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My Experience with IB Course Selection (From a Pre-IB Student)

As a sophomore pre-IB student in the US, I recently experienced the IB course selection process and would like to share some insights.

When I used to go to an international school in China, I was a part of the Middle Years Program. Therefore, I already had a clear understanding of the IB system. Even then, when it came to committing to a single track, it took me some serious consideration.

Starting from April, I had conversations with my counselor as well as subject teachers. Overall, I am hoping to pursue the Humanities. Specifically, I want to take subjects such as Cultural Studies, Sociology, Comparative Literature and/or Creative Writing in college. So, I wanted to show my strength and preference through my IB course selection. 

The range of IB course selection offered in my school

1. Language and Literature

Ever since I entered high school, I knew clearly my love for writing and my gift in creativity. Throughout the past two years, besides being in the school’s Honor-level English classes, I joined workshops online (specifically for Playwriting) and submitted my works of analytical essays, memoirs, plays, and short stories to writing festivals and contests, such as the Scholastics Arts & Writing Awards.

My current English teacher strongly suggested that I take English A HL, and the teacher who will be teaching it came into class to explain the structure of the course. 

In the past, I have heard a myth that most English native speakers should choose English A HL regardless of their familiarity with and interest in the English Language and Literature, but I personally disagree with that presumption. The choice between HL and SL also involves the consideration of your strengths, interests, and future university requirements. It’s important to remember that you are—for the most part—limited to 3 HLs and 3 SLs. So, simply choosing to take Language A HL based on the fact that it is your native language may prevent you from taking another subject you are passionate about in HL. For more guidance on how to choose your HLs and SLs, check out this article!

2. Language Acquisition

I took Spanish 1 my freshman year and did not really learn much, so I directly gave up the option and chose to take double sciences my sophomore year. To continue with the one year of French I took in middle school, I simply decided to take French Ab Initio with the teacher who also happens to be my sports team coach.

3. Individuals and Societies

This subject group is the one with the most options, but regardless of all the course offerings, I was determined to take History. My interest in History began at an early age, but I didn’t begin advancing my knowledge until freshman year when I took AP U.S. History. 

Although I had never been formally introduced to American History, I accomplished the same outcomes as my classmates. The class had an academically rigorous atmosphere that stimulated me and allowed me to develop my inquisitiveness. The process of employing factual evidence in my surroundings taught me to build connections between the textbook and local heritage. Furthermore, the course trained me to examine the past based on causation, to compare and contrast, and to identify recurring themes and trends. In short, AP U.S. History began to teach me how to be analytical in my studies.  

In my Sophomore year, I took AP European History. This time, we studied the entire European continent’s history starting with the Middle Ages to the post-2000s.

At this point, most of my classmates were tired of History and embraced Psychology instead. But the idealistic side of me wanted to continue deepening my knowledge in a subject I had already been pursuing. Unfortunately, the class is only offered at SL. According to the IB curriculum website, the only thing I will be missing out on anyways is the HL Depth Studies.

4. Sciences

This subject group is one I am expecting some hardships with. Growing up, I have never been the brightest in Sciences. Especially this year, I spent endless hours trying to balance the workload of Chemistry Honors and Physics Honors. I often had one-on-one meetings with my teachers to review the mistakes from previous tests and had to practice with extra worksheets I found online. When choosing out of Chemistry, Physics and Biology, I chose Chemistry HL. Fortunately, it is possible for me to drop down to SL after trying out the class for a few weeks.  

5. Mathematics

In the past, I had experience preparing for the American Math Competition 8 (AMC). However, I have also made little progress in the first two years of high school due to the slow-paced curriculum in the most advanced grade level Math class. Given those circumstances, I always considered Math to not necessarily be my biggest strength but also not my biggest weakness. To keep up with my own expectations, I will be taking IB AA HL. I have heard in the past that AI is generally harder than AA, but even then, I am afraid I might fall behind and not excel the way I hope for. 

So, to prepare for the course and SAT Math, I will be taking Pre-Calculus Honors through a summer online class.

6. The Arts

As someone active in the school’s theatre program and community theatre shows, I will be taking IB Theatre HL to further my acting skills and playwriting techniques through reading and analyzing plays. Although I really want space to take another Social Science course, I will not be giving up my chance to pursue one of my biggest hobbies.

At the end of the day, the plan of having 4 HLs and 2 SLs is quite ambitious and it might be even risky. I only made the decision because I have handled the first two years of high school pretty well and am hoping to extend the success into a more challenging curriculum. I hope my thought process for course selection is helpful to other prospective IB students reading the article.


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