Top 5 Essentials for Studying Environmental Systems and Societies

Although ESS is only available at the standard level, it can often be tricky to get your head around (especially as higher-level subjects start to demand more and more of your time). That being said, once you get the hang of it, ESS can become a really fun subject that helps you understand the world you live in. Below are some tricks to help you along the way! 

  1. Learn definitions 

Like most IB subjects, ESS has key concepts and definitions that you are required to learn. Knowing these definitions establishes your basis of knowledge in the subject and ensures you don’t lose those easy exam points! Find the review method that works for you; is it flashcards? Quizlet? Vocal study/quizzing your friends? We all learn in different ways, so once you find the one that sticks, take a deep breath, sit down, and get to work. 

2. Contextualise with case studies

The great thing about ESS is that the content you learn is very relatable to what you see around you. Reading the case studies in the textbook and finding your own examples of how the ESS concepts fit into your understanding of the world will help you master the content. Remember also that Paper 1 is all based on a single case study. While you can never predict what the case study you get will be, reading through different ones will mean you are comfortable dealing with ESS in context. 

3. Know your command terms

The ESS exam questions are written in a very specific way and examiners will be looking for you to provide an answer that aligns with this. Knowing your command terms (ex, what is the difference between explain and outline?) means you’ll be sure not to miss out vital information from the mark scheme. Being comfortable with command terms will allow you to move through the short answer questions faster, leaving more time to formulate answers to the longer essay questions. 

4. Know the exam structure

Studying and understanding the content in ESS is vital, and the whole point of taking the course. However, in order to truly prepare for the exam, you are going to have to get comfortable with the exam structure. Did you know that for Paper 1, you’re already given all the information you need to answer the questions? Make sure you look through lots of practice papers to get nice and comfortable with what each section will be asking for. Different parts of the exam are worth different number of points, and you might decide to skip over a question you don’t know to make extra time for the essay questions. These kinds of exam strategies will help build confidence and mean a smooth-sailing exam experience.

5. Systems thinking; everything is connected!

This is an important mindset to have for ESS. You won’t be tested on different topics individually and will be required to connect different aspects of the course in the exam. Don’t forget about your atmosphere while you’re studying soil. It may surprise you how interconnected they are!

The IB is never easy, but I promise it can be done. Remembering these ESSentials will help you get ESS under control! If you want more in-depth support, get some personalised help to crack down on exactly what you’re struggling with!


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