Ada Shen is a freshman at the University of Waterloo, Canada. She is studying biomedical sciences. She did the IBDP in Canada and is a May 2020 graduate. This interview retells aspects of Ada’s IB experience.
Ada’s subjects were:
- HL: Biology, Chemistry, English A Language and Literature
- SL: French, Psychology, Mathematics
We hope this interview about Ada’s IB experience will motivate current students as they navigate their IB journey!
Q: Maybe we could start with a small introduction! Along with the IB, did you participate in any extracurriculars in school?
Yes! My school ECs were: varsity girls basketball team for all 4 years of high school, ME to WE youth council for 2 years, IBSA (an IB student’s association as a mentor & events volunteer) for 2 years, school band for 1 year, and Science Senior Scholars (a science tutoring program) for 1 year. And outside of school, I was an assistant camp counsellor at YMCA summer camps for two summers!
Q: (If it was a choice), what made you choose the IB?
Well, doing the IB was my choice. I had many family members and friends who were IB alumni. I have always considered them role models, especially in terms of their achievements after their IB experience. They all told me great things about the courses they had taken and about the learning environment. All that made me see the IB as a challenging but really motivational program, which it turned out to be!
Also, I was really excited about the flexibility that this experience would give me for college applications. At the time, I didn’t know where I wanted to study, and I knew the IB would open many doors.
Q: How would you describe your overall experience?
In short? It was wild but in a logical sense. They were two hectic years but I always knew what the program expected of me, which somehow made the whole experience a bit more logical.
Q: Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you wish you had known?
I do, actually! regret how much I worried during my two years; it took a huge toll on my mental health! I think I would have done much better if I had just taken it day by day.
Also, there are two things I wish I had known at the beginning of my journey.
- The international IB community! I didn’t know it at the time but there is such a big, lovely and supportive community who are going through the exact same thing.
- The IB was asking me to study smarter, not harder. I feel like I would have been much better off if I had just started the IB knowing myself and my way of learning.
Q: How did you manage your time? And what did you do to relax?
This is such an important question!
- My pro-tip is always to plan everything out. Use timers, calendars, planners, all of it! Of course, you’ll need discipline to actually do it.
- Try to avoid procrastination – I know it’s easier said than done – but do everything in your power to do it. For me, that meant that I had to shut down my phone the minute I started studying.
- To manage your time, you need to set limits and boundaries. Don’t pile up too many commitments, and stop studying or doing homework after a set amount of time. I know it’s hard but you need to rest. You simply won’t be as productive and efficient if you don’t get some rest.
I only started relaxing when I realized how much of a toll the IB was taking on my stress and emotional capacity. What worked for me was mindfulness and meditation, which helped me clear my mind both before and after studying and exams. Also, exercising was an amazing way to take my mind off studying.
Q: Which would you say was your hardest subject? Why? And how did you go about it?
Well, I chose my subjects by looking at potential fields I could go into after High School, and I then back-planned. At HL, I took the courses that I needed to go down certain career paths. At SL, I just took what seemed more interesting, according to the availability of my school.
For me, Chemistry HL was the hardest subject, and the one I spent more time on. It was a challenge but, my advice to anyone struggling with a science subject is to just PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.
To study Chemistry, I developed a routine: I started by reading and taking notes, and then I looked for questions – the question bank and Reddit are great resources – to test myself. Also, before Y1, I had done an online course to figure out the study time and techniques that worked for me, and I used those when studying Chemistry.
Q: How did you find your IA topics? What about your EE question?
For my IAs:
- I always looked for topics that were interesting, and for questions that I was passionate about. Writing an IA was tedious at times, but the question I had chosen always got me going.
I did my EE in English Language and Literature.
- Choosing my question wasn’t that easy, because there weren’t many resources for the topic I wanted to explore.
- Still, I found support online and was able to get constant feedback from my teachers.
- During the summer of Y1, I wrote a draft for all 3 questions, and I then chose one.
I loved the question because it was so relevant to me, so I then started to love the topic. In my opinion, the same applies to an EE in any subject; do something you’re passionate about and the process will become much easier!
Q: Outside academics, let’s talk about CAS. What do you think is the most valuable thing you learnt doing CAS?
This is such a good question!. I think that the most important thing I learnt were what they call soft skills, meaning people skills:
- Public speaking
Also, because of my CAS project, I learnt how to make decisions when multiple parties are involved. I know that CAS may seem like a burden in the beginning. I mean, you have so much work to do and, on top of it, you have to do a little bit of CAS every week. Yet, after reflection, CAS actually served as a break from academics!
Q: Do you think the IB has helped you for university?
Doing the IB has helped me in so many different ways!
- For my courses, the IB was a great preparation for the workload and time management skills.
- The IB was a kind of bridge, which prepared me for the expectations and atmosphere of university.
- And well, the May exams are somewhat like uni examinations, so having prepared for them has helped me know how to organize my time when I have exams back to back and how to have breaks and the right mentality.
- Also, the IB gave me two years to explore how I study, which was such a helpful thing for college.
- The critical thinking I learnt during the IB was amazing for when I had to talk about international issues and interpersonal topics in my college essays.
- And my CAS experiences prepared me to be a committed and reflective member of college clubs, to be able to be an involved member and to meet expectations.
Haha quite evidently the IB has been a huge aid throughout my college experience!
Question: Do you have any last words of advice for current Y1s and Y2s?
Sure! Just remember that the IB is hard, but it is doable.
- Set goals but know your limits. I always say that you can do anything, but not everything.
- Try to love what you do. Get interested in your courses and be curious. Try to pick subjects so that you will thank yourself when you look back.
- Finally, make sure you have a sturdy and reliable support system. It can be your family, friends, online community… just have someone to whom you can talk about your worries, important decisions and such things.
Good luck IB students! You can absolutely do it. I’m rooting for you 🙂
(Note: This interview was conducted on Zoom by Elisa, and is published on the IBlieve blog with Ada’s permission).