IB Therapy: Your Questions Answered Part 3

Everyone at Lanterna remembers what it was like doing the IB. We also know what it takes to succeed, and that is why we’ve made it our mission to support all of you still ‘in the trenches’. In this blog series we’re asking you to send in all the questions you’ve been meaning to ask about getting through the IB. In Part 2 we looked at procrastination, Chemistry and Biology revision, and how to make notes for English B. Here we talk about memorising mass information, improving your grades in Science, and how it’s possible to revise for English A HL!

Question: I was wondering if you had any good revision tips for learning things “by heart” in subjects like Biology, History and Economics? My method for a test is to read and write my own notes and then learn the “manuscript” by heart. This method will take too long and be difficult to do with so much material. Do you have any ideas?

IB Memorising


Learning how to fit all the information into your head is one of the toughest things to do. And the subjects you mention – Biology, History and Economics – all have a lot of things that you have to remember.  I think the trick is to not worry about knowing everything ‘by heart’, as you say. Personally I find it much harder to learn things as a ‘manuscript’ as this relies on specific words and phrases being in the right order, which is unnecessary effort. Instead, try to think of the information as lots of little pieces of knowledge which you can absorb, in whichever form works best for you, and then release with whichever words you need. Writing your own notes can be very effective, but after doing this try memorising them in different ways, e.g. writing the information from memory in whichever order they come to you; putting the facts into a spider diagram or flashcards; condensing each note into just one word. The more you play around with the facts, the quicker they will go into your head!

With a subject like History is a bit different from Biology as there isn’t a set list of facts you need to know. This is when it’s useful to start off with memorising the core, most essential information for each topic, so that you have a basic knowledge of everything. Then afterwards you can expand your knowledge outwards and add the extra facts to your memory which will help jazz up your answers. The trick is to choose what you are going to learn, so that you don’t waste time memorising 3 facts or figures that prove the same point.

Question: I currently do IB Physics at Higher Level and am finding it really interesting, but I’m performing below my expectations. I worked really hard for a recent test but got a 5 instead of a 7. I find it frustrating that my efforts aren’t being rewarded. Any suggestions?


It can be tough when you feel like you’ve worked hard only to not get the grade you were hoping for. But try not to get too hung up over one test. Getting a 5 once doesn’t mean you’re on track to getting a 5 in the exam, just as getting a 7 once doesn’t mean you’ll get a 7 as your final grade.

Instead, focus on how you can improve.  Go back to your Physics test and work your way through each of the questions you got wrong. Pay attention to where you went off-track, and figure why exactly you did this. Was it because you misunderstood the question? Because you got the maths wrong? Because you forgot an essential step? Once you’ve worked this out, take as much time as you need to make sure you know how to do it right. Ask a teacher or a friend if you need to. Do other, similar, questions to make sure you could recognise it in a different situation. Once you’ve done this, you should feel confident that you’ll never lose those marks again. Even if you start a new topic and feel like you’re falling behind again, take the time to go through this process and consider it part of your personal learning curve.

Question: I am a second year IB student and I do English Literature A at Higher Level. This is the one subject out of my 6 that I find very difficult to revise for. Do you have any recommendations for how to revise for the novel paper but also the unseen paper?

IB English A


First of all, I absolutely understand what you mean when you say it’s a tricky subject to revise for! The different papers require similar skills but it will be most effective to revise for each one separately. When it comes to comparing works that you’ve studied, there are three steps of revision that you’ll need to do.

  1. The first is simply getting to know your texts as well as possible. Think about the issues that the authors are addressing, and choose what examples from the texts you will use to back these up. For any comment that you make in the paper, you’ll need to provide evidence from the texts, which could be a quote, a plot event, or a scene. Some of these might speak for themselves, while for others you should think about how you can analyse the language and choices within your essay, to demonstrate your in-depth analysis skills.
  2. Once you’ve gathered all of this evidence the next step is to memorise them; write them on post-it notes which you stick on your walls, or write out the quotes again and again until you know them exactly.
  3. The third stage is knowing how to use the evidence in an essay. The best way to revise this is to write practice essays, or at the very least essay plans, so you can practice arranging your ideas into an essay structure. The key with this paper in the IB is to construct a clear, cohesive argument as you go along. Don’t just say what the author says, but analyse what the effect of it is, why the author does it, and how it relates to the essay question.

For the unseen paper the only way to revise is by practising analysis. Go into random novels or collections of poetry (if you don’t have them on paper print one online from a website like this one) and treat it as you would in an exam. Identify each category you want to talk about (rhyme, stanza structure, imagery, literary effects) and annotate the text accordingly. However, what you’ll need to show is not just what is happening in the unseen text, but also what the author is saying and why. Practice coming up with interpretations of the text. It’s not enough to say the poem describes a storm, for example; you must say what the storm represents and what the poet is saying about the metaphorical storm. As always the best way to practice this side of the paper is to practice writing essay answers or essay plans which present your analysis in a clear, structured way.


IB Therapy: Part 4!


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