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Top Testing Tips for IB Exams

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If you’re enrolled in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at your high school, you know how challenging and rigorous it is. With numerous exams, projects, and coursework, you may be wondering how exactly you can conquer your exams and earn your diploma.


Read on to learn tips for achieving high scores on your IB exams.



What is the IB?

The IB program is a rigorous curriculum for high school students. Originally started in Europe, the curriculum is gaining popularity in the United States.


The IB Diploma—the bread and butter of the IB process—requires students to participate in a two-year series of courses and projects. Courses consist of six subject groups, and students will take the courses in both standard and higher levels. Students must also complete projects, such as the Extended Essay Research project, which is conducted under the guidance of a faculty supervisor.


There are also certain service and activity requirements for earning the Diploma. You’ll need to receive at least 24 points out of a possible 42 points over all six subject groups or an average of four points per test out of seven possible points per test to receive the diploma.


In order to receive an IB diploma, candidates must receive a minimum of 24 points or a minimum average of four (or C) out of a possible seven points for six subjects. Check out How to Earn an IB Diploma to learn more about the process.


Some high schools may allow you to take individual courses without earning the full Diploma. The IB program has some similarities to the Advanced Placement program—for instance, students take standardized tests, receive scores, and may earn college credit—but the AP program involves individual tests, and teachers don’t need to undergo training to teach the courses. Meanwhile, high schools must train and prepare teachers to participate in the IB program.


The program includes internal and external assessments for different subjects and tests. For some, your teachers will grade your work; others will be graded by external teachers and experts.


It’s considered an honor to earn a full diploma, and you will probably receive credit or standing in college, along with a ceremony at your high school. Even if you only take some tests, you may earn credit or placement for high scores. It will also show colleges that you are able and willing to challenge yourself, although you probably won’t earn your diploma until after you’re admitted to college.


Find out more about the program in The Ultimate Guide to the International Baccalaureate Program.



Preparing for Your Tests

Since internal assessments may vary according to the school and teacher (for instance, internal assessments for experimental sciences includes practical work and is evaluated based on skills pertaining to planning, data collection and processing, and discussion, evaluation and conclusion), we’ll focus on preparing and taking external assessments, since these exams are the same for everyone. If you’re considering pursuing the IB program at a certified high school—or are currently enrolled—keep these tips in mind when preparing for and taking your tests.



Organize Your Studying


This is an important element of studying for any test or course, but the rigors of IB program demand that you stay organized. Schedule studying intervals for different subjects and tests. You should also schedule breaks, so you can replenish your energy. 


Since external IB exams generally consist of two to three papers completed in one or over the course of several days, with many taking several hours, you’re going to need to be very disciplined about your studying. You don’t want to get to exhausted on the day (or days) of the test and be unable to finish.


Try starting off each study session with a stronger subject, so you’ll have the confidence boost to continue before turning to your weaker subjects. If you start with a weaker subject, you might get frustrated, which will not only lower your confidence, but may also cause you to lag behind in your schedule as you struggle to finish.


Make sure you cover all of the material from the course, not just the most recent material. Consult your course syllabus to refresh your memory on other information you’ve learned.


Give yourself rewards to motivate yourself to continue. For instance, if the arts are a struggle point for you, have a bowl of ice cream after finishing a particularly rigorous studying session.

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Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses

IB subject groups include:


  • Group 1: Studies in Language and Literature.
  • Group 2: Language Acquisition.
  • Group 3: Individuals and Societies.
  • Group 4: Experimental Sciences.
  • Group 5: Mathematics.
  • Group 6: The Arts.
  • Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS)
  • Extended Essay (EE)
  • Theory of Knowledge (TOK)


Everybody has areas that are stronger than others. As you go through your coursework and begin studying, note areas that require more concentration or focus. These are the areas you should spend more time honing.For instance, you might be strong in language and literature, while mathematics is more of a struggle.


You should still devote time to your strengths, but you won’t need to spend as much time on them; just make sure you know what to expect, and that there are no surprises, since you don’t want to sacrifice a high score in a strong area just because you hadn’t prepared.



Practice, Practice, Practice

Use previous tests to get an idea of what the tests will be like. Practice writing responses to short answers and essays. This exercise will help you prepare examples, works, and other information you’ll need to do well on the tests. Practicing will make these examples and the works you’ve read or case studies you’ve seen in class easier to remember.


When you’re practicing, simulate a real testing environment by giving yourself the amount of time you’ll have on the real test; that way, you’ll get used to writing complete responses in the amount of time you’ll actually have and won’t be surprised or unprepared.


For example, the external exam for computer science, a topic in Group 4: Experimental Sciences, includes three papers, one of which is an allotted 1 hour 30 minutes and two of which are an allotted 1 hour each. You will also have external tests for the additional subjects within the group, along with internal assessments and projects.


Note that standard and high levels for each group have different lengths of time allotted for the individual exams and that some subjects, such as physics and chemistry, also have multiple choice sections (45 minutes for standard and 1 hour for high levels).



Giving Your IB Exams Your All

Come Prepared with the Materials You Need—and Leave the Restricted Materials at Home

Some materials are allowed, and others aren’t. For some sections, even within the same exam, you will be required to use calculator, while others prohibit it. (Check out the calculator policy.)


If you need to bring your cell phone, understand that you will need to relinquish it to the proctor to be collected at the end of the test. So make sure you have a separate calculator and aren’t expecting to rely on your phone.


For almost all the test, you will need pens with black ink. Come prepared with at least 3-4 in case one stops working.


Read, Revise, Repeat

Schedule in time to read and edit your work. You may catch errors or parts you want to edit. When you’re studying, schedule in editing time, so you’re prepared for the time limit on test day.


Following these tips while studying can ease your stress and help you feel better prepared on exam day. Be sure to follow these other tips as well:


  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before.
  • Move on after each test and don’t think about the last one too much; you want to be able to concentrate on the test in front of you, and you can’t change your previous score or test anyway.


To learn more about the program, read What Are the Benefits of Earning an IB Diploma?, and check out the IB exam schedule.


Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more!


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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.