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  • Lulwa Naman

Navigating from Stress to Success in the IB

By Lulwa Naman

Advice Column Question: I am very stressed about the IB. I know a lot of people who have gone through it and told me that it was the worst years they've ever had. What can I do to make it not become like this?

About the author

Lulwa is a 19-year-old alumna of Campus des Nations, currently studying Business Management at ESCP Business School in Paris. She graduated in 2023 from the IBDP with a CAS Award and Platinum Champions Award for Volunteering from the UK Embassy in Bern. Aside from academics, she was on StuCo, President of the Anti-Discrimination Committee, and President of the Mwazwe Fundraising Team. Now, she is Head of Events for an educational nonprofit in Paris supporting children’s education in Nepal, and an Events Associate for a society that uplifts Bachelor students’ spirits.

Spoiler alert: No matter what they tell you, nobody is an expert.

The IB Programme is famous for being one of the hardest high school curricula in the world. Although this sounds intimidating, the MYP at Nations and strong motivational power sets us up for success. Here are a few suggestions you can take to maximise your chances of happiness, stability and academic excellence in the IB. Remember, even if you think you don’t have the time to do everything – you actually do. At Nations, every teacher and class want to see you succeed.

Academic Life

The first most important step will be to plan yourself. Make to-do lists, but not just for the day! A day/week/month/year to-do list can be very useful in seeing how you should complete the vast amount of work due in the 2-year programme. This can alleviate a load of stress, when it feels like not everything can be done in time. One of my favourite tools was Google Calendar. There are many alternatives, but I planned my days 24/7 beginning to end and included timing for everything – Classes and meetings to dinner and sleep. Another useful tool is Google Sheets. Time passes fast in the IB. Make a list of every week of the year and determine what should be done in advance. Don’t be afraid to get a good head-start on your Extended Essay before the actual start period, if you have the time to do something – do it.

We are incredibly lucky that technology is at the centre of our education. Take advantage of it. Use online note-taking methods to access your notes from anywhere in the click of a button (except for math!). I still use Notion at university to take notes and make them coherent to understand. Also, I am able to access them from any device. Furthermore, Quizlet is a popular platform that should be used regularly. It will come in handy for exams, and should be updated with your course content weekly. Try to ask your

teacher what will be included in the final exams frequently to best understand how to take your notes.

Studying techniques depend on who you are, because not everything works for everyone. In the IB, every subject is different. Let’s break it down:

  • Mathematics: My peers and I would review content weekly through Revision Village questions. There is a subscription fee, but it is 100% worth it. This has past paper questions from the IB exams, and if you complete all of them, you will be ready. Take 30 minutes per week at least to practice through questions.

  • Sciences: All of the sciences are unique in terms of studying. You should review the content of your class regularly through Quizlets (mainly biology) or through practice questions offered through booklets from teachers.

  • Humanities: I took Higher Level Psychology, and all humanities subjects rely heavily on case studies. I found using Google Docs and shared-class documents to be very useful in separating the names of studies, content from studies, and learnings.

  • Language A: Read before going to sleep every night. There are lots of books to read. As a survivor of HL Literature, there is an overwhelming reading list. However, you won’t need all of them for the final exam or coursework. Find your favourites, and only analyse these in depth. Paper 1 is a formula, ask your teachers to explain it to you in detail if you need help. Practice with online past papers.

  • Language B: This was often seen as a less stressful subject. Complete your homework on time and prepare for your orals by practicing with fluent speakers.

  • Art: Arts are often misconceived as simpler subjects, but they are one of the most time-consuming. Plan your deadlines well in advance, and schedule time for coursework on weekends (especially Film students).

Before exams and coursework, do not wait for the last minute to study. As soon as you receive a task, complete it well before the deadline. Before May, start your studying in March on the weekends. Make documents that include all of your notes from the 2 years. It is completely manageable.

Extracurricular and CAS Life

Extracurriculars are immensely important in the IB. Not just for CAS, but for university applications and personal wellbeing. It is strongly encouraged to pursue a couple of activities in depth throughout your two years. This can be a sport, an instrument, theatre, or a club. My best advice: Keep them strong, concise, and related to your ultimate passion.

My three primary interests are human rights, theatre, and creative writing. Therefore, my main extracurricular activities were StuCo, the Anti-Discrimination Committee, Simply Theatre, and the Mwazwe Foundation Fundraising Team. Find one activity for each letter of CAS (Creativity, Activity, and Service) that truly spark your drive. Despite popular belief, CAS is a breath of fresh air from the coursework if you choose your activities correctly. Importantly, I would advise you to apply or run for at least one leadership position in a club, council, committee or sport. This will give you the necessary skills to advance in your career and will show universities your full potential.

Knowing Nations, I would recommend running for the Student Council if you are interested in dedicating a lot of time towards raising school spirit. Additionally, I would recommend the Mwazwe Fundraising Team (and other fundraising teams), as this directly counts as Service and will feel very fulfilling at the end of your experience knowing you have made a significant change for others.

University Applications

26. That is the number of universities I applied to in Year 13. I can assure you, I did not get into all of them. This is a very challenging, yet rewarding part of the IB experience as it can teach you essential life skills. The correct approach, mindset, and planning should be taken when applying to universities.

I met with Mr Rowlands, the guidance counsellor, on a weekly basis. This is possible, but in my case it was mainly due to how lost I felt with my career path, as I applied for a range of subjects like English Literature, Creative Writing, Theatre, and Business. There are various criteria that are used to assess how and where to apply, take the time to meet with the counsellors about these (and be very honest with yourself). Don’t worry if you aren’t sure about what to study, it’s normal as we are so young! Eventually, try to narrow it down to 1-2 subjects which will make the application and essay-writing phases much easier.

You won’t always get in. Not every university is the right fit for you, and they know that! Take it as a redirection instead of a rejection. It is emotional, because it’s scary to not know where you’ll go after Nations. There are a few things you can do to help yourself through this tough time:

  1. Don’t get your hopes up.

  2. Have a support system. Open results with your best friends or with your parents.

  3. Apply to achievable universities as well as reaches (counsellors would elaborate).

  4. Be very clear on your criteria, and remember you will end up exactly where you need to be.

Personal Life

You need to be able to go home and relax at the end of the day. My first and foremost priority in the IB: sleep. I was nothing at 08:10 without a good night of sleep. It is not worth going to class every day if you are sleeping or not paying attention in class. Sleep 8-10 hours per night on week nights.

Try your best to keep familial and friendship relationships stable throughout the course. You have a lot to think about, and it’s best to limit the distractions that could be caused!

Key takeouts:

  1. There is time for everything.

  2. Have fun with extracurriculars.

  3. You will end up where you need to be.

Good luck, you’ve got this. I hope this helps, feel free to contact me with any questions or extra advice:


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