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IB Exam Season – Motivating students to succeed, regardless of their university destination

Maya Grodman is the IB’s University Relations Administrator at the IB Global Centre in Bethesda, MD, USA.  She also an IB graduate of Collège du Léman International School in Geneva, Switzerland.

As May is beginning, we enter into the often dreaded IB exam season. Students are preparing for a month of exam after exam – and teachers, counselors and coordinators are preparing for the stress and tears that come along with these exams; from the students, and each other! Even before exams finish, IB students will be navigating the complex university admissions process, seeking credit and scholarships for their hard work – and looking for your guidance.

The country to which students are applying to attend university can make a big difference in their perceived IB exam experience, and the level of stress that a given student may feel. For students planning on going to university in the UK and other countries around the world, admission offers are highly dependent on IB scores. But, for students going to university in North America, everything has more or less been taken care of already. They may have even already paid their enrollment deposit, and are all set to go to the school of their choice. For these students, the temptation to shrug off the IB exams without so much as a second glance at their notes from the past two years may seem very appealing.

Trust me, I know the feeling well; it was just five years ago that I was in that boat. I was finishing up high school at an international school in Geneva, Switzerland, and my class of 60 IB students could see the light at the end of the IB tunnel. Many of my peers were going to UK universities, and were shaking with the pressure to do well on the IB exams. I, on the other hand, had been accepted to Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and knew that they wouldn’t see my IB scores unless I decided to send them. Talk about a huge difference in perspective. This gives students going to university in North America an interesting challenge: finding their own motivation.

Many IB students are unaware of the IB recognition policies that more and more universities are implementing. Check out our Good News Letter for information on some of the most comprehensive and lesser-known recognition policies, and the Funding Opportunities blog for some great scholarships! Counselors and coordinators can help students figure out which universities will offer students credit, advanced placement, scholarships, etc. Receiving academic recognition for the IB can give students more time in college to take classes that interest them beyond those that are required. Knowing which schools will recognize the IB (both by giving credits and by embracing the philosophy of the programme) will help students understand the kinds of benefits they’ll get from their university if they work hard on these exams.

Getting credit from your university is nothing to sniff at, but that’s definitely not the only good thing to come from working hard until the end of the IB. I learned a lot over the course of the IB, but it was studying for the exams that really solidified the information in my mind. For example, I took a Biology course at Tufts to satisfy the science requirement, and it built off of information I learned during year one of my IB Biology course. If I hadn’t studied for my IB exam, there’s no way I would have remembered the information I needed. It saved me from some sleepless nights spent in the library!

Some may question the necessity of exams, especially since students have to take so many. This NPR article from April 30 discusses this issue. A superintendent of Montgomery County’s public schools says that “the question has to be are we giving the right kinds of assessments.” In many cases, “teachers are forced to teach to the test,” says a current high school senior. Fortunately, the IB is different. The exams are important to the IB curriculum, but so are the essays, presentations, projects and research that students complete over the course of the two years. If we’re just looking at grades, if teachers want their students to succeed, they’re not just teaching to the test. They’re teaching to all of the aspects of the course, including what is assessed and what is experienced.

College is a whole different world from high school. Sure, there are deadlines, but there aren’t nearly as many reminders to do well as there are in high school. No one is checking in with your every move, making sure you succeed. Many students learn to be self-motivated while they’re at college. Finding the motivation to study for my IB exams despite having already gotten into college is definitely a challenge, but by the time IB students get to college, they’ll already know how to be their own encouragement, and can dive in without taking the time to figure it out.

I thought that the only benefit of studying for my IB exams was the simple satisfaction of doing well. But, the advantages of doing well on the IB were clear throughout my entire college career, and beyond. Ultimately, most IB students don’t choose to do the IB because we want college credit, or to remember specific facts. We’re IB students because we want to learn, question, challenge, grow, and be prepared to take the world by storm. There’s no reason all of that should stop just because exams are difficult. Feel free to share this post with your students – I know how easy it is to forget why the work is important, so I would love to help them find their motivation.

The month of May is feared by many, but it really can be a time where everything comes together, and students become truly prepared for what is to come. So, take a deep breath, wipe away those tears, and really make this month count!

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