Using the Syllabus and Rubric to Guarantee IB Success

We’re not going to sugarcoat it – the IB is a difficult diploma. Whether you went into the IB with straight A’s or if you were consistently struggling to pass, the IB is sure to prove a challenge. However, at Lanterna we’ve noticed that the majority of students make the IB even harder for themselves by not recognizing the tools the IB provides to make the diploma easier! There are tons of these, but two that we will focus on in this blog is the syllabus and rubric. How can we use these documents to make the IB easier?

#1: Using the Syllabus as a Study Guide


If you haven’t seen one before, the syllabus (or IB Guide) is an official document the IB publishes for each subject, made available to you by your teacher. The syllabus outlines a host of things, but most notably the exact content of the course. The syllabus goes through, bullet point by bullet point, exactly what students are expected to know by their final exams. If it’s not on the syllabus, you don’t need to know it! 

Why is this useful? 

Most students spend the first hours of their revision simply creating their study guide. Many spend hours deciding what should be included and what shouldn’t. Why do that when the syllabus has already created it for you?

We recommend that you: 

  1. Navigate to the section of the syllabus that you have an assessment on
  2. Make each bullet point in this section a heading in your study guide
  3. Under each heading, jot down any notes you might have from class or that you find in the textbook.

In this way you’re guaranteed to not miss out on any information the IB requires you to know, and you’ll see very quickly if there are specific sections that you’re missing information on.

#2: Understanding Command Terms


You might never have heard of command terms before. Don’t worry! This is a great IB hack that can help you speed up your studying massively. Most IB subjects have a list of IB Command Terms at the end of the syllabus, along with an indication of how ‘big’ the command term is. See this example from the IB Economics syllabus: 

Define  Analyse Compare (and/or Contrast) Calculate
Describe Apply Discuss Construct
List Comment Evaluate Derive
Outline Distinguish Examine Determine
State Explain Justify Draw
Suggest To What Extent Identify…


Each bullet point in the syllabus will start with one of these words. If the bullet point starts with an AO1 term, it means students just need ‘knowledge and understanding, an AO2 term implies ‘application and analysis’, AO3 is ‘synthesis and evaluation, and AO4 is a variety. Essentially, the higher the number, the more we need to know about that topic. For example, considering two bullet points from the syllabus:

  • Examine the role of PED for firms in making decisions regarding price changes and their effect on total revenue. 
  • Explain why the PED for many primary commodities is relatively low and the PED for manufactured products is relatively high.

Bullet point 1 will require more knowledge, and is more likely to be asked about in a long-answer question, as it begins with an AO3 term. Bullet point 2 is still important to know, but it will likely show up in a slightly smaller question and you will not be asked to ‘evaluate or synthesize’ about that topic. 

Why is this useful?

Understanding command terms allows you to understand how much depth you need to know about all the topics you’ve been taught! If you’re spending many hours trying to deeply understand a topic that the IB only expects you to know how to define, you may be wasting your time. Take the time to learn about the command terms for each of your subjects, finding out how they manifest on each of your papers, so that you can better know how much time to spend on each topic!

#3: Valuing the Rubric


As much as we love the IB Diploma at Lanterna due to the massive benefits it will give you post-graduation, we recognize that there are some inherent flaws with it. As the IB is a standardized diploma taken by hundreds of thousands of students every year, there must be an objective way for examiners to determine what grade an assessment deserves. That’s where the rubric comes in! 

Each assessment you take will have a set rubric outlining exactly what students must do to achieve marks. Many students, despite advice from teachers, think that checking the rubric is a recommendation more than a requirement, and that’s where their mistake lies. Thousands of students every year write phenomenal extended essays or internal assessments, yet end up with horrible grades. Why? Though their writing may have been exquisite, their story-telling may have been immaculate, and their research divine, they may have missed out on some of the crucial aspects that the IB grades you on. 

For example, for the extended essay, students are graded upon 5 criteria:

  1. Focus and Method
  2. Knowledge and Understanding
  3. Critical Thinking
  4. Presentation
  5. Engagement

Why is this useful?

A student might make a scientific discovery, a mathematical breakthrough, or a literary analysis the likes of which have never been seen before, but unless students show evidence of each 5 of these criteria, there is no way the student will get near the highest marks for their essay. 

The IB is often not a measure of intelligence, it is a measure of how well you can follow instructions.

Internalize this, and many aspects of the IB will quickly feel much more manageable.

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