Comment: Our Distorted View of IB Success

The IB – we all know it. It’s a beastly “dragon” that essentially all La Chat students encounter and have to slay over the course of two high-pressure years. Luckily, we have a great track record of defeating the dragon: average scores are usually around 35 or 36, and pass rates always exceed the world average.

Now entering my final year of IB, I look at those numbers and wonder; why do I worry? The school obviously knows what they’re doing and how to bring most students to grades in the high 30s, so why am I still so consumed with fear over how I will fare in the next year? And after a recent article published in the Update, I think I have found my answer.

I realise I have never actually heard advice from a student achieving the average La Chat grades. Since the IB process kicked off in year 11 with subject choices, the focus has been concentrated on the highest scoring students. Of course, it’s natural for us to turn for those in the 40+ points group for tips on how to join their ranks, but this group is still the minority (about 25%) of La Chat IB graduates – is it fair to make them the benchmark for success?

The academic pressure this fuels is harmful. Most students lie outside of this grade bracket, and it is highly unfair to push the notion that those grades are what makes a successful IB student. Recognising the hard work and grit that it takes to score so highly is one thing, but through assemblies given by alumni who scored the perfect 45, organisations whose ambassadors have on average 43 points being called to guide the IB year groups, and articles on the Update that explicitly call on former students at the top universities in the world for advice, it starts to seem like students in the 40-45 range are the only ones worth publicly celebrating.

Instead, the emphasis should remain on how success is relative. I think our school is good at this on an individual level through the personalised guidance we get, but when collectively addressing year groups, it can come across as if priority is still with Oxbridge and Ivy-level students by giving separate sessions for them specifically. I acknowledge the interests of the staff is to push students to achieve their highest academic potential, but the statistics show that for most, that is still below 40 points.

Why is it then that we never benefit from the perspective of a student who scored 33 in our assemblies? They too know the hard work that the IB requires, the hours of studying and worrying that it entails, and- unlike the higher scorers- can show that it is possible to meet your goals without getting 7s and 6s in every single subject. I don’t mean to diminish the achievements of those getting 40+, but I believe incorporating more diverse outlooks on how to tackle the IB would be less daunting (it can be hard to take advice from someone who may not know the academic struggles you do) and ultimately help lessen the pressure for those of us in years 12 and 13.

At the moment, I can’t help but feel that fear is a huge motivator for my fellow classmates and myself. I know of too many that worry a 36 – the average score from the 2018 cohort – still isn’t good enough and others that freak out because it’s above their reach. This spread of ability needs to be addressed more frequently. Not bringing light to it is something that I think is damaging to the morale of students; fear should not be our motivator. It’s normal to have trepidation in your final year, but not to the point of having a chain of sleepless nights for the sake of raising your grade from a 5 to a 6 or a 6 to a 7. Pulling pieces of advice from a more representative group of La Chat’s IB performance could prevent people from feeling like the work they are doing is not good enough just because they’re not getting 7s.

Hopefully, changes will be made for the future IB students. The programme is seriously hard regardless of what grades you are aiming for, so my advice is: work hard for your own sake, always try to aim as high as you personally can- but keep things in perspective. At the end of the day, everyone slays the dragon, and that in itself is an achievement worth celebrating.