Students anticipate the promised land of sixth form for the vast majority of their secondary school years. When we arrive for the autumn term of year 12, able-bodied from our GCSEs and inordinately relaxing summer holidays, we have very clear hopes about what the next two years of our lives are going to be like.
Mara Westley is a former Jumeirah College student, now a Year 12 IB Student studying at The Cheltenham Ladies’ College in the United Kingdom.
It does not take very long for us to realize that sixth form is a big jump from GCSEs, free periods are usually anything but free and the new uniform is still rather unflattering. Unfortunately, sixth form is not about a common room full of grumpy teenagers sleeping on sofas, drinking endless cups of tea and exercising their authority over the younger years.
I am a student of the International Baccalaureate and the past year in sixth form has been fast paced, hard work but immensely rewarding. The Diploma Programme is notoriously challenging and whilst universities value A levels and the IB equally highly, it is widely acknowledged that the DP demands more.
To put it frankly, IB students relax vicariously through their A level friends and, with so little time, wonder if brewing has to be a step in the totally essential consumption of coffee.
Free periods, what are those?
The life of an IB student is incredibly busy. The majority of us have not had many gaps clumsily left in our timetables and as a result, spare time is not a luxury we often enjoy. Any extra curricular activities or tuition classes must be held during break and lunchtimes. In addition to our academic commitments, IB students undertake a number of compulsory activities as part of the Diploma Programme core. These DP core requirements are often regarded as the most unique and valuable elements of the IB. The core consists of the extended essay, Theory of knowledge and Creativity, action, service. The amount of time students are expected to dedicate to CAS activities can range from 3 to 5 hours per week, the equivalent of an additional subject.
"Today's plans? I have a Calculus test and my TOK presentation, a meeting with the IB Coordinator after school, the rest of my Maths internal assessment to do and two hours of Chemistry coursework tonight. I'll probably go home then and finish my physics investigation before I get into bed to read The Republic"
Effective time management is an important skill for any student to master but it is imperative for an IB student. My mornings absolutely always start with a ‘day plan’, so that I know what I have to accomplish and how to manage my time accordingly. The past year has taught me that if I find myself without any homework to do one evening, I have forgotten something, something is wrong with my organizer or I am about to wake up in a few minutes.
Creativity, Action, Service
IB students often joke that whilst in the real world 50 hours of community service is a punishment, for the DP, it is a requirement.
Surprisingly, the CAS requirement provides a very refreshing counterbalance to our academic studies. We often look forward to the hours we spend volunteering at local care homes and primary schools or being creative in theatre and music. A system of self-evaluation encourages students to reflect on the benefits of CAS and thoughtfully consider their experiences. Our CAS forms must be signed and approved by supervisors to ensure that students are not counting watching films in black and white as creativity or walking their dogs as action…
Theory of Knowledge
Theory of Knowledge is undoubtedly the most controversial of all the core requirements - the stated aim of it is to be a "thoughtful and purposeful inquiry into different ways of knowing, and into different kinds of knowledge". Students have an hour and a half of TOK per week and these lessons are composed almost entirely of questions. The most central (and often infuriating) of these is "How do we know?” I often lack the energy to indulge in seemingly absurd discussions however; Theory of knowledge does not aim to convert IB students into hard-line skeptics. In reality, TOK has played an important role in my education by providing coherence between subjects and areas of knowledge in an increasingly interrelated but unpredictable world.
Is it worth it?
Studying the IB in sixth form is certainly not a walk in the park but it is an incredibly gratifying experience. From the moment we sign up for the diploma, we find ourselves treated differently by teachers and other pupils, as young adults with more freedom in the choices we make and how we manage our work. While the realities of IB may include late nights and daunting deadlines, students love studying it.
Mara Westley is a former Jumeirah College student, now in Year 12 studying the IB at The Cheltenham Ladies’ College in the United Kingdom.