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Expert tutor: how to prepare for IB Exams

So, your son, daughter or ward will be taking the IB exams either this year or next year. What can you do to help him/her face the challenge with confidence? Clearly, factors such as your home environment, presence of personal tutor, your son’s/daughter’s/ward’s personality, support mechanisms in the school, etc. will make a difference. But, the following represent some tips that we have found useful… In it, we’ve represented your “young person” as “Jakarta” – mainly because writing “son, daughter or ward” repeatedly takes up more space.

Start early

Jakarta cannot begin the revision program too early. The confidence gained by an early start is huge.

Support, support and more support

The IB Diploma Programme is tough. But, everyone believes that Jakarta can succeed on it. Show that your belief in this is unwavering. Consider:

  • Physical support – look after Jakarta’s physical needs… especially as the revision gets more intense. Stock the fridge. Give Jakarta space and an appropriate environment to work. Buy lots of Post-Its – or whatever Jakarta needs for study. Encourage healthy/regular eating (not too many sugary foods – and not too much caffeine). Encourage Jakarta to get enough sleep (and to do something relaxing before going to sleep). Encourage regular exercise.
  • Tutor support - It will be great if parents can hire a personal tutor, IB Diploma Exams are unlike other exam, it needs someone whom expert for each subjects to help the student personally. You need to find a tutor who can help Jakarta tackle the exam and providing constant personal support from beginning.
  • Emotional support – many students (including Jakarta?) find exams stressful – especially if it seems as if their future depends on the results. Friends and families can provide tons of emotional support. The first stage is belief – you believe in Jakarta. The second is listening. When Jakarta is stressed, don’t rush in to try to calm him/her down. That suggests that signs of stress are wrong. They are not. They are perfectly normal. Instead, encourage Jakarta to express the worries or fears that he/she is experiencing. But then, don’t feel that you need to offer advice. Usually, you can’t. But, you can offer time and space. Give Jakarta the opportunity to talk, to cry or just to be quiet. Thirdly, show appreciation. Jakarta’s goals may be ambitious – and might not be achieved. Regardless of the outcome, show that you accept Jakarta’s efforts – whether you think that they could be improved or not! Praise the work that is being done, the maturity that is shown, Jakarta’s massive development during the two-year IB programme, etc. Whatever Jakarta achieves, is wonderful in your eyes.

Understand the work-load

Jakarta will have lots of deadlines to meet in the second year of the Diploma or will have met lots of deadlines already. Coursework – usually amounting to 20-30% of the final grade – has to be submitted to the IB. CAS also has to be completed. It is important that Jakarta gets all of these commitments out of the way by the deadlines set by the school. But, don’t forget that it is also important for Jakarta to get the best possible grades for them. If any “Internal Assessment” completion dates are looming or outstanding, support Jakarta in doing the work as thoroughly as possible, but certainly by the deadline. Does Jakarta have commitments outside school? Are all of these necessary? Can they be scaled down as the exam period gets nearer?

Look out for signs of stress

Many students show signs of stress in the build-up to exams – and Jakarta is probably no exception. Some “manage” their stress well; others struggle. As a parent, you are in a good position to identify signs of stress. A moderate amount of stress is often good – it raises adrenaline levels and increases motivation. Too much can paralyze work. The more of the following that are visible, the louder the alarm bells should be ringing:

  • Physical symptoms – such as sleeping or eating more or less, but also signs such as chest pains,  headaches, nausea, constipation, etc.
  • Mental symptoms – e.g. loss of concentration or interest, but also nail biting, etc.
  • Emotional symptoms – for example, tears, tantrums or panic attacks
  • Addictive symptoms – increased smoking or alcohol consumption
  • Self-deprecating comments – “I know I’ll never pass”, “Amin is much brighter than me”, etc.

If the signs are mounting, what can you do? This depends a lot on the type of person that Jakarta is. The emotional support described above is vitally important. But, one key is often relaxation. Breathing exercises are good. So are other relaxation techniques. Physical activity is great. You might be able to do something diverting as a family. Or, Jakarta’s friends might rally round to go and have fun together.

Know about support systems

Jakarta has many options for supporting revision. These include:

  • Teachers and Tutors – Jakarta will have realised that the teachers and tutors are on her/his side. They want her/him to do well. They are also experts on their subjects and what the examiners are looking for in IB exams. They can give great advice. But, they are also very busy (and stressed?). Encourage Jakarta to tell the teachers/tutors which aspects of the work he/she is finding particularly difficult. If it’s easier for Jakarta to talk to teachers/tutors after the normal end of school, encourage that.
  • Syllabus – the IB produces clear syllabus guides for each subject. Has Jakarta got copies of these? Many are very bulky – and some parts are irrelevant for Jakarta, but having access to the key parts is vital. This includes information on assessment (exams) and how they are graded.
  • Notes – since the start of the IB Diploma, Jakarta will have accumulated masses of notes and handouts. But, he/she may have missed some work. Are the notes complete? Even when they are, their usefulness will vary. Typically, they are much too bulky. A very useful revision technique is to REDUCE, reduce, reduce – condensing notes into mind maps, diagrams, bullet-points, mnemonics, etc.
  • Textbooks – there is a growing range of IB textbooks, but some schools use non-IB textbooks in their teaching. The value of these is significantly reduced for revision. In fact, few textbooks are of use in the final stages. Revision Guides are often better (see below).
  • Past papers and mark schemes – these are extremely useful. But, Jakarta should beware of the older ones – IB syllabuses frequently change, and so do the people who write the papers. With the growth of the IB, there has been an increase in the number of past papers (papers for different regions of the world, for different exam sessions, etc.). Jakarta’s school can access these. Teachers may be reluctant to release everything (because they want to retain some papers/questions for mock exams etc.), but there should still be enough for revision. Jakarta could ask these resources from his/her Private Tutor. In addition to trying the questions, Jakarta must understand the “rules” of each paper (shown on the front cover).
  • Revision Guides – unlike textbooks which are great for learning, these are specifically written for revision. They pull out the key points and prepare students specifically for the exams. Many students have successfully used OSC’s Revision Guides – which can be ordered online and are despatched immediately.
  • Revision advice – there is plenty of advice on how to revise. In addition to guidance from Jakarta’s school, there are books on the topic and lots of online advice. Two online examples are BBC and Skills4study. Because the IB prepares students for university so well (better than other examinations), the advice provided by university sites may be of use. For example: Brunel, Loughborough, Southampton, Worcester or Manchester.
  • Study Buddies/ tutors – while exams are still solo activities, revising with others is to be encouraged. Jakarta can learn a lot from a “study buddy or a personal Tutor”. Tutor can test Jakarta, teach  difficult aspects, support Jakarta emotionally, etc.
  • Online support – not surprisingly, there are many potential support services on the web. Many are rubbish, but some are very useful. If Jakarta feels that the other support systems are inadequate for her/his needs, it might be worth looking for online support. Some students have reported that The Student Room is useful, but it is important that Jakarta identifies potential support early. Spending time Googling for advice and support as the exams approach is likely to be time wasted, it is best to hire a private tutor who can help with this.
  • Parents and family – as identified earlier, a major part of Jakarta’s support system is you – and other members of the family, and also private tutors. The IB Diploma is a highly respected academic program (that’s why universities love it), but one of the reasons why it is valued so highly is because it is tough. At the end, Jakarta will be a superb, well-rounded “product” who will be able to tackle academic challenges fearlessly. But, Jakarta will need patience, understanding, support from tutor and family … and lots and lots of love!

Celebrate the achievement

Finally, celebrate when Jakarta finishes the exams. It’s a milestone which needs to be recognized. The results won’t be known for a month or so, but Jakarta’s success in completing the course is magnificent… whatever the outcome.