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The ideal strategy for picking IBDP subjects suggested by IB tutor at Hkexcel

Picking the right IB subjects is critical to success as an IB student. Our IB tutor at HKExcel have over 5 years of experience in IB tuition and have came across over 3000 students. Thus, in this blog post, we will share our insights to picking the right IB subjects.

Typically, students will do the IB Diploma during the final 2 years of high school. Before starting the IB diploma, students typically do the IBMYP program or the iGCSE program in some schools. At the end of the IBMYP or iGCSE, students will get to pick 6 subjects to do for their IB Diploma.

Introduction about the IB Diploma

Before we explain our suggested strategies for picking the right IB subjects, it is important to understand the IB Diploma in greater depth.

The IB was founded as a NGO in 1968 to provide globally recognised academic programs of study. The organisation is based in Geneva Switzerland and in Cardiff, United Kingdom. The stated mission of the IB Program is to develop responsible global citizens who can help to create a more peaceful world with intercultural respect and understanding. To achieve this mission, the IB develops challenging academic programs and difficult assessments. These programs are designed to help develop students into lifelong learners who are proactive and compassionate.

The IB offers a range of programs:

- Primary years program: For primary school children

- Middle years program: For middle school children

- Diploma program: For high school studentsCareer-related certificate: For high school students

Through the programs above, the IB aims to prepare students for university studies. It is important to note that only schools authorised by the IB, can offer the IB programs

Characteristics in students that the IB aims to develop

Inquirers: the IB aims to develop students who are intellectually curious and have a life-long love for learningKnowledgeable: Another aim of the IB is to develop students with strong understanding across a range of subject areas on issues with global significance

Thinkers: Analytical skills, creative thinking ability and problem solving skills are important skills for IB students to have

Communicators: Communication skills and the ability to communicate ideas in an effective manner

Principled: Good sense of honesty, fairness and integrity

Open-minded: the ability to appreciate different points of view and cultures

Caring: A strong sense of empathy, respect and compassion towards others

Risk-takers: Demonstrate determination in times of uncertainty and willing to explore new ideas

Balanced: Understand the importance to balance various aspects in the human experience, including intellectual, social and physical

Reflective: Self awareness and the ability to assess one self’s strength and weaknesses

The IB aims to develop the 10 characteristics above in all IB learners.

The IB Syllabus structure

There are 6 groups of subjects that iB students must choose. This allows IB students to be well-rounded learners

In each group of subject, students must pick 1 subject. Thus, students will ultimately have to do 6 subjects in total. Each subject is worth 7 marks. Thus, the full mark for the 6 subjects is 42 points. However, there are an additional 3 points, which account for the student’s performance in the theory of knowledge course and his or her extended essay.

It is important to note that students must do 3 higher level subjects and 3 standard level subjects out of the 6 subjects.

Here are the 6 subjects groups:

-Group 1: Studies in language and literature or literature, which is commonly referred to a s the student’s first language. IB students in Hong Kong typically pick Chinese or English.

- Group 2: Language acquisition, which is also referred to as the student’s second language. IB Students in Hong Kong typically pick English or french in this group

- Group 3: Individual and societies, also known as the humanities. Typical choices amongst IB students in Hong Kong include geography, economics, business, history and Environmental systems and societies

- Group 4: Sciences. The most commonly offered science in IB schools in Hong Kong are physics, chemistry, biology and environmental sciences

- Group 5: Mathematics. Math is a compulsory subject. Students can choose between HL, SL or math studies

- Group 6: Arts/music or an elective. The elective can be any subjects in group 3 or 4, such as business, economics, physics or chemistry.

The HL version of each course is significantly more rigorous then the SL version in most cases. The HL courses often involves content that are studied in university. This is designed to add more academic rigour to the studies of IB students.

The theory of knowledge (TOK course)

The TOK course is critical to the philosophy of the entire IB program. It is designed to stimulate students to reflect on the ways we obtain knowledge in various areas. The central question in the TOK course is “how do we know?”. Students will gain valuable critical thinking skills out of the course

The Tok course has 2 major pieces of assessments: the Tok presentation and the TOK essay.

At the end of the IB, students are graded on a scale from A to F for the TOK course.

The extended essay (EE)

The extended essay is an essential component for all IB students. It is a 4000 word essay that is focused on a specific subject area. Students are expected to do in-depth research beyond the scope of the IB syllabus itself.

Normally the EE is focused on one subject. Students need to then come up with their own research question and write a 4000 word essay to answer it. This process is a very valuable learning opportunity for high school students to learn how to write research essays, which is often required in university. This is in fact a major advantage that IB students have compared to others.

Each student will get a supervisor who will be a school teacher. The supervisor is there to give students guidance and feedback.

Creative, Action, Service (CAS)

Participation is CAS is a compulsory requirement for IB students to graduate. To fulfil the CAS requirements, students will need to participate in 50 hours of extracurricular activities in the arts, 50 hours in sports and 50 hours in volunteer work. For example, playing in the tennis team at school would count towards action hours. The purpose of this compulsory requirement is to develop students’ interpersonal skills and to develop them into all-rounded global citizens.

My own experience with subject selection

When i started doing the IB Diploma, i was determined to get 40/45. The reason i aimed for 40/45 was because this was the score that was required for top universities around the world, such as Oxford and Cambridge.

Then I also decided that i had to take Math HL, because i wanted to study economics or actuarial science in university, which both required math HL. This was basically the only subject requirement i had to meet when it comes to university admission. Thus, apart from this, I picked the subjects that i was most confident in. Below was my initial subject choice:

HL Economics

HL math

HL Chinese B

SL english A

SL Chemistry

SL business

As i had a target score of 40 in mind, i had a target score for each subject as well

HL Economics: 7

HL math: 6

HL Chinese B: 7

SL english A: 5

SL Chemistry: 7

SL business:6


I basically used my middle school experience to pick the subject that i was most confident in. However, something interesting happened when i started. In my first business test, i unexpectedly scored a 5, which was below my target of 6. This made me very nervous and i decided to ask my teacher the rationale behind my score. Unfortunately, she did not give me an answer that i could understand.

Thus, i then decided to switch to Biology SL, because i thought that biology was a more predictable subject when it comes to marking. My choice was correct as i successfully score a l6 in the end which enabled me to achieve my overall target of 40

Normally in IB schools, within the first 2 months of the IBDP, they will allow you to change your IB subject. We highly suggest IB students to use this period of time wisely and to make subject changes as required to meet your overall target score.

Another thing to take note of is that setting a overall goal and then working backwards to set a goal for each subject is very important. This allows you to have a very clear objective for each subject. Having a goal will push you to work to your potential and have a direction. Throughout my IB career, i was constantly evaluating myself as to whether i am reaching my goals. When i feel that i am falling behind on a subject, i would find ways to improve more and to turn things around. This constant focus was what allowed me to reach my IB goal.

Our suggested method for subject selection

The first step to subject selection is to consider that subject that you are interested to study in university. This is important because many university subjects have specific IB requirements. For example, to study Medicine in HKU requires Chemistry at higher level. Another example is that in certain universities, English higher level is required to study law. Thus, you need to select your subject in a way that complies with the requirements of the university subject you are aiming for.

When just starting IBDP, many students are not sure what university subjects they want to pursue. This is perfectly normal. However, students should already have an idea about their tendencies. For example, i was sure that i would be more interested in pursuing math related subjects compared to language related subjects. Thus, i knew that taking Math HL would be very important to me.

After picking the subjects that are required for your university ambitions, we suggest picking subjects that are the easiest for you to score high marks. This is because your IB total score is extremely critical to your university application. The higher your total score, the more choices you have when it comes to university course selection, because the more university requirements you will meet. You should use your past results in the IBMYP or iGCSE to predict the easiest subjects for you in the IB. For example, if math was always your strong subject, then perhaps picking math HL would be more suitable for you than picking english HL.

In conclusion, picking the right IB subjects is the first step to success in the IB. If you make a mistake here, your dramatically reduce your chances of success. If you have any questions, feel free to contact our IB tutor by

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