The Subject Selection in the IB Diploma Programme: Interest VS. Aptitude
- February 14, 2022
How does one optimize the balance between subjects in the IB at the Higher Level (HL) and the Standard Level (SL) on the basis of interest versus aptitude?
Every student has to choose six subjects – three at the Higher Level and three at Standard Level. The key to success is choosing subjects that the student is interested in. Assessing one’s own strengths and weaknesses is a good strategy, and strength in a subject is almost always directly connected to the student’s interest – if a student is interested in a subject, they would automatically work towards achieving proficiency in it. In this manner, interest and aptitude are correlated.
If a student has an aptitude for writing, they might choose to take English at the Higher Level – however, this should not necessarily limit them from taking Mathematics at the Higher Level too! Building interest in Mathematics is important, as is keeping the option of putting the lifelong problem-solving skills that Mathematics in a student’s toolbox open.
On the other hand, if a student is inclined towards STEM, particularly in their future career, taking Mathematics and Group 4 (Science Subjects) at the Higher Level is not a tough call. However, the IB demands a choice of subjects that ensures that a student’s development is holistic – Students may choose Group 3 subjects such as Economics at the Higher Level or Business Management at the Standard Level. Some students also choose History at the Higher Level as they feel it improves their writing skills for vast academic papers in the IB and in University. Our students have often chosen interesting and rewarding combinations – one such choice was Physics, Mathematics (Analysis and Approaches) and Theater at the Higher Level. It is noteworthy that each subject at HL or SL has its own demands and criteria, which the student must be aware of.
Students often face multiple challenges settling into the IB. Sometimes even when receiving good grades, students do not feel that they would like to continue with certain HL subjects, such as Mathematics HL, which is highly intensive and demanding. They tend to feel that the time and daily effort committed to this subject can be spent on other subjects. On the other hand, they can end up enjoying Standard Level subjects so much that they find themselves studying the Higher Level portion! Therefore, many schools give students a buffer time period of approximately three weeks to change their subjects if they find that their interest or aptitude rests elsewhere.
Subjects are rarely chosen because they are easy to score in – any subject in question becomes easy once the students’ outlook improves, for instance with Mathematics HL, students can practice consistently and push themselves to stay motivated, or Spanish B SL where students usually converse with peers in Spanish casually to enjoy practicing. As long as the student does not get intimidated by the workload, and takes the necessary time for challenging subjects, they are well-equipped to achieve proficiency in the subject and also their risk taking appetite for learning.
The main takeaway of most students from the IBDP is that the subject choice must have a balance of risk-taking and grade-oriented choices. The correlation between interest and aptitude is limited. Students should adopt a practical approach – if they do not have previous, positive exposure to or ample opportunities to study Mathematics, they must reconsider taking it at the Higher Level or if they are highly interested in it and do not want to easily give up the HL Math subject option for their career choices then they must prepare in the summer before the start of the IB. Our Pre-IB courses for Mathematics and other subjects train students to sustain their aptitude and interest in these subjects so that they stay motivated and capable of ‘staying the course’ with highly competitive subject combinations. We also provide an elaborate progress report at the end of our immersive Pre-IB courses with personalized tips for success, compensating for the student’s lack of exposure to the persistence and discipline needed for, say, IB Math courses. CourseLeap offers Pre-IB Math courses in HL and SL both as Math has a ladder-like approach and sufficient time and practice is equally important for the top grades for the university application.