In this interview, I had a conversation with Sarvani, who’s a college freshman, about her IB experiences. Sarvani is a freshman at the University of California San Diego. She did the IBDP in India and was a May 2020 graduate. Her subjects were:
- HL: Visual Arts, English A Language and Literature, Physics, Mathematics
- SL: Psychology, Hindi Language B.
We hope Sarvani’s experience can help students through the IB!
Do you think that your scores gave you an idea of what you want to study in college? i.e. Did you decide what to major in based on higher scores in a particular subject?
No, I don’t think I relied on my scores. I would say that I only did well in certain subjects because they were supported in my school. Physics and Math were really well supported in my school because in South India, those are the subjects that are prioritized.
Art was not prioritized so I didn’t manage to do as well—I didn’t have enough guidance. I think what motivated me was just seeing how interesting everything was. The IB program itself was really interesting for Visual Arts. The other thing is that when I was receiving lower scores, It was, kind of, a sign that I was being challenged. I feel I was being challenged much more in the Visual Arts rather than the subjects where I was getting better scores in. In that sense, maybe.
What made you choose the IB (if you chose)? If you didn’t choose, would you rather have taken another system?
I definitely did choose. It was a huge thing when we were deciding at my school.
I was studying IGCSE. IGCSE is also international as a part of Cambridge. Cambridge has A-Levels as the continuation for IGCSE. I had that option. My options were A-Levels, IB, State Syllabus, and Indian National Syllabus (Central Board Syllabus). State Syllabus and Indian National Syllabus are very STEM-heavy, and I knew I wasn’t into STEM—so those were not options for me.
In terms of A-Levels, the UK and Indian Systems are very alike in the sense that they are very systematic, organized, and sometimes don’t allow for much creativity. Even within the subjects that I loved like English, you would have a very rigid structure. That was one of the reasons that I chose IB because it allows you to do so many more things. I can say that throughout all of my IAs and my EE, I was always able to pursue what I was interested in. For example—if I did Math, I could study it under the lens of my interest, which is Art. The other thing about A-Levels and IB is that the IB has much more breadth. In the IB, you get to study so many subjects and you’re learning from so many different perspectives. In my Arts final exhibition, I had topics incorporated from all of my subjects. I can’t imagine another program, besides maybe AP classes, where you can combine all of these different interests. Anywhere else this would have been crazy! I was really, really excited to take IB.
How have the study techniques you learned while in the IB Programme helped you in university?
What the IB teaches you are the basics about a subject, as well as teaches the mental framework with which to approach things. In Psychology, for example, one of the things we’re supposed to do in our IAs and our exams is to discuss the research methods used in particular studies. So basically we’re saying, “Okay, this is the conclusion they came to, but why is this useful, and what constraints can we place on the applicability and the relevance of the research to the real world?” This is something that shows up everywhere. If you’re conducting research, you’re always thinking “what are the limits of what you’ve done?” In my Anthropology course last quarter, I had to interview people and write a paper. I was always thinking “what are the limitations of these people’s experiences and how far can I generalize?”. All of these things are things I learnt from just doing research in the IB, and that’s something similar to what I had to do in the Extended Essay as well.
Another specific experience that happened is that this quarter, I’m taking a Design Communications and Typography course, which is associated with Art. In this class, we would share our work and get it peer-reviewed. This one time, we had to create a poster that summed up our artistic practice. One of my classmates, who also did the IB, mentioned her Visual Arts course and how her artistic practice was still so impacted by it. I realized that everything I was doing in that course was mirroring the time I spent refining my ideas in IB. Both of us came out with an amount of knowledge that can’t be quantified because the intangible learnings from subjects such as Visual Arts showed me that the IB was trying to prepare me for a career. It shows the step-by-step process to get work done, but they don’t set many guidelines, and again that’s really why I wanted to be in IB.
In terms of studying in general, I would say I took away a lot in terms of staying on top of things—having a lot of plates spinning or balls in the air.
What kind of opportunities did you gain while in the IB Programme?
I want to talk about my Extended Essay because it’s something that I thought about a lot. My EE was in two subjects: World Studies and Art. The IB itself is a global organization and they don’t have much influence on local education. But, the way that the World Studies essay was set up was so that you center it around a case study. In order to get primary information, I ended up centering it around a local art form in India. I originally started doing an EE in Marvel Comics® for a while, but I ended up doing it on something very, very close to home. So, I think that the opportunity of getting to research at a local level and then connecting it back to the global level was very important to me. Also since I’ve moved from America to India, I think it appealed to me and other third-culture kids.
The other intrinsic opportunity is CAS because it shows how focused the IB is just on extracurriculars.
I’ve also heard the craziest things that people have done for IAs (Internal Assessments). For my English Internal Assessment, I ended up doing a courtroom debate about whether Stan Lee was the real origin of specific Marvel Comics. I also had a friend who did her English EE on analyzing memes and tweets. The scope that the IB allows to apply your learnings to your life today and your location is a huge opportunity. I don’t know any other programme where you could talk about memes in a research paper and get away with it.
What are some of the advantages of the IB and how did it help you specifically?
The IB works very well for the audience that it caters to. I know that you’re taking the IB in the US, and I have a cousin who took the IB in the US a long time ago. But, I would say that it’s oriented towards an international audience.
As I said, I had A-Levels, State, and Indian National Board syllabi as options other than the IB. A lot of people only had IB or their State syllabus. And, a lot of times with the State Syllabus, the cultural biases that exist within the society make their way into the education system. Based on that, an advantage of the IB is that you’re exposed to all these international ideas in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise experience.
What are some of the shortcomings of the IB and what can be done to fix them?
I left being irritated at the IB. The money aspect of it… many of the students in the IB are international students who don’t have other options, I agree, but they’re very privileged international students. If they’re not privileged, they’re getting scholarships, right? But, it’s still evident that you have to be at a certain level of economic status to be able to participate in the program. That’s something you can’t change. Which is why that’s very sad. But this is the whole reason that IBlieve exists, to help people of disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, which is great!
Another thing is that the subjects that are prioritized in your country or in your school might be the ones you do well in. As with my example of doing well in my STEM subjects since they were better supported in my school, many of the teachers there were teaching their subjects for 15-20 years and they knew what they were doing. With the arts, I had a kind of bad situation. The IBO can’t really do much, I agree, but the school itself was not very well supported in the arts. The students may be good students, but the schools may not have any knowledge as to where to begin. That may not be the IB itself, but it’s something that sucks for a lot of people.
One more: they always say that the IB is great for college preparation. While it’s certainly valued in the admissions process, it might not provide as much depth in the particular field of study that the college may look for in an applicant. There are a lot of people that I know who have taken the National Syllabus and gotten into the same really, really good colleges that my friends in the IB programme have gotten into. It can be kind of misleading for prospective students since they might think “Oh, I’m doing the IB, so I’ll get into my dream college”. Colleges don’t really care about how many HLs you took if those HLs aren’t even relevant to the program you’re applying to—it’s about the learning. I’m happy that I was able to enjoy what I was learning in the subjects I took, but I know many who took subjects because they would “look cool” on applications. This is the result of the IB being seen as something that will help you get into college, when really it’s setting you up to succeed, no matter where you go to college.
If you were to go back in time and tell your Year 1 or Year 2 self a word of advice, what would you say?
Honestly, I would tell myself that I won’t be doing May 2020 exams so that I won’t be as stressed out about them because we studied hard and then they didn’t happen.
Also, I think that the opportunity that the IB gave us was to study a lot of different subjects in a lot of different fields, but I was always under pressure because my school was advanced in certain areas and would celebrate certain achievements. I would tell myself to think about the larger picture and about where I want to go and how the IB can help me get there. Also, I would tell myself to do my IAs in something I’m interested in because it will help me enjoy what I’m doing and eventually get me a good score. I think if you go in with the mindset that “I’m going to tailor my IB experience to my interests and what I want it to be”, then that’s the best way to do it. Because even if you don’t like a specific subject, you can tailor it to something that you do like.