Academic IB Experiences IB Overview What is IB?

The labyrinth of choosing IB subjects

When you’re finally entering the IB diploma it’s time for you to choose the subjects that you’ll be taking for the next two years. It sure is no easy task, but once you get the hang of it, it will be much easier. Every subject the IB can give you is divided into six groups that aim to broaden the student’s education in various contexts and doctrines that show interdisciplinary relationships that can widen the impact and learning scope of the student. The subjects that each school offers can vary, as a lot of schools don’t offer the same subjects as others.

It may seem overwhelming to think about all the decisions you are going to have to make. Sometimes choosing your subjects can feel like a maze, you have all these options and combinations, but you’re not sure which one to take. Some may lead to a dead end, but others will surely provide a worthwhile experience during your diploma.

Choose what can help you in the future.

Some students already know what they want to study later, which can be an advantage by having some clarity about their career path or discipline.  If you already know what you want to study, even if your idea is general, the process of subject selection will be much easier. Usually, certain fields require subjects that help build the foundation of the area. This is key to the formation of a student that wants to study a certain career. For example, if you want to study Medicine, then you’ll need to take both Biology and Chemistry, or if you want to study Finance, Business and Math Applications and Interpretation are the best choices. Usually, there are combinations between subjects that pair up well that can help you make connections between them and make the most out of both experiences.

Choose the things you’re passionate about

Don’t worry if you’re not really sure what you want to study, it’s natural to use high school as a path for you to get to know what you want to do in university, so don’t feel pressured into knowing right away. People are bound to certain subjects, there are these connections that make class feel like a breeze. Perhaps you have a knack for Math or Sciences, the kind of things that somehow give you a sense of satisfaction whenever you are doing them, or maybe you’re not that kind of person, but rather prefer History or Arts.  What’s important is for you to decide what are some of the things you prefer or likewise, which ones to avoid. You’re going to be taking these subjects for two years, so it’s important for you to take your time and think about what it is you want to focus on. (although there’s no escaping math, science or literature). Even when we’re not really sure at times what we want to study, we certainly also know what we don’t want to study.

Now let’s dive into the different groups of IB subject groups by going into; 

Group 1: Studies in Language and Literature

Let’s start with group 1, in which you’ll dive deeper into your native language’s roots through texts and literary works that can range between a lot of things. This subject is divided into Language A: Literature, Language A: Language and Literature, Literature and Performance. Although it may depend on your school’s availability, the language in each of these courses comprehend more “global” languages that can be known on a worldwide scale. It is through these courses that you’ll be able to develop a connection with the language and its texts that can improve literary, cultural, and oral appreciation of speech. These courses aim to expand and bring fruition to your connection with the language itself, as well as what it can cover.

Group 2: Language Acquisition

Depending on your school, there are going to be different options for language acquisition, nevertheless, it is obligatory for students to study a language different from their native one. These courses also make approaches towards the languages’ roots and applications in various contexts. For this group, language acquisition can change between being AB Initio, which is for students who are not familiar or have little experience with the language courses. The other option would be Language B, intended for those who are already experienced with the chosen language, making it so the students can choose between taking it on SL or HL. In my experience in Mexico, since Spanish is our native language, this group lets us choose between English, French or German. Most of my classmates chose either French or German, aimed towards studying in their respective countries, and those of us who chose English were looking to master our skills and achieve a native speaker certification.

Group 3: Individuals and Societies

Everyone is required to take a subject from this group and can even take two of these subjects by replacing a subject from Group 6. This group’s subjects include:

–   Business and Management

–   Economics

–   Geography

–   Global Politics

–   History

–   Digital Society

–   Philosophy

–   Psychology

–   Social and Cultural Anthropology

–   World Religions

Even though it may seem like a wide array, some of these options may not be available at all schools. These subjects investigate the study of humans and their behaviour, as well as the societies in which they experience various interactions and cultural development. The nature of humans and their communities are most of what is studied in this area, these are also known as “humanitarian studies”, which can be related to a lot of careers. Here is where what you want to study can start to kick in. Most of these subjects are more specific and looking for an approach that resonates with the student’s profile. For choosing a subject in this area, it’s highly recommended to look at your interests and choose in which way you want to approach individuals and societies.

Group 4: Sciences

Group 4: Science branches out into the three most recognizable categories of science: Physics, Biology and Chemistry. These three subjects explore the way in which the world works by creating theories, models and practices that can broaden the comprehension of the scientific method. Through these approaches, science’s presence in the world, and its applications are going to be studied in various contexts.

In some schools, the options for these subjects can vary between the three branches, Computer Science, Design Technology & Sports, Exercise, and Health Science. Each of these has a different method of understanding the world. These subjects can correlate between themselves and others from other groups, as there is an interdisciplinary subject called Environmental Systems and Societies that covers Group 3 and 4.

When choosing a science, you need to look into what it is you’re most interested in, as Physics is a very interesting subject that can blow your mind away, but it has a relationship with Math, which is something to really think about before choosing Physics. If your mindset is on the understanding of life forms, you can consider taking Biology, even if this statement is about “old” Biology, it’s a field that keeps growing even larger and is perfect for those who are interested in Medicine. Chemistry, on the other hand, looks for a practical understanding of relationships between atoms that can create interesting reactions and products. If one of these branches seems interesting to you, you should pursue it.

Group 5: Math

Now for what’s probably the most intimidating group out of all, Math. We’ve all had a different history with it, but the diploma, it separates itself into two different ways of studying math. Both subjects are made with the intention of developing a mathematical and logical way of thinking that can help expand and improve students’ skill sets.

         Let’s start with Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation. This subject is preferable if students want to develop their mathematical skills when they’re applied to real-world scenarios that can give math practical use for everyday life. It’s mostly considered as a course that’s useful for careers that implement mathematics, but not as a primary focus. These overlook Business, Chemistry, Biology, or Group 3 subjects.

         Now for the infamous Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches. This course is mostly directed at those of us who have a mathematical skill set directed towards mathematical concepts and theoretical approaches for the mathematical way of thinking. This can help students who are focused on a career that implements mathematical principles, like Economics, Physics or Computer Science. Before choosing this course, I asked my teacher what kind of profile a student needs for taking this course. He mainly told me that a student who takes this course is mostly proficient in math and is interested in going into a harder approach towards the subject. It may not be for everyone, but for those of us who enjoy math, it might be worth the shot. 

Group 6: The Arts

This group’s slot in the student’s profile can be changed between one of the arts subjects and replaced with an additional Science, Individuals and Societies or Language course. However, this doesn’t mean that this group’s value is lesser than others. The subjects provided by these groups can help students approach different contexts and societies to develop a creative, critical and innovative mindset that can adapt to the arts’ nature. The courses that the arts can offer are:

–   Dance

–   Music

–   Film

–   Theatre

–   Visual Arts

The variation between subjects can change depending on the school, but each of them provides a unique and special relationship between the artist and the public. The students that choose this course usually find them to express themselves and develop their creative personas through different means of expression.


Once you get to know the wide selection of subjects you can take when you’re a part of the IB diploma, it’s important to know what you want and how you want to approach your future. Even though it may seem hazier for some than for others, making these decisions will not put you in a worse place than before. By familiarizing yourself with what you have in front of you, you’ll start to realize that some subjects that you choose are a part of what makes you you. Don’t stress much about making the perfect decision, just investigate a little about what you’re heading towards and how you want to get there.

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