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Back To School
How to Survive the International Baccalaureate
If you want to complete the IB with your nerves and state of mind in tact - you need to study strategically. This Back to School “Game Plan” is a study strategy consisting of 4 simple tasks that can be applied to all IB subjects.
- This game plan will not waste your time
- You’ll start back to school motivated and ready to take control
- This is not some regurgitated nonsense about ‘highlighting the textbook’ and ‘take regular breaks’ that you’ve heard before. These 4 study strategies are specific to studying IB and are based on 18 years of helping students ace their IB exams.
- These strategies work, regardless of your current ability or subject, because they follow universal principles of efficacy and effectiveness.
Can You Trust Me?
I’ve been an IB teacher (specifically IB Physics) for a very long time.
In fact, I hate telling people how long I’ve been teaching, because it can give you an idea of how old I am! But here we go…. I have been teaching IB Physics since 2004. That’s 18 years of experience in this crazy curriculum.
Yes - I know! You can work it out! I’m 43! One day you’ll be 43 too and you’ll realise it’s not that old!
What I have gained during there 18 years is some perspective on how best to get back to school and avoid overwhelm with the IB. I recognise that the IB is a wide course with a huge workload. It demands that you are diligent. I will never take that feeling away from you. All I’m here to do is to help you to become more strategic in your study and have a game plan ready for your return to school.
They call me Miss Efficiency. I never work harder than I have to. I always plan a strategy before I attempt any project. I understand that you don’t have time to make your own strategy for IB - so I’ve made one for you.
This game plan only involves 4 easy tasks that you’ll complete at the end of every topic you study in each IB subject.
These 4 simple tasks are:
- Write condensed notes
- Complete past paper questions
- Use the magic marking grid
- Get help with weaknesses
Let’s go into each simple tasks in more detail
1. Write Condensed Notes
Before you start this task you need two resources:
- Condensed note template
- Set of topic-specific learning objectives
I have a free note template for you. It’s included in my IB Students: Study Resources Pack and I highly recommend you download it. It’s free.
Once you have the free note template. You’ll need a copy of the learning objectives for the topic you are currently studying. You’ll find these in your textbook (or my company GradePod have them as part of the Ace Your IB Physics Exams online course).
You then work through each learning objective and decide if it falls into one of the following sections:
- Common Diagrams
- Common Graphs
- Experiment Summary
- Other Notes
If I read the learning objective, “Draw and analyse velocity-time graphs”, I’d head to the common graphs section and draw a velocity-time graph. Then I’d annotate that graph with all the information I’d want to remember (e.g. the area under the graph = displacement, the gradient = acceleration and so on). However, if I was an expert at velocity-time graphs then I wouldn’t even bother including it.
“Explain the difference between instantaneous and average values of velocity”. I’d head to the definitions section and note down the definition of both instantaneous and average velocity. I’d know to memorise them for the exam.
As you work through the learning objectives, you’ll find that you are organising the whole topic into small, easy to manage sections. Once you’ve finished that topic, you’ll have a list of definitions that you need to learn (remember they can increase your grade by around 9-11%). You’ll have a list formulae that might not appear in the data booklet - so you’d want to memorise these. If you see a graph in an exam question - you can head to the graph section of your notes and answer the question quickly and easily.
Can you see how this one sheet of double-sided A4 would be SO USEFUL when completing practice past papers later on in your revision for the final exams? Can you see that you really wouldn’t need to save any other notes?
You can literally through all your class notes in the bin and keep this one piece of paper.
2. Complete Past Paper Questions
Now you have to try and complete some past paper questions relevant to the topic you’ve just studied and written notes for.
Be brave! I know they will seem difficult. Remember that you are aiming to be amazing at exam questions - and the only way to achieve this is to tackle them early on in your course.
Once you’ve completed the problems, you should mark them using a markscheme AND GIVE EACH QUESTION A GRADE. You don’t need to be detailed in your marking. You don’t need to give yourself any feedback!
You just need a numerical mark assigned to each question.
For example, say you are answering a calculation question on impulse and it was worth 4 marks. You’d need a mark out of 4 for that question.
If you got full marks for that question - move on. You don’t need to focus on areas in your study that you are already good at.
3. Use the Magic Marking Grid
You have a question that you have not achieved full marks. Let’s use an example of impulse, which is a concept you would meet in Topic 2 Mechanics (Physics),
“Calculate the magnitude of the average force exerted on a block by the rope”
This question would be worth two marks.
You need to assess why you did not get two marks on that question and where exactly those marks were lost.
Reasons for losing marks in an IB Physics ‘calculate’ question could be:
- Didn’t know the correct formula to use
- Simple unforced error (like a calculator error)
- Didn’t show working
- Didn’t add units
- Did not perform a reasonableness check
- Just simply totally lost!
In this case you would joy down the reason you lost the marks for that question AND you note down the concept being examined.
It’s easier to lay all this out if you use my magic marking grid, but still a simple concept without it.
Head to the next question that you did not achieve full marks in. Another example might be an ‘explain’ question. Like:
"Explain why intensity maximia are observed in Young Double Slit Experiment”
A question like this would be worth 3 marks.
Reasons for losing marks in an 'explain' question in IB Physics:
- Didn’t understand the question
- Poor use of the correct scientific vocabulary
- Didn’t link together concepts well
- Basic lack of knowledge
Again, you would joy down the reason you lost the marks for that question AND you note down the concept being examined.
Once you have completed this analysis of your marked work, you should see a pattern emerge.
This is where the layout of my magic marking grid really comes into its own because the pattern of your errors are laid out directly in front of you and it becomes clear where your problem-solving weaknesses are.
I won't lie - it's depressing
It’s pretty depressing to look at all the stuff that you got incorrect, but it’s essential to analyse your mistakes and work on them.
You’ll probably notice that in calculator question you always lose marks because you don’t show your working OR in explain questions, you lose marks because you don’t use the correct scientific vocabulary. GREAT! In that case, you have two very clear improvements to make in your exam technique! You focus all your efforts on showing your working correctly and making better use of appropriate vocabulary.
You now have a list of weaknesses in your exam technique and concept knowledge for that topic.
4. Get Help with Weaknesses
Using the magic marking grid, you have a clear idea on what you need to improve regarding the topic you’ve just completed in IB.
Now you need to get extra help to improve your understanding of those weaknesses.
You can use one of the following 4 sources:
- Social Channels
- Online Programmes
Usually pretty expensive. Can be good to aid understanding. An old technique for learning, but still a good one.
Your teacher should be able to help you with your weaknesses. If you take your magic marking grid along when you approach your teacher for help - they will be ridiculously impressed and more likely to put in time to help you with your targeted areas of weakness.
You can use YouTube, Reddit r/IBO subbredit and the Discord channel. All great places to ask for help.
My favourite 😉. I’ve built a whole online programme designed to help IB Physics students get the help they need and deserve. It’s targeted. It’s built by a professional. It works out significantly cheaper than a tutor.
If you’re an IB Physics student - check it out.
Contrary to popular opinion, the IB doesn’t have to be a nightmare. You just have to think strategically and work with a Game Plan.
If you follow this GradePod Game Plan - you should be fine….
Have a GradePod Day!
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