Writer: Carmel L.
Visual: Sohyun P.
Editor: Kay S.
Welcome, brave soul, to IB Chemistry! Regardless of whether you’ve chosen the subject at SL or HL, you’re in for a wild, challenging, and fun ride. While your peers may question your life choices, remember why you’ve chosen chemistry: because of the interest you have in it. The course does get difficult, so it is especially important to remember this interest and keep yourself actively questioning the curriculum throughout the two years, because the more you ask, the more you know. Finally, while chemistry does have its reputation as one of the most challenging IB subjects, try not to get intimidated. There are plenty of strategies, study tips, and resources available for you.
In my experience, chemistry requires a lot of individual study-time. Legitimately, it is very unlikely that all of the points in the IB curriculum are going to be detailed in your chemistry class simply due to time constraints. The course is not too fast-paced, but don’t be fooled; there is a lot you are required to know, and since there isn’t enough class time to go through it all in detail, it is your responsibility to spend time at home going through each topic. Here are 7 tips for chemistry that can (hopefully) get you closer to that 7.
TIP 1: Use the checklists and the IB textbook. These are your best bet– the IB textbook contains all the content you need, and the checklist acts as your guide to navigate this content. My go-to studying strategy is putting aside a chunk of time, gathering pens, markers, my notebook, my Oxford textbook, and the checklist for the unit I am studying (these checklists are incredibly useful and list everything you need to know, so use them!), and go through each checklist point one by one and in detail. I am a bit of a neat freak, so I organize my notes by unit and by checklist point. If I have a question about a certain point, I’ll mark it with a highlighter, write down my question, and go to my teacher the next day to clarify. This way, you can ensure you’ve covered and you truly understand every single bit of information you’re required to know for that unit.
A section of one unit notes organized by checklist points!
After you’ve covered all the information, practice active study techniques. “I have seen many students start the year feeling overwhelmed, but when they tweak their habits and practice more active studying skills, they excel,” Ms. Sarkawi expresses. I find this to be very true; after I know I’ve consolidated all the information, I reinforce my knowledge by using active study techniques. Some examples of these techniques include mind mapping, making/using flashcards, recording audio/video of you explaining a concept, teaching your classmates in study group, and doing practice problems under time constraints– though the practice problems should come at the end!
TIP 2: Know the core concepts. Mr. Mawer says that since Chemistry is a discipline “with an emphasis on the application of core ideas to solve problems,” it’s super important to “spend the time to ensure you understand the core ideas (can you explain them concisely and clearly to peers?) and then begin trying to apply them to review problems.”
The unit checklists are extremely helpful, particularly when it comes to exams. For exams, my friends and I repeated the checklist process digitally for every unit on the exam, put the documents on Drive (simply because there were a lot of them), and made a master document indexing all of the individual unit documents, ensuring we knew all the core ideas. Though it was time-consuming, these documents will definitely be useful for the final IB exams.
In fact, Mr. Mawer says that the biggest challenge IB students will face will be studying for these final IB exams. To consolidate all the understandings for this, he says that “making use of spaced-repetition (ie. returning to older units more regularly) can help enormously, and your teachers will be working these principles into your lessons.”
Picture of Exam Index
Picture of Organics Checklist (Page 1) with Information
TIP 3: When in doubt, go to tutorials or look online. Your teacher will answer any questions you have, and they understand the struggle IB chemistry brings. But, if you ever get confused and need more help, I highly recommend Richard Thornley’s YouTube videos. He has everything you need to know and compartmentalizes topics in playlists. Also, Ms. Sarkawi’s IB Chemistry website is useful as well- all the checklists can be found there.
TIP 4: Use your classmates as a support group. You’re all going through the same thing, so help each other know what you need to. Explain to others when they don’t understand, and you can expect the same back. Work through difficult problems together and teach each other. Share massive group notes documents and make sure you’ve got everything covered (but make sure everyone on the document is doing work, because #nohitchhikersallowed).
TIP 5: Don’t expect straight 7s. Both Mr. Mawer and Ms. Sarkawi agree that the biggest mistake students make when they come into IB Chemistry is “underestimating the work required.” “ If you’ve previously cruised through science skimming your notes the night before a test, then there will be a shock coming!” Mr. Mawer warns. Manage your expectations so you don’t get burnt out. IB Chemistry is vastly different from 10th grade chemistry and is much more difficult, so understand that if you aren’t doing well now, you will be doing much better by the end of the semester. Ms. Sarkawi believes that one of the biggest challenges of the course is actually “your own ego.” “It only takes one bad test day to make your sense of self esteem come crashing down, so to not have to go through that, consider your experience in G11 and G12 HL chemistry a work in progress.” she advises. To improve fast, practice better active study techniques and organization. Though it’s more difficult, if you had fun learning chemistry in 10th grade, IB Chemistry may even be more fun because the content is much cooler and way more interesting.
TIP 6: If you have extra time, study ahead! First semester is not as work-heavy as second semester, so if you have any free hours try to look into the next topic so you don’t get lost when you cover it in class. Go through it using the checklist method.
TIP 7: Multitasking is not a thing. You are your most productive when without distractions. Mr. Mawer says that the most productive studying technique involves “minimizing distractions while working for designated periods of time. So, turn off notifications on your devices, close down the ‘tabs of doom’ in your browser, and spend some time working in focused bursts. The Pomodoro technique is a great way of doing this, particularly if you are a procrastinator.” I find this to be extremely accurate; I’m able to absorb information much better when my phone is off and I only have a few tabs and my textbook open.
I hope you all benefited from this article, and hopefully your time in IB Chemistry will be much more enjoyable with these tips. Just stay organized, and you will be fine! Remember, at the root of it all, you’re taking this class because you find it interesting, so if you keep a positive mindset, the class will continue to be fun despite the academic challenge it brings.