Academic Subjects

Best HL and SL Combinations in the IBDP

One of the best things about the IB is that it promotes diverse learning instead of forcing students to commit to one field early in their lives. However, more choices can often lead to confusion. This then leads to students to take impractical combinations of subjects that force them to study outrageous amounts. Therefore, it is important to strategize your workload to maintain your work-life balance. That can be hard to do as an IB student in general and especially if your future career goals require you to take rigorous HL classes. 

Luckily, some SL subjects are relatively easy to get high grades in, even if you spend comparatively less time on them. They will allow you to focus more on your demanding HL subjects and give you more time for your leisure activities. Below you will find a list of such SL subjects, along with which HL ones best or least compliment them. 

Group 2 

Language ab initio SL

If you have spent years of school studying a language, starting fresh may seem like a less attractive option. However, Language B usually has much higher grade boundaries, and the assessments are challenging. Language ab initio is not only easier, but it also allows you to learn a new language. This can also be added to your college applications. My high school gave us options between French and Spanish ab initio. I took French ab initio, but by popular opinion, Spanish was easier. You can take an ab initio subject with virtually any combination of HLs. 

Group 3

While most SL subjects differ from their HL counterparts by a considerable amount, one exception is Psychology SL. The content for both Psychology SL and HL is virtually the same. The only exception being that you need to study a few more simple topics for HL. SL students have to learn the majority of the challenging part of the IB Psychology syllabus. Hence, a more feasible Group 3 SL is Business Management (BM) or Information Technology in a Global Society (ITGS). 

Group 4

Chemistry SL 

This may seem like a controversial option, but it is one of the most unchallenging SL subjects I have come across if you have a background in Chemistry. I had taken Chemistry during 9th and 10th grade, which is when I did my IGCSEs (International General Certificate of Secondary Education). I found that the Chemistry SL syllabus is very similar to that of IGCSE Chemistry. Of course, there is some additional content in Chemistry SL. However, it was conceptually easy to understand, and it is nothing Khan Academy couldn’t solve. You should take Chemistry SL if you are studying a rigorous Math or Group 3 course such as Math AA HL or Psychology HL and are disinclined towards majoring in life sciences in college. 

Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS) SL

If you do not have a background in Chemistry, ESS is the best Group 4 SL. The content is straightforward and fascinating because it relates to the everyday world. ESS best complements Biology HL since a portion of the Biology syllabus overlaps with some ESS topics.   

Group 5 

Mathematics Analysis and Interpretation SL

Math AI SL is the perfect class for someone that strongly dislikes math. The difficulty level is even lower than IGCSE Extended Math, making the concepts easy to learn. However, if you are studying HL STEM subjects such as Chemistry or Physics and plan to pursue a similar degree, Math AA SL is the better option since a certain level of math knowledge is required to gain entrance into STEM majors. Moreover, some top-tier colleges do not accept students who have taken AISL in general, regardless of your degree/field. Hence, make sure to do your research before taking AISL. 

Even though some SL subjects are largely considered to be easier, it is vital to understand that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, meaning that what may be easy for one person could be difficult for the other. For example, someone with a good memory will find that Biology SL is just as easy as Chemistry SL. The most important thing when choosing your subjects is being self-aware: simply put, knowing what you’re good at and what you need to improve. Talk to teachers, students who have studied the subject previously, and refer to the internet before making an informed decision about your subject choices. Make your academic decisions based on what’s best for you and what academically stimulates your mind. Try not to succumb to pressure from your parents or simply follow your friends. At the end of the day, it is up to you how you shape the two years of your life that will serve as a foundation for your academic career. Your hard work, passion and determination will pave the path for your success. 


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