If I can summarise the IB journey, it is like a rollercoaster; you never know when you reach tremendous highs or the depressing lows. Setbacks will arise along the way in many forms, whether it be disappointment of your grades lower than expected, devastation of harsh feedback to your IA and EE drafts, to anxiety of whether you can achieve your predicted grades during the final exam. Everyone has their own unique circumstances, and so did I. With this in mind, dealing with these lows is key in building one’s resilience in overcoming the entire journey, and here is how.
Recognize the negative emotions when facing academic failures
Negative emotions are like parasites; they gradually make you feel more vulnerable and in doubt of your own capabilities. Thus, it is important to acknowledge your internal enemies in order to begin tackling them.
An example was after my Economics mock exams with me on the borderline of losing a 7. Did I miss something? Were my analytical and evaluative skills not what the examiners are looking for? At this point, I realized the need to address the alarming signals inside my head. You can do that very simply, by writing on any piece of paper on how you really feel, spilling out all your concerns. With that, you will know the opponent you are trying to suppress.
Avoid comparing yourself to others
Whenever exam results are announced, there is a temptation to ask your friend ‘What did you get?’ But sooner or later that curiosity turns into despair, as you realize how low you have become. Case in point: after my English Paper 2 mock exams (achieving a 5 one term before the final exam).
Comparing others’ grades to yours turns out to be counterproductive, as it not only damages one’s self-esteem, but also stimulates further stress in one trying to achieve others’ level of excellence. Instead, think of the IB as a personal marathon; it is more effective focusing on your own boat and figuring out what you need to improve. Continue moving forward, believing that you are the only one determining your outcomes.
Seek support when necessary
When I got rough feedback for my History EE draft, I was overwhelmed by the sheer task of editing my body sections with two weeks before the deadline. I had sleepless nights on where to start, feeling overstretched by what was lying ahead.
This may feel very cliché, but if you are feeling these emotions, you need to actively seek help. Whether it be academic support (which I did with regular lunchtime checkups with my EE supervisor), to meetings with your school counsellor to flesh out your unstable feelings. It is not awkward to seek help, if you know when and who to ask.
Use the mental strain as motivation to move forward
What I find interesting is that inspiration emerges at the lowest of times, and that applies directly to academic failure. Case in point: losing 30 marks for Mock Maths Paper 2 due to underestimating the power of past papers. You may find your motivation in other instances.
Beneath this layer of regret and denial, instead of pitying one’s mistakes by thinking ‘I could have done this earlier’, consider redirecting this to that ‘It is always not too late.’ Flaws would arise throughout your entire IB journey; what is important is how you respond to them, motivating yourself not to repeat the same mistakes. By applying this mindset, one can turn denial into resilience, disappointment into hunger to strive for the better. That moment of inspiration may not come straight away, but it will arise eventually to motivate you to finish what can be achieved.
See the bigger picture of how far you’ve come
For those of you being picky on your final score, you are not alone; I was 1 core point away from the perfect score – 45. But after calming myself down, I observed the bigger picture and acknowledged how far I have come. From starting IB under lockdown conditions to achieving the best I could have asked for in the final exams, all my preoccupied concerns evaporated away.
I do hope that you should feel this massive weight of your shoulders; instead of sadness, think of pride that you have overcome this challenge on your own terms. Instead of anxiety, think of relief that now you can enjoy what lays ahead away from the IB.
Know that there are other alternatives to seek for
I do empathize with some of you who may have fallen short of expected grades, especially for university conditional offers. Amidst the stress and disdain, know that other alternatives are possible. Maybe consider remarking some of your exams. Maybe apply for clearing (for UK applicants). Or even a gap year if you are uncertain on moving forward. It is up to you, but remember that IB is a small chapter of your tumultuous lives, and anything is possible.
With that in mind, these tips serve to guide you on redirecting your negative emotions, turning them into inspirations towards what you desire in the future.