It wouldn’t be fair for me to sugarcoat how different the two are! IB is a completely new beast. However, that doesn’t mean that IGCSE doesn’t equip you with transferable skills. While the transition is difficult, with the right mentality, you can adapt to and succeed in the IB.
1. “The IB is a marathon, not a sprint”
You will hear this said a lot. Unlike IGCSE, where your performance in a subject is judged mostly on final exams, the IB places significant emphasis on both coursework and final exams. This means that you have to work consistently throughout your two years and not only power through the last few months. Although cramming is not impossible, it is healthier and a lot more efficient to set time management systems early in your IB journey. Experiment with which systems (Google and YouTube offer many) work best for you!
2. Heavier subject content
Because there are many topics to cover, IB classes tend to go by quickly, and there is a lot more information that you need to retain than in IGCSE. Often, what you learn in earlier topics may come up again later. It’s therefore important to stay attentive during classes so you don’t get lost. One effort-saving thing I wish I had done is look up content I didn’t understand in class on the same night that I learned it. (Several online teachers provide free comprehensive summaries on complex topics. Shoutout to EconplusDal for being my Economics lifesaver!)
3. Higher academic expectations
For example, IB English A and Economic essays require deeper and more nuanced analysis compared to their IGCSE counterparts. However, the essay writing techniques you developed during IGCSE certainly provide you with a good foundation. It may be discouraging to receive low scores at first, but through improving your skills, your scores and comfort level will gradually increase.
4. Less prescriptive and more real-world curriculum
IGCSE provides a straightforward list of topics to learn, most of which are theoretical. The IB curriculum is less rigid and can be tailored to your school. For instance, your Language B class might focus on prevalent local issues. Furthermore, the incorporation of real-world or personal examples in your assignments is often required or recommended. IB coursework allows for considerable autonomy—students are encouraged to think for themselves by selecting topics they find interesting. I did an English FOA on gender dynamics in one of my favourite shows, Fresh Off the Boat. My first practice was 45 minutes long because there was so much that I wanted to talk about!
5. More active learning involved
In IGCSE, rote memorisation alone is generally enough for you to get by. However, IB requires you to really comprehend theories. IB questions can be tricky and involve overlaps between several topics, so it isn’t sufficient to only associate a question with a formulaic answer. You are challenged to exercise your critical thinking skills more.
6. More commitments to juggle
This is a major change that many of us alumni weren’t prepared for! On top of your six subjects, you have CAS, EE, and ToK. As the older students in your high school, you may also have additional leadership or extracurricular responsibilities. If you struggle with stress and time management, it may be a good idea to reduce your commitments when transitioning to IB so you can find your bearings first.
7. Smarter choices have to be made
IB will undoubtedly take a lot more of your time and energy than IGCSE did. This means that you will need to consciously take better care of your health, know your limits, and develop solid coping mechanisms. Sometimes, letting go of certain commitments (even ones that you love) might be better for your progress.
Your IB experience will vary greatly from your IGCSE experience academically, socially, and personally. While it may seem daunting, I can promise you that IB can be such a rewarding journey that will surely teach you a lot of things!