between HL and SL – taking a subject at HL means covering all the SL material and then an additional extension. In some subjects the HL extension material is more extensive and challenging than in other subjects. Visual Arts, Music and Theatre will require more time on project work so make sure you have budgeted time accordingly.
  6. Limit the influnece of extraneous factors – sometimes students make their choices for superficial reasons such as choosing the same subjects as their friends or choosing a subject taught by a teacher they like. Ok, this might be helpful to have social support or confidence in a reliable teacher, but making decisions on these factors alone is NOT a good strategy. Students sometimes avoid choosing some subjects because of rumours around difficulty or inability to score highly in the subject. Make sure you do not rely on scare stories.

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