IB Exams pros and cons?

All eyes fixed onto the four-page answer books, hands viciously scribbling essays, racing against the ticking clock, as students attempted to cram all of their thoughts and information between those lines. Pens slammed down onto the table, backs rested against chairs, and students heaved a sigh of relief as they managed to finish the exam with a generous amount of time remaining. This would be the scene taking place in the dance room, and the library, as upperclassmen completed their IB testing.

For the past three weeks, both juniors and seniors have been completing a significant portion of their IB honors or diploma program. All that was learned throughout the course of high school was put to use in these annual exams. Highland is one of only three schools in the Saint Paul Public School District to provide the rigorous college preparatory IB curriculum to their students. The program has been available to Scots students since 1994, providing a more inquiry-based, international, open mindedness, and holistic approach to learning.

The vast majority of students enrolled in honors, or IB, courses have chosen to take on this demanding responsibility which comes with the cost of $40 per exam. Students seeking a less stressful path will chose the honors route and only test in 4 subjects, complete only 5 CAS activities, and give an honors speech based on a topic of their choice. On the other hand, there are also students who chose to challenge themselves by taking the IB diploma path, requiring the completion of at least 6 exams, an extended essay, and 10 CAS activities. For more information about the requirements for honors and diploma, please visit the IB Highland Webpage.

IB exams are shortly coming to a conclusion by the end of this week, May 20th, and now it is time to reflect about our experience. Would one consider this learning experience to be worth it?

Pros of taking the IB honors or diploma exams:

  • On the Common Application, colleges and universities will be able to recognize that you have tested, or that you plan on testing through the IB program, hence they will be more likely to consider trusting that your academic abilities are sufficient enough to handle the rigorous coursework in college.
  • Completing passing or fulfilling high scores on the exams can potentially earn you college credits. Some of these credits will pass as introductory courses or elective credits, which gives you a chance to save money and it also provides st

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    udents with the liberty to take more classes of their choice. This is particularly true at a liberal arts college, where they would require students to earn courses outside of their major including the arts, social science, reasoning, oral speaking, etc.

  • Some students take the IB exam simply for experience. Past students who have completed the IB diploma have pointed out that the IB exams taken in history were fairly similar to the ones they are currently taking in college. The extended essay itself prepares future college students for the overwhelming research papers formulated in the area of their major. Along with that, each course will be accompanied with some form of internal assessment paper that is also considered as an individual research paper based on the area of their subject.
  • IB exams are similar to finals in college. Throughout the course of the IB program, students will explore various studying methods and find the one that is best for them.
  • The IB program is already known for its rigorous work, therefore devoted students can challenge themselves on another level and bring pride to their school. Teachers are constantly advising their students to test in their enrolled IB courses.
  • The number of students, from minority or low income backgrounds, who decide to test in IB, is beginning to increase thanks to the fee waiver offered to students with free-and-reduced lunch.
  • Passing the exam is not as impossible as it may seem. For exams such as mathematics, you would typically only need to receive a little bit over half of the total points to receive score of 4. Base on the distribution of the scores, IB will scale accordingly.
  • After every exam, Highland students are offered light refreshments including juice boxes, granola bars, fruit snacks, etc. Some students also enjoy the fact that they are excused from class for an extra 30 minutes after the exam is finished.

Cons of taking the IB honors or diploma exams:

  • Not all colleges recognize the International Baccalaureate program so not every college/university will grant college credits for completing IB exams, therefore some people would rather rely on PSEO courses to guarantee transfer credits. It is advised to complete college research before choosing to take the IB exams. Determine whether the college of your dreams will accept IB credits for which subjects and the specified score to achieve.
  • There are students who feel urged to become IB Diploma students just because it is considered to be the highest recognition available to students. Those who complete the program simply to just “look good” are not as likely to take the initiative to apply themselves fully.
  • The exams are certainly extensive and lengthy, requiring over a months worth of studying. Some exams such as the English (Literature) and the History exams consist of about 2 hours of testing for a single day. Students will already grow restless and exhausted after the first hour of testing, and will fail to concentrate with the remaining hour they have left. This year, the IB exam scheduling caused several seniors to end up testing everyday in a single week, thus missing the same classes for consecutive days.
  • Some students are unfamiliar with the formatting of the exams, therefore they come to the examination room unprepared.
  • Failing the exams will not only be considered as a massive waste of time and effort, but it will also be a waste of money.
  • It takes a great amount of responsibility and commitment to participate in the program. Days before the examination period, students will already submerge themselves in an abounding amount of stress. Not only that, students have to balance their studying with regular school work in classes they are not testing in. Those who are not responsible will end up waiting until the days before the exam  to start studying, and will sacrifice their sleep to cram study, which is rather not healthy.

Overall, it is this writer’s opinion that taking the IB exams was worth it. The entire process of practicing for the exams, along with taking the exams, may seem like a whole waste of time and effort (especially if you end up not receiving the score you hoped for), but nothing can replace the sense of ambition and anticipation I have experienced as an IB diploma student.

I remember myself as a junior sitting in the examination room for the Chinese Paper 2. My legs swung back and front, fist clamped to the side of the chair as I nervously opened the examination booklet. All of the fear and anxiety drained from my mind as I was delighted when I was able to fill up three pages with character writing and a decent essay in Chinese. Each character that I was able to recall out of the top of my head made each of the three years I had been Ms. Miao’s student so meaningful. I felt proud that I was able to apply the years of knowledge onto this piece of paper, and I valued this exam as one of my greatest accomplishments.

The IB program not only provided me with a little taste of what college work will be like, but the self reflection that came with it will guide me to avoid the same mistakes I made in high school.


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