Bamboo Telegraph’s Course Selection Special!

Written by: Erich

Edited by: Nichelle

Visual by: Macy

As we slowly transition into hybrid learning, Bearcats have started pouring into the halls of ISM. Many are rejoicing at the prospect of having escaped the struggles of full-time online learning, leaving behind the burden of terrible internet connectivity, awkward silence in breakout rooms, and long spans of screen time. However, unlike the upperclassmen, underclassmen are still struggling with the uncertainty and stress that arise from the upcoming course selections.

The course selection, set to take place in the third week of February, has only served to add another layer of stress to the current underclassmen, who are already being faced with endless assessments. It’s certainly an understandable concern, for their current decisions will shape the course of their remaining high school years. 

Course selection is certainly a larger struggle for the sophomores, who are left with a considerably more complex decision due to the wide range of variations offered. ISM offers two types of diplomas, the ISM High School Diploma and the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma. The former is given to students who take either a combination of non-IB and non-AP courses or a selection of IB Diploma/AP courses. Additionally, doing so would make students eligible to receive an IB/AP certificate for individual courses taken. On the other hand, students are only eligible to receive the IB Diploma if they complete the full International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP), a rigorous, demanding pre-university curriculum that spans over six academic subjects of choice. Designed for juniors and seniors, this program requires students to take up three higher level (HL) and three standard level (SL) courses. Beyond this, students are also expected to complete the core requirements of Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS), and their extended essay (EE), making for a rather packed program. 

At present, there are many prospects that may impact a student’s choice, such as university requirements and coursework. However, a large factor that students may wish to consider would be ideal locations for undergraduate schools. Particular nations like the U.K. often require students to take the IB program; however, students are still eligible to enter universities within countries like the U.S. and Canada even without the IB diploma. This might even depend upon the requirements of certain universities and perhaps may even boil down to the student’s course. For those who are interested in pursuing a major in a competitive field, the IB program may just help provide that competitive edge, which can allow someone to stand out from the masses of applicants. Nonetheless, taking the program doesn’t necessarily guarantee a better high school profile, for students do need to maintain a balance between course rigor and their individual performance in said course.  

If you’re still interested in pursuing the IB program, here are the basics of what it has to offer. The program has six major group compositions, and students are typically expected to take on a subject branch from each of the respective groups, making up the composition of the required three HL and three SL courses. The first group, Language A, offers a range of subjects that focuses on language and literature compositions. Within ISM, the following courses are offered: English A Literature, English A Language & Literature, Chinese A Literature, Korean A Literature, Japanese A Literature, Filipino A Literature, and school-supported Self-Taught A Literature. Students may only take a course in a language that they’re fluent in, as the curriculum centers upon analyzing literary works. If students are interested in language acquisition then the second group, Language B and Ab Initio, may be of interest. The options offered by ISM include English B, French B, Mandarin B, Spanish B, French Ab initio, Mandarin Ab initio, and Spanish Ab Initio. For a student entering a course for a language that they have little to no background of, Ab Initio may just be the way to go. 

Going beyond languages, the third group, Individuals and Society, is designed to aid students in developing their capability to identify, critically analyze, and evaluate concepts and theories regarding the inherent nature of individuals and societies. Within ISM, students have the option of taking up Business Management, Economics, Geography, Global Politics, History, and Psychology. Compared to other groups, students are permitted to take these courses even without any prior experience in prerequisite courses. Beyond the subjects stated above, there is an existing transdisciplinary subject that can act as group 3 and/or group 4 subject, which is the Environmental Systems & Societies (ESS). It’s followed by the group of Experimental Sciences, which comprises the scientific exploration component of the program. Options that are available for this fourth group include Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science, Sports, Exercise & Health Science, Design Technology, and the new Food Science & Technology course. 

The fifth group of Mathematics consists of only two options: Mathematics Analysis and Mathematics Application. The former focuses upon mathematical problem solving and generalization, whilst the latter is geared towards the use of math in solving real-life practical problems. The math department’s placement recommendation is a good place to start when deciding your group 5 course.

Finally, there remains the sixth group, the Arts, which offers courses that give incoming upperclassmen the opportunity to explore the fine and performing arts to a wider extent at a deeper depth. For this particular group, the course offerings within ISM include Film, Theater, and Visual Arts; however, it is not mandatory for students to take a course within this category. 

IB students typically take up one subject from each group; however, there are still times in which that is not the case. Other possible arrangements would consist of substituting another group 1 course in replacement of the group 2 course, which would provide students the eligibility to receive a bilingual diploma. A more common arrangement is for sophomores to opt-out of taking a group 6 course, substituting it with another group 2, 3, or 4 subject instead.

Upon deciding the six courses of choice, there’s still the matter of differentiating between which three courses should be taken at a higher level (HL) and which ones should be left at a standard level (SL). The largest source of contrast between HL and SL courses is typically the number of hours dedicated to the course, with HL and SL courses requiring a minimum of 240 and 150 hours of instructional time, respectively. Beyond this, HL students also have to undergo more rigorous examinations. If you’re struggling to decide which subjects are a better fit for HL or SL, some aspects worth considering could be teacher recommendations, personal interest in the course content, and the course’s association with one’s future plans. It should however be noted that certain courses are only taught at a standard level, this includes Self-Taught A Literature, Environmental Systems & Sciences, and all the Ab Initio classes. 

Given that all high school students have eight blocks in their schedules, six of which are dedicated to IB courses, there’s still space for two additional blocks. One of which will be for Theory of Knowledge (TOK), an interdisciplinary class that focuses on educational philosophy, having students critically reflect on diverse thinking processes and branches of knowledge. This leaves students with one elective block, which could be dedicated to gaining work experience as an office assistant or a teaching apprentice, challenging oneself with new courses like investigative science, continuing on with current courses, or perhaps just taking a break with a study hall. 

Over the past few weeks, as students have been preparing to select their courses, they’ve received multiple opportunities to learn more about respective subject topics through events like the IB Course Info Sessions along with getting the chance to ask upperclassmen, alumni, and parents questions regarding both the IB program and future careers within events like Career Week and joint homeroom classes with juniors. Throughout this duration, there have been some common questions that have been raised by sophomores, of which some of the seniors have taken the time to answer, providing useful advice coming from someone that’s already undergone a majority of the program. Below, BT has compiled some of these questions and responses for your perusal!

1, How should one prepare for a HL class they’ve never taken before like Psychology, Econ, etc. before 11th-grade starts?  

Anna, a senior taking Economics HL, advised that a good way to prepare would be “to review the syllabus and go over the course for a bit of preparation for the class”. Additionally, she explains that there may also be situations where students could “ask their counselor or future teachers to give them some work over the summer” to truly help them engage with the topic beforehand. 

Zoe, another senior taking Psychology HL, suggests that it’s important that students “plan ahead and do a lot of research” using the likes of online resources, in order to fully grasp if they’re taking the course that’s truly fitting for them. It can also help students “prepare themselves mentally”, easing the transition into the IB program.

2. How do you balance the workload when doing IB? 

Kalani, a senior taking partial IB, explains that it’s merely a matter of knowing what to “prioritize”, recognizing the courses that you excel in, and those that you’re struggling with. She expands that “it’s necessary to dedicate more time to the things I struggle with”, putting in a great deal more effort to understand these concepts. Beyond this, she advises that students should dedicate “time to [themselves]”, making sure to take breaks in between studying or whenever things just get a little too much to handle.

If further assistance is required, it is highly recommended that students communicate with their respective teachers and guidance counselors. For more information regarding course selection, feel free to refer to the High School Course Offerings Flipbook!