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Study Tips by IB tutors

Updated: Oct 8, 2019

In 2013, Edward Steven and Ryan Reagan, the founding partners of HKExcel and the 2 leads IB tutor HK in Hong Kong, authored the book “Becoming an IB miracle.” The book was sold in the Hong Kong book fair, and became one of the best-sellers. Subsequently, Edward and Ryan were interviewed by several newspapers and radio stations, including RTHK, Appledaily, Singtao news etc.

The special thing about this book is that it is one of the first of its kind. The objective of the book is to share the top studying secrets used by top students, such as how to schedule revision schedules, how to reduce stress, how to take notes etc.

As mock exams and final exams are approaching, the chapters on time management and stress management are extremely relevant. To be a top student, one must learn to use their time productively and to control their stress levels. Thus, in the blog post, we will share two excerpts from these two important chapters.


After reading the previous chapters, you should understand how to

motivate yourself and put your focus in the right direction. Being

motivated and serious about your goal is correct, but if you push yourself

too hard, your performance could go down.

Stress reduction strategy 1: Remember, if you are not there yet, it

doesn’t mean you won’t get there.

Nervous breakdowns are becoming more common for final-year students.

Earlier in this book, we talked about the importance of turning your goal

from a “should” into a “must”. When your grades aren’t where you want

them to be, it could be a painful thing to accept. Not performing up to

standard is a common reason why students feel overwhelmed.

A top student, Chloe, shared with us her way of overcoming this type of stress

which is highly effective. Whenever she feels pressured for not performing

up to her standard, she would remind herself that even though she is not

there yet, it doesn’t mean she will never be. She believes strongly that

eventually, she will be able to find ways to meet her standard.

When you are stuck in a situation or with a problem, it is easy for one to

feel pessimistic and start to believe that there is no solution. If you find

yourself in such situations, you need to step back and put things into

perspective. Many students who graduated before you had conquered the

public examination you are about to face. It is definitely not easy, but it is

not impossible.

If you don’t give up, sooner or later, you will be able to

find the solution to every problem. Eventually, you will get there. Keeping

this in mind is a great way to relief stress and to remain motivated.

Scientists found that people’s learning progress can be summarized by the

Exponential curve.

As you spend more time learning a subject, your proficiency will grow

exponentially. Initially, when you don’t understand the basics, the ability to

make progress seems very hard. You simply need to invest a lot of time to

get used to the way of thinking that the subject requires. But as you

accumulate the essentials and adapt to the subject, you will find it easier to

master new concepts that are based on the basics.

When you breakthrough the initial challenges, your progress will speed up and you will feel less painful than when you first started. Many people have a subject that they

just don’t seem to “get” and will therefore avoid. If you have this kind of

mindset, you haven’t realized that your learning curve is exponential and

not linear. By understanding the exponential learning curve, you will see

the value of pushing through the initial barriers. After breaking through the

initial barriers, it won’t be nearly as hard anymore. You just need to persist

and you will eventually get there. So don’t lose faith.

Stress reduction strategy 2: Focus on other things once in a while

Taking a time-off means occupying your mind with something nonacademic.

One student we talked to, Tim, told us that it was sometimes

hard for him to take his mind off Math before his tests, and his mind would

go in circles and circles.

He knew it wasn’t useful for his test, but he couldn’t stop thinking about math after long hours of studying. Eventually, he realized that he must make a conscious choice to solve the problem. He started to be actively involved in activities that could grab his attention,

such as watching movies and playing video games. His performance

actually improved after taking these time-offs as his brain becomes more


Your brain is like any other body part. If you lift weights or run for too

long, it is only natural for you to be tired and your performance will go

down. If you focus on your studies too often, and the part of your brain that

you used for studying will slow down. What you need to do is to use

another part of your brain. This can be done by actively doing something


Stress reduction strategy 3. Listen to the right music at the right time

Music is something that touches your soul but can also be a distraction.

Different music conveys different emotions. It can be a very useful tool to

put you in the right state of mind.

One student, Eddie, who had difficulty maintaining focus, found electro

music particularly helpful in moving him into a zone of peak performance.

Whenever he studies, he would put on electro music, not because he likes it

but because it increases his effectiveness.

Another student we spoke to, Ray, would listen to very different kinds of

music while studying or resting. Upbeat rap music helps him maintain

focus, while slow pop songs help him to relax.

Music is something personal and it affects different people in different

ways. The sure thing is that it can be a tool to direct your mind to a certain

direction. We believe it would be helpful for you to find and listen to music

that can help put you in a state of total focus and help you relax.

Stress reduction strategy 4: Socialize often!

Face it, studying for an exam could be dry and lonely at times. That is the

reason why a lot of students don’t particularly enjoy studying. But

remember, on your road to ultimate success, there are other things you can

enjoy. Many successful students tell us that socializing is a great way to

add joy onto the journey. There is only that much fulfillment you can enjoy

when you are fighting by yourself. Focus on your goal, but don’t forget

your friends!

All top students proactively make schedules that they follow through.

Studying without a schedule is like heading to a destination without a map.

There are 3 very simply steps that you must take to make a realistic

schedule that is worthy following.

1. Fully understand the rules of the game

Every game has a certain set of rules and certain ways of winning. Without

knowing what they are, your direction could very well be wrong. The rules

for different subjects can be very different. For example, in a Math exam,

you will be tested on your problem-solving ability, but in a Biology exam,

you are tested mainly on your ability to memorize, understand and explain

concepts. Thus, the focus for math should be doing more practice

problems, while the core of studying Biology should be memorization. If

you do the opposite, your efforts will be ineffective. We find that some

poor math students try to memorize math solutions like they do in Biology.

This guarantees poor grades because math questions can come in many

varieties. There is not a standard solution that can be memorized and

applied to various questions. A more effective approach to study Math

should be to do more practice questions and develop intuition.

2. Evaluate the amount of work it will take you to achieve mastery

As explained in the last chapter, mastery means having enough practice

that any new question you encounter will seem old because the concepts

have already become second nature to you. Mastery is achievable but it

takes time. For some people, it may take 5 past paper questions and more

for others. Be honest to yourself and evaluate how much work is needed.

Remember, this is adjustable. If you find the amount of work you are

currently doing will only get you a Level 5, you should increase the

amount until it is enough to meet your goal!

3. Make a task-based schedule

In step 2, you have determined the amount of work you need to do before

achieving mastery. Now, you can put the required tasks into context and

come up with a schedule. This allows you to manage tasks instead of time,

which will greatly increase your effectiveness. Without a schedule, you

will not know clearly what tasks you have and how much time you have to

achieve them. Making a schedule is a process of putting a time dimension

to planned tasks that you must achieve.

The simple schedule on the next page serves as an example.

Day Math Economics

1 - Do textbook

questions on vectors

- Read textbook

material about


2 - Do 10 past paper

questions for vectors

- Finish making

study notes for


3 - Do 10 past paper

questions for vectors

- Do 2 past paper

questions about Monopoly

The difference between not having a schedule and having one is huge.

People who stick to a schedule will find themselves to be more prepared on

exam day, and people who do not may realize a week before the exam that

they do not have enough time to go through all their revision. This makes

all the difference between a poor and good grade.

4. Stick to your schedule

Some people think that sticking to a schedule is difficult. We believe that

the core problem for these people is that they do not have a strong enough

desire to succeed. Making a schedule and sticking to it is a clear path that

will lead to better performance. If you lack the discipline to follow this

simple success recipe, then you can only blame yourself for not having the

desire to achieve your goals. The right schedule is like a correct


In conclusion the key to managing stress by our IB Tutors is to maintain a positive mindset, to socialise appropriately and to take your mind off studying after you studies are done. For time management, it is most important for students to create a schedule and aim for mastery. Most important, students must have the discipline to stick to the schedule. If you are interested to register for a free trial with our ib tutor hk.

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