Why did you choose to embark on IB?
For me, the most appealing aspect of the IB was its academically-challenging curriculum. Before the IB, I was excelling in all my classes in primary school and early secondary school. I wasn't satisfied with what I was learning in class, and so I was desperate for more intellectually-challenging things to tackle.
How did you find out about IB and what it offers?
My family and I first heard about the IB curriculum in 2009 (when I was in Grade 7) through the Queensland Academies' Young Scholars program, which focusses on youth academic enrichment.
What are the best elements of studying IB?
The best thing about studying IB is probably the breadth of knowledge that I gained. If I had stayed in the traditional Queensland secondary school system, I would have likely chosen subjects restricted to the sciences, mathematics, and an English subject. In the IB, we are required to study a social science, a second language, epistemology, and no more than two subjects of the same category. Because of this broad curriculum, I was able to learn a diverse set of skills by exposing myself to all sorts of exciting areas like psychology, Mandarin, and philosophy. I've also benefited from the depth of study inherent in the IB curriculum. We learned quite advanced material in our so-called Higher Level subjects. These subjects go beyond typical high school material and expose students to undergraduate-level topics. As a result, the knowledge
I gained from my Higher Level subjects has given me a big advantage at university.
What have you learnt that you didn't expect?
The most unexpected thing I learned during the IB occurred when I was doing my Extended Essay, an independent mini-research thesis. I chose to do mine on the chemistry of heartburn drug interactions. I can't say I changed the world through my little research project, but I suppose I learned, or created, new knowledge firsthand and not from a textbook. That's the nature of research. By definition, it's unexpected.
Were there any surprises?
There weren't too many surprises. What you see is what you get, but Theory of Knowledge (TOK) would have to count as a surprise. As part of this epistemology subject, we had to question what we knew, how we knew, and why we knew. If that sounds a bit mind-bending, then you definitely understand how I felt!
What educational advantage did you or your parents hope IB would give you?
We hoped that an IB Diploma would give me a global academic credential so that applications to universities internationally would be a smooth process. That turned out to be very true. It also helps that the IB has a reputation of being a challenging curriculum, which is a very good sign when applying to top universities in the United States and the United Kingdom. I would say that the IB played an important role in my successful admission to US colleges including Harvard, Amherst and Williams.
What advice would you give to parents and students considering IB?
Before I started the IB, I was extremely nervous and unsure of myself. If you or your child is sitting on the fence, I would recommend giving the IB a go. I've had a positive experience with the IB, as have many of my friends. The IB is hard, requires lots of hard work, and might not be the right fit for every student. However, I can say for sure that it is very rewarding to finally cross the finish line after two years of intense learning.
Jackson Huang is the founder of LitLearn — the comprehensive guide to all things IB.