Your Complete Guide to choosing your IB options

woman with question mark

This guide is everything you need to know about all the IB subjects offered at La Chat. It is not intended to be read in full so just skip to the subjects that are most relevant to you! It is ordered by subject group. Good luck with your choices!

Written by: Joseph Watson, Joe Cook, Ruhamah Weil, Hazel Ferguson, Finn Boyle, Julia Adamczyk, Eibhlin Birkett, Eloise McMinn Mitchell, Rosie Ashworth, Parker Bryan, Marguerite Vernet, Suditi Rahematpura, Emma Raven and Humzah Malik.

Group 1 – Lang A

English Lit

Pros – If you trust your mind to be somewhat organized, analytical and original, you’re halfway to success in IB English lit. There is little to no textbook memorizing. The majority of your work relies on you to interpret text and then communicate your interpretation. Classtime is incredibly entertaining. It’s basically a conversation (a conversation that’s rarely lacking in good ‘bant’). You’ll definitely grow close with classmates. If you enjoy reading –if you like stories– this is what you should be taking as your English class. Don’t get put off by the amount of reading though. It isn’t that much, and a lot of it will be completed in class. English lit is a reflection of and discussion about the world, it will prepare you for post-high school life. Plus, when you graduate you’ll be able to quote obscure novels and classics no one else has actually read.

Cons – 3% of all students who take it as a higher level course get a 7. It isn’t easy. Some essays will take hours of studying passages, of planning and of writing. Your understanding of a piece isn’t always correct, you’ll make mistakes. Sometimes that’s awkward. But you will gain confidence from making those mistakes as long as you learn from them (#cliché).

Skills – You need to be a good writer. You need to be creative and independent. You need to be willing to share. You should be able to debate and be unafraid of defending your opinion. Seriously, you need to be able to do that. You may even have to defend your view to Mr. Giddings. And that can be scary. So, as a general rule of thumb: no hufflepuffs in English lit (if you didn’t understand that reference, this class is not for you).


English Lit/Lang

Pros – There are half as many books to read as English Lit. You get multiple attempts at your coursework and presentations which go towards 50% of your final grade (Lit only get one try). If you are interested in advertising, speeches, newspaper articles etc. as well as novels and poetry then this is a good subject to choose.

Cons – While statistically you have a higher chance at getting a 7 in Lit/Lang compared to Lit do not be fooled; it is still a very difficult subject to get a good grade in! Worldwide only 6% of people got 7s in HL Lit/Lang and 5% in SL, compared to 15% in HL geography. HL Lit/Lang is the subject I get most homework from so don’t believe what people tell you when they say choose HL Lit/Lang for an easy HL! Although Lit/Lang is a well respected HL if you wish to study English, History or Law at uni it is advisable to take Lit HL instead.

Skills you will need – A good grasp of essay writing and an interest in studying English for 6 periods a week.

Group 2 – Second Language

French AB

Pros – If you manage to get into this you are one of the luckiest people alive. Pretty much a guaranteed 7 if you have done French before.

Cons – You probably won’t learn much. If you have done French IGCSE you will need to completely fail it to get into Ab Initio.

Skills you need – Persuasive skill in getting in.


French A Lit/Lang

Pros – You get a bilingual diploma! The group is usually very small, so makes for a nice class atmosphere and more time one on one with the teacher. A lot of analysis techniques and literary devices are the same as in English, so if you’re also taking English Lang/Lit there is a fair amount of overlap. The material covers a lot of advertising and culture which is truly interesting. There are many opportunities for local outings, with also a potential trip to Paris. The oral exams are in October year 13, later than other subjects.

Cons – The course is designed for french mother tongue students, but you do not need to be necessarily. Just know that that level of fluency is to be expected. There is not too much reading, but the books are complex language-wise (mostly 16th-18th century novels) and the more you do will of course help with language which is a key part of the course. Honestly the grading is very harsh, with written tasks marking a 90% as a 6. If you’re consistently scoring 6.5 or above, you should be good.

Skills you need – Completely fluent grasp of grammar (accents, according, verb tenses) and ability to express yourself orally with ease. Originality for written tasks (creative writing pieces) and strong organization, note-taking.


French Lit. A

Pros: If you like reading then the syllabus will be really enjoyable for you as we look at different styles and authors around the world. There aren’t that many students who choose this subject so it’s probable that you’ll be in a small class. This makes the inclass discussions easier and more enjoyable.

Cons: If you don’t enjoy reading or writing essays in French then this class is definitely not your thing. You have to be independent, there is a lot of work to do outside of class. You’ll need a lot spare time to read all the books on the syllabus.

Skills you will need: You need to be fluent and be good at analyzing to passages and poems to succeed. Take good notes during class. Being independent and organised outside of class so you don’t have to frantically catch up during class. Patience as sometimes the teacher may go in too deep when it comes to analyzing a passage.


French B

Pros: This requires no reading if you take it at SL (for HL, French B students have to read one book, which isn’t too bad). It’s not very difficult, but is a step up from IGCSE. Reading comprehension is fairly easy, however there are more oral assessments and you’ll need to know a few more types of text. If you’ve been doing French since year 7, or got an A or above in IGCSE, you should be able to coast through with minimal problem. You’ll learn new stuff, and it’s not very stressful.

Cons: There are no longer French class ‘levels’. You could have a class where the majority of students are actually fluent and have snuck into French B. The writing tests tend to be a little bit more intense, and you’ll need to learn some new vocab. Better understanding of various tenses is also going to be required (subjonctif, plus-que-parfait, etc). It also tends to be a lot like IGCSE French in interest level – it’s not the most gripping of subjects but it’s alright.

Skills you need: Speaking French for a minimum of 2 years, but more years would be best. Ability to do homework on time, and learn to proofread your French homework properly.


Spanish Ab

Pros – You’re allowed to take Spanish Ab even though you’ve done spanish in year 7-9, this makes this course fairly easy and relaxed. No worries if you haven’t taken spanish before, it’s aimed for absolute beginners! This year the course consists of a spanish exchange with students from Logrono. The Spanish ab classes are usually very small which enables students to do well and achieve high grades (last year only one student didn’t get a 7). Its relaxed, enjoyable and fun! Spanish teachers are super nice and understanding!

Cons – If you’ve done spanish IGCSE you are not allowed to take this course, you must take spanish B. Many students in this course slack off in terms of handing in assignments and taking lessons seriously. If you are a total beginner the pace is very fast and sometimes hard to keep up with, however if you have done spanish before the pace is slow and lessons may become boring.

Skills – Any latin language will help you in this course. Knowing French helps a lot!


Spanish B

Pros – Teachers will expose you to the language in a huge variety ways throughout the year, whether it be making videos, reading a book, watching films or playing games, classes are always varied and interactive. The entire department is super friendly and very approachable. The classes are also very conversation based, so you get a chance to learn from your peers as well as your teachers, and get an opportunity to express yourself in a setting that’s pretty much always relaxed and very very bant.

Cons – I actually got the entire class to brainstorm on this one, and we literally could only come up with the fact that some years the classes can be quite big (which at the same time can still be seen as a pro as you get the chance to learn from even more people’s ideas, and more choice of partners for group projects, and of course more people to contribute to class bant).

Skills you need – You do need to be quite happy to express yourself in class, and be prepared to formulate and share your own opinion on the topics discussed. If you get signed off to go into the class chances are you do have the sufficient level of Spanish, so no worries on that front.

Group 3 – Humanities

History

Pros – A varied and highly interesting course that looks at a variety of aspects of History, from politics, to daily life, to war. Much of the course overlaps with subjects done during the IGCSE History course so you will be thoroughly prepared and given the chance to look at old topics from a completely new perspective as well as an exciting group of new topics.

Cons – This one is not much of a con if, like myself, you quite in enjoy it but if you don’t be warned, there is a gargantuan amount of writing required. Whether it be home essays, in class essays or pages of notes needed you can be sure you will be writing a lot for history. Expect to receive essays on a fortnightly basis that will require a considerable amount of work.

Skills you need – You will need to be a competent enough writer who is really able to listen to your teacher to adjust your writing style to the requirements of IB History. Another key skill is your ability to analyse, a strong analysis is the key to a strong essay.


 

Geography

Pros – Considered one of the ‘easier’ humanities, if you have an interest in the subject it is easy to do well.  We cover some of the subjects we looked at in IGCSE and expand on them, so the prior knowledge helps to speed you up in your understanding.  We get to discuss current issues that perhaps aren’t talked about in some other subjects, and relate them to geography.  You don’t have to write long essays (unlike history, for example) and we often watch documentaries.  You have to do coursework: there is a trip to Wales in Year 12 to do all the data collection, and the good thing is that you sort out all the data and fieldweek in Wales where there are people to help you, so all you have to do at home is write it up and analyse.  Gets good marks in the IB.  Popular subject do to the extended essay in.  The teachers are very willing to have cake day.

Cons – You have to be able to write quickly and express yourself properly as the papers are not generous on time – for example, you should be spending around 23 minutes on a 15-mark mini essay question which has to include multiple case studies and be balanced from two points of view, as well as diagrams/sketch maps.  You study the core themes that everyone must look at in the course, but the teacher chooses the optional themes that the class looks at (3 optional themes at HL, 2 at SL) – so you do not have a choice of themes in the exam, it is dependent on the teacher.  This means that you might not study the theme you really want to do.  If you don’t like coursework, you are still required to do it.

Skills you need – Be ready to draw diagrams or sketch maps (you can lose points in exams if you don’t include any).  Have an interest in reading around the subject and looking at current geography-related events in the news, as you can use some of these details to improve your answers in the longer questions.  Be ready to take notes on documentaries.  Be able to write fairly quickly.  Be able to remember specific details, dates or figures from case studies.  Know your map skills (although there is no specific skills paper like there was in IGCSE, they’re often mixed in with parts of questions).


 

Economics

Pros – If you were interested in the economic and social side of Geography during IGCSE but were bored by the physical geography then this is a great subject to choose. It is far easier than taking History and there is obviously a lot less essay writing involved. The IAs (Internal Assessments) are also relatively easy and surprisingly interesting. It is also well respected by universities and is a versatile subject, especially if you are looking to study Politics or obviously Economics at university.

Cons – If you are easily confused by graphs/diagrams this is certainly not the subject for you! In addition to this while the maths is not at a high level (eg. find the area of a triangle or one variable equations) if you are completely dying trying to pass your IGCSE maths exam you probably don’t want to be adding more maths into your IB. Mr Bates is also leaving so economics is never going to be the same again.

Skills you will need – Being able to understand and remember diagrams and definitions. Year 9 level maths. Knowledge of world events (we don’t really learn case studies but you will need to know real world examples so reading the news regularly helps massively).


Business Management

Pros:  Business is incredibly useful in your everyday life, you come across it all the time, and most probably will do something related in the future, whether it is setting up your own business or working in marketing, or finance, Business really prepares you for that. You learn literally everything there is. Class is always fun, and interesting, and usually easy to follow + we watch a bunch of cool youtube videos.  Finally, if you need any more convincing, you should know Ms. West teaches it.

Cons: The tests are really different to what you do in class, but it’s okay because your teacher will prepare you for them. Terminology is key in Business, so when your teacher forwards you the 30 page long glossary, don’t panic. I would say that the terminology is the main con in Business, you really need to be able to get around the language, and learn how to use it appropriately; and I know everyone will be going around saying how it’s not a ‘real’ class or whatever, but honestly it’s more difficult than what people lead you to believe, so don’t take it as an easy way out, but as a class you really want to take.

Skills you need: Memorization of definitions. Year 9 level maths. Capability of applying your new business skills to case studies.

Group 3/4 – ESS

ESS

Pros – It’s got all the easier parts of Biology and all the easier parts of Geography, mixed in with fun studies about animals and the occasional hike in the Jura. It mixes together, as the name suggests, Environmental Systems and Societies, as in Human Societies. For the people who prefer the social aspect of science, or people who can’t get enough of humanities, this is the subject for you.

Cons – Coursework, coursework, coursework. While the information itself is easier to learn, you have to do a lot of projects which can be boring. On top of that, a lot of the coursework requires graphs, and not just one or two you can plot in Excel. ESS requires a lot of work to be handwritten, which can be annoying to some.

Skills you will need – Being able to memorize definitions (you’ll have to do a lot of this), look at an environmental problem from several perspectives (anthropocentric vs. ecocentric, don’t worry, you’ll learn those terms) and a love of the fresh outdoors.

Group 4 – Sciences

Physics

Pros – Although IB Physics is widely regarded as a rigorous academic course, this doesn’t come without certain benefits. An understanding of Physics leads to a better understanding of almost any other science – virtually all branches of science contain at least some physics. It encompasses the study of the universe from the largest galaxies to the smallest subatomic particles. Moreover, IB Physics grants students the ability to analyze complex problems and provides them with a strong quantitative background which can be applied in any technical field.

Cons – If you don’t work, you are going to have a bad time. Even cheating will net you nothing more than a 14%, an unfortunate phenomenon discovered by one of my classmates earlier this semester. Expect to solve problems repeatedly until you fully understand them, and to achieve 7s despite having only completed 67% of the questions on the test correctly (HL only). As a result, your musical tastes might shift from alternative pop to progressive brutal djentcore (this is a perfectly normal reaction to the fury generated from constantly solving increasingly irritating mechanics questions). Practicals, at least at the beginning of the course, are often similar and highly tedious, typically involving a certain apparatus rolling down an inclined slope or a swinging pendulum.

Skills – A strong mathematical background helps – taking HL Maths along with Physics HL will significantly help you, although it is not required . Most important is the ability to understand and visualize the real-life mechanisms behind the quantitative problem you may be faced with. Being able to rearrange equations is also essential.


Chemistry

Pros – Unlike IGCSE Chem, in the IB you actually get to understand why the things you were taught work or are that way. Ever seen those cool diagrams of electron clouds and wondered what they are? IB Chem. Ever wondered why water expands when cooled? IB Chem. It really is incredibly interesting and the more you learn, the more you realise the wide applications that it has. The math is actually easier than IGCSE Chem and you don’t use it as much.

Cons – Once there, you’ll basically be told that everything you learned in IGCSEs is a lie and you will have to re-learn a lot of things in much more depth which can get tricky if you don’t pay attention. Lab reports are pain. Seriously, they are, but when you do topics without practical work you don’t have to do any.

Skills required – Pay attention. Just looking at the book after won’t help you. Be good at counting; electron orbitals get complicated otherwise. You really do need to be able to visualise things in your mind as you learn about overlapping electron clouds which you can’t really see but you have to imagine them in order to understand and not get confused.


Biology

Pros – Biology is life. Everything you’ll learn in Biology is absolutely amazing. If you thought IGCSE was okay, it gets a whole lot more exciting. It’s probably one of the most interesting IB subjects, and if you take HL most of what you learn is new. The course covers some pretty cool topics like genetics and at HL there’s the option to do neurobiology. Also it’s the best science for mathphobics (a.k.a. people who are scared of maths) because there’s basically no maths.

Cons – It’s a lot harder than IGCSE. There’s so much to learn, and it’s not just about memorizing, you actually have to apply the knowledge as well. The number of different enzymes you need to know gets depressing after a while. All this knowledge in such a short space of time means if you aren’t a fast learner it can take up time, effort, and a lot of self-studying.

Skills you need – Memorisation is a key skill, and taking IGCSE Chemistry also helps.


Nature of Science

Pros – Perfect course if you don’t want to follow a science career, or don’t love any of the individual sciences. Material is very hands on, current, and provides you with the basic scientific knowledge you should know to just be a cultured human being. The course covers evolution, energy, food security, medecine, transport and other relevant topics that link to science. Mr Winter wrote the course so knows it inside out and is passionate about the material which is great. Only four (super interesting) books to read over the two years. Quite a few links to TOK. At the end of the year, you get to research whatever course-linked topic you want for ≈2 months, with no assessment, just so you can learn about something that truly interests you. Assignments are research heavy, but not lengthy. Class consistently ends with praising Mr Winter and how just how great the course is.

Cons – Brand new course pilot course, so just a skeleton syllabus and zero past papers or internet help. Can’t take it as an HL course, or with any other individual science. People’s perception of it is that it’s an easy course, so it might damage your street cred; but it is not easy. The first two units do involve a fair amount of physics but after that you’re set! When you end up loving the course (you will), you’ll be sad, like we were, to find out you can’t write your Extended Essay in NOS. Tests are quite hard and rely on class details so you need to be really organized to do well.

Skills you need – Open mind, since we cover some controversial topics. Interest in current events will be beneficial. Great note taking skills are a must, with organization. There is a lot of analyzing articles and interviews, so a solid English base won’t hurt. Don’t be afraid to debate your opinion, share your thoughts and personal knowledge.

Group 5 – Maths and Computer Science

Math (SSL)

Pros: By far the easiest of the maths courses and is a very good option for those who either struggle with maths (certainly anyone who took core at IGCSE)  or those who  simply have no interest in pursuing a degree or career involving maths. The course is relatively simple, certainly not any harder than IGCSE maths and for anyone who is willing to put in a bit of effort it is more than passable.

Cons: Many people in the first few months of Studies think that no effort is required (especially those who took Extended IGCSE), this is false and will be reflected in your grades if you do so.

Skills you need: The better you are at maths you are the easier it will be, however no specific skills needed for the course.


 

Math (SL)

Pros: If you did well during IGCSE this will not be a large step up, it is more of a continuation of IGCSE. It is still widely accepted by universities for almost all courses if you do well in it meaning that you do not have to spend all of your time doing HL Maths if that is not what you are interested in.

Cons: If you took the 0580 paper at IGCSE or got a C or less at 0607 then you are likely to find SL a challenge. If you are looking to study Maths, Physics or Economics, especially at top universities you should be looking to take HL Maths. If you are unsure whether the course you wish to study at university needs HL Maths then be sure to check their websites and speak to your university counsellors as this was a massive help for me.

Skills you need: Ensure that you do all of the homework you are set (there isn’t that much) as there is an evident correlation between the people who actually do the homework and the grades they get on tests. You should have done well in your IGCSE or be willing to put the effort in to get your grades up as this is still not an easy subject.


Math (HL)

Pros – You’re in a class full of strong and motivated mathematicians. You’ll learn to use your mathematical knowledge to solve problems set in a variety of contexts and learn to appreciate the links between concepts in different topic areas. Math teachers have said the course is actually more demanding than what they did in their first 2 years at uni (in engineering) so you’ll leave the course in a really strong position for future studies. If you’re looking to study Economics, Engineering, Computer Science or Pure Mathematics/Physics at a top UK university it’s vital that you consider taking HL Math as it is often an outright requirement (along with a science at HL for Computer Science and Physics HL for engineering). Plus if you get Dijkstra he’ll make you meditate before tests which is enlightening.

Cons – Despite the rewards, it’s considered one of the hardest subjects in the IB due to the difficulty of the exam and the time investment needed for homework and test revision, you should discuss with your teacher whether it’s the right subject for you. Only take the subject if you need it otherwise it will be a burden on your final grade.

Skills you need – It’s not as much homework as some make it out to be (at least in the first year). To do well just do all the homework you get on time and revise well for tests, not just the weekend before. You develop all of the skills and subjects you learnt in IGCSE so you should have been comfortable with what you learnt in years 10 and 11.


 

Computer Science

Pros – Exploring a variety of subjects such as programming in Java, working with robots, Networking and more, this subject has the potential to appeal to many people. Depending on the skills you’ve acquired from the course it is quite easy to apply computing to other IB subjects to wow your teachers (e.g writing a simple programme to calculate the number of points of intersection of two graphs). There are very few people who take this course so the class dynamic is quite enjoyable as well as making you one of the few individuals in your grade with knowledge about an essential topic, computer systems. Since Computer Science is not offered in many other schools if you decide to pursue this at a university level you will enjoy parts of your first year calmly as other students learn what you have already mastered during the IB.

Cons- The start of the course is heavily focused on Java and goes at a fast pace, it is very important that you give 100% at the beginning of the year or you’ll struggle when it comes to developing more complex programming ideas. The teachers are usually quite forgiving and relaxed, however, if you take advantage of this too many times you are guaranteed to fall very far behind and get a low grade.

Skills you will need- Some computational thinking, lots of patience and perseverance. Unlike what most people think you do not need to have a high level of math as long as you have logical thinking and a love for the subject.

Group 6 – The Arts

Art

Pros – If you’re worried about your rep, art students have always been seen as having, to some extent, a certain ‘creative-cool-fashionable-indie’ aura to them. But maybe that’s just the way I perceived them in pre-IB years, seeing as I wanted to become one. On a serious note, art is a great class. The IB is going to be stressful no matter what your schedule is. The art class gives you and your mind an opportunity to relax, to focus entirely on something fun that you’re passionate about. The class follows this general pattern every lesson: say hi, make tea, paint/draw/sculpt/(the options are endless), play music, leave. Academically, it doesn’t disappoint. You’ll analyze and research. You’ll think critically, philosophically, and at times even existentially (it can get weird). The tasks will help improve your communication skills. Furthermore, universities are drawn (no pun intended) to artists, as they are usually ‘all-rounders’, and have talents in unique areas other than typical academics. Oh and PS, you make something, as in, something you imagine in your little head becomes reality. The exhibition is pretty cool, it’ll make your parents proud. I really could go on and on with the list of pros but I need to stop it here. If you’re even just slightly interested, stop by the department.

Cons – If you’re worried about your rep, some people will claim it’s an ‘intellectual cop out of a class’. Trust me, it isn’t. Read the pros paragraph if you think it is. Or check out my portfolio, the amount of theoretical and analytical writing in there will surprise you. Then there’s the issue of time. The IB visual arts course is, unsurprisingly, one of the most time consuming classes offered, but if you take it and make it through, you get serious bragging rights. Finally, it isn’t an easy class. You need to put in the effort to achieve. And even if you throw 132% of yourself into it, you still aren’t guaranteed a perfect score. No one got seven throughout the entire first semester this year.

Skills – You will need some artistic talent. However, doing well does not rely entirely on your ability to make something ‘beautiful’. Many students do well if they can properly express the meaning behind a piece, reflect intelligently and think critically. The one trait you absolutely need to have is creativity. That and the ability to deflect the teacher’s criticism of your pieces, it’ll be incessant.

 


Theatre

Pros – Theatre is an energetic, collaborative and creative art form. It’s a subject that forces you to venture into the unknown and discover new skills as you go along. You develop important skills such as building your confidence, working in an ensemble and thinking more openly and creatively. The two years will involve units like: Improvisation, Theatre Practitioners & Directors, Commedia Dell’ Arte, Monologues, A Musical/Play, Collaborative Project and Theatre around the World. You can be yourself in theatre without having to worry about being judged. Theatre is about getting into the mess, picking yourself back up when you fail and trying again.

Cons – Just like in IGCSE theatre you’ll need to keep a journal. But as the year goes on you’ll soon discover that your theatre journal is vital. You’ll need to be organized and be able to reflect and write everything you’ve done in class so you can refer back to your notes when necessary. If you choose SL Theatre you’ll still get 6 periods a week just like HL.

Skills you need – Be organised when it comes to your journal. Never ever miss Tech Rehearsal. Be open and always be energetic.

 


Music

Pros – Everyone comes into IB Music from different musical backgrounds. Everyone has different amount of training and exposure to world music and music theory. But that’s the first great thing about music – you learn so much from your classmates. Classes are run in a workshop style and are quite small which works to your advantage because you can be completely wrong and it’s completely okay. There is lots of room for creativity and exploration in the performance aspect. There is really barely any homework on a lesson to lesson basis. You learn so much about other styles and cultures of music, and if you are passionate about music, it’s incredibly interesting. While there is analysis work required – this encompasses music theory and music history work – the teachers will prepare you well for this. They are there to guide you as best as they can.

Cons – The whole music course is not playing music in practice rooms. You are not always playing and creating; you are also learning (it’s an IB class so it’s pretty much guaranteed) and this is something to consider. For your final music grade, in addition to performing, you also have to write a Musical Links Investigation (in short, an essay connecting two quite different pieces of music) and you will have to study two pre chosen pieces very heavily for the prepared listening paper. HL students also have to compose or arrange their own music. The most challenging part of the course is really the unprepared listening paper on the exam, in which you receive a piece of music that you have never heard before, and you basically have to just analyze it. For this portion of the paper, knowledge of music theory is very necessary. Music theory is not impossible, but it is certainly difficult and will require effort to learn.

Skills you need – Besides a love for music, IB Music requires an open mind. This forces you to expose yourself to new styles of music from all over the world, as well as learn about music history and theory. It’s really not bad at all; all you need to do is be open enough to really listen and engage in lessons, and if you are, they will be very interesting and you won’t have to work as much outside of class. Nevertheless, discipline and hard work are certainly important, so that you don’t panic come exam time. Also, you should be able to plan ahead for your performances, and lastly, be creative.


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