If you want to find out the best approach to selecting your courses, these are the steps I would recommend:

How_to_select_IB_subjects
How to Choose your IB subjects.

Still have lingering doubts? Below, I’ve answered some of the most common questions about choosing your IB subjects:

Question: Which are the hardest and easiest IB subjects?

I have yet to find an IB student that hasn’t at some point brooded over this question.

If we believe student forums such as IB Survival and The Student RoomMaths HL, Physics HL, Chemistry HL (and sometimes Biology HL and Language A HL) are the most challenging subjects.

The combination Maths HL, Physics HL and Chemistry HL is considered to be notoriously difficult, if not reserved exclusively for the most capable students. Supplemented with either History or Economics and English Literature at Standard Level, it seems to be reserved for the most elite and genius students.

While, no doubt, this choice of subjects can be incredibly demanding, difficulty happens to be a subjective matter. It depends more on your interests, previous knowledge of a subject and quality of your teacher.

In fact, I’d say that this combination may seem harder than it actually is, due to the large number of students taking it merely for the prestige. Therefore, if you have a genuine interest in these subjects, don’t avoid this combo because you think you can’t manage the workload. Worst case: you switch subjects a few weeks into the course.

The difficulty of classes also varies tremendously between schools. For instance, while Maths HL and Physics HL are almost universally considered to be the most challenging courses, the consensus at my school is that Computer Science SL and Visual Arts SL/HL are equally – if not more – challenging.

While Maths and Physics are notoriously hard in the first months of IB1, due to a lack of proper preparation in the run-up to the IB Diploma Programme, our school also struggles with Computer Science and Visual Arts due to a lesser standard of teaching (and because the subjects are regarded as the least important electives by many students).

Question: Is Maths HL/Physics HL too hard for me?

Let me begin by arguing that just because others say a class is scary or too difficult, it does not mean it will be the same for you.

That is not to say that you will breeze through Maths or Physics HL; few students do. Like any other subject, these courses require a significant commitment and investment of your time.

In fact, it is probably the idea that you need to spend time on Maths or Physics, that gives people the impression that they can’t keep up with the workload. Because it’s virtually impossible to cram for one of these courses. In particular, you need to adopt a style of revision that is different from the social sciences (eg. Geography) and therefore unfamiliar to most students. This can make these subjects seem more daunting than they are.

To decide whether or not Maths, Physics or any other course is too hard for you, I suggest that you try to take the subject at the beginning of your IB. Your school is obliged to give you a two-week trial period in which you can alter your subject choices as many times as you want. This is your time to see whether the course is manageable for you.

And if you’re still not sure, you can try to persuade your school to let you do 4 HL courses for the minute, and drop one later one (eg. at the end of term, or at the end of the first year).

Experimental Physics

Question: Should I choose the subjects I enjoy most or the subjects where I get the best grades?

In my opinion, the subjects you enjoy most are likely to be the ones in which you’ll score the highest grades – provided that you spend equal amounts of time on each subject. Therefore – in theory – these subject should be identical.

If, for some strange reason, your best subjects aren’t the ones you enjoy most, I would recommend that you choose the courses you think that you’re most likely going to enjoy.

I believe that it is always better to do something you love, or at least remotely enjoy, than forcing yourself through two years of tedious studies for a subject you can’t stand, just because you think you’ll get a better grade.

Question: Which subjects should I choose to get the highest grades (based solely on statistics from the IBO)?

Language A

  • Language A Language and Literature courses yield higher grades than Language A Literature courses. SL students achieve higher grades than HL students.

Language B

  • Language B HL courses tend to perform better than SL courses, but this may be due to the fact that native speakers some times also take these course – even though they shouldn’t technically be allowed to.
  • The highest average across all 6 subject areas is recorded in foreign languages, at a mean grade of 5.07.

Individuals and Societies

  • World Politics (though taken by only 13 students) has a mean grade of 5.77, the highest in the social sciences.
  • Of the more popular choices, Geography students perform best at HL, with a mean grade of 5.21, followed by Economics at 5.09. At SL, Economics students have the highest average (4.57).
  • The most popular social sciences are History, Economics, Psychology and Geography.

Experimental Sciences

  • Across all subjects, Computer Science SL yields the lowest average IB grade of 3.59. 57.7% of Computer Science SL students receive a 3 or less.
  • Astronomy SL (though not widely taken) and Physics HL average at a score of 4.57 and 4.56 respectively.
  • HL courses yield higher averages than SL courses, but this may be due to student interest in the natural sciences.
  • Physics HL has the highest percentages of 7’s of the experimental sciences: 12.9%.

Mathematics

  • Maths’ averages are directly related to the the difficulty of the course.  Easier courses such as Maths Studies (4.27) and Maths SL (4.31) have lower averages than the more challenging options of Maths HL (4.42) and Further Maths (4.48).

Creative Subjects (Group 6)

  • Dance HL has the highest average grade (5.1), but also the lowest number of enrolled students.
  • Students tended to perform better at HL than at SL.
Yes, dance is an IB subject. Image Source:

Question: What subjects should I choose if I want to study / a career in … ?

Physics/(Chemistry)

  • Physics HL or Chemistry HL, respectively
  • Maths HL
  • Chemistry HL/Physics HL/Computer Science HL/Further Maths HL
  • Econ SL/Geography SL (if you are taking physical geography options)
  • Language A SL
  • Language B SL

Medicine/Veterinary Science

  • Chemistry HL
  • Biology HL
  • Maths HL
  • Psychology SL
  • Language A SL
  • Language B SL

Computer Science

  • Computer Science HL
  • Maths HL
  • Design technology HL/Physics HL
  • Economics SL/ Business Management SL/ Information Technology in a Global Society SL
  • Language A SL
  • Language B SL

Languages/Linguistics

  • Language A Lit HL/Language A Lang-Lit HL
  • Language A Lit HL/Language A Lang-Lit HL/Language B HL
  • Language A Lit HL/Language A Lang-Lit HL/Language B HL/Language and Performance SL
  • Psychology SL/History SL/Geography SL/Business Management SL/Social and Cultural Antropology SL
  • Maths SL
  • Any science SL

Business/Economics

  • Economics HL
  • Business Management HL/Geography HL/Psychology HL
  • Maths HL/SL
  • Language A HL/SL
  • Language A/Language B SL
  • Any science SL

Law

  • Language A Lit/Language A Lang-Lit HL
  • Language A Lit/Language A Lang-Lit/Language B HL
  • History HL/Geography HL/Psychology HL/Global Politics HL
  • History HL/Geography HL/Psychology HL/Global Politics SL
  • Any science SL
  • Maths SL
List of IB Subject Choices
Possible IB subject choices

Question: What subjects can I take if I am not sure of my career choice?

If you are not sure of your career choice, many universities recommend taking facilitating subjects. This means that you will have the greatest possible freedom in choosing a university course after your IB, however, very degrees requiring a targeted subject choice (in particular medicine/veterinary science) may not be possible for these combinations.

A number of facilitating subjects in the IB Diploma Programme include:

  • Language A Lit
  • Language B
  • History SL/HL
  • Chemistry HL/SL or Physics HL/SL
  • Mathematics HL (or SL)

These are some possible subject combinations if you have a vague idea of your interests and future career or you are torn between two fields.

Mixed Subject Combinations

Business/Technology/Creative

  • Language A Lang-Lit HL
  • Language B HL
  • Geography HL/SL
  • Maths HL/SL
  • Business Management SL
  • Computer Science SL

Creative (Arts) and Science

  • Visual Arts/Music/Theatre/Dance HL
  • Language A Lit HL/Language A Lang-Lit HL/Language A Language and Performance
  • Biology HL/Chemistry HL/Physics HL
  • Geography HL/Psychology HL
  • Maths SL
  • Language B SL/Language A SL

I hope I’ve answered most of your questions. If there’s anything else you want to know, or you have questions about particular subjects, feel free to respond below. I read and answer every comment.

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