Exams & Curriculum Top Tips to Help our Teens get the Best Start to the IB Diploma – Advice from IB Experts.

Top Tips to Help our Teens get the Best Start to the IB Diploma – Advice from IB Experts.

If your child is starting the IB Diploma Programme next academic year, here is all the advice you need to help them get the best start possible. We often hear from DP Coordinators that parents and students alike can worry as the start of the IB approaches. It doesn’t matter whether students are coming from the MYP, IGCSE, or national curricula, there is always an adjustment period for which students should prepare. We’ve gone to the experts and spoken to IB DP Coordinators at top international schools in Switzerland to gather their advice on how your child can be better prepared to hit the ground running in their first Semester of the IB Diploma.

What advice would you give those who are about to enter the DP programme? 

“Once students have selected their courses, it’s about being organised and being able to work within a schedule in terms of getting the work done. I try to emphasise that you don’t need to be a genius to be successful at the Diploma. You need to be organised and have chosen the right classes. Students need to have thought through what they’re interested in studying at university, what countries they are thinking of studying in, and what their passions are. Their programme should have been put together from that.” 

Joseph Amato – IB DP Coordinator, Zurich International School.

“They need to look at it as a positive, exciting two years ahead. It’s a bridge between school and the next step, whether it be university or another road. Don’t listen too much to comments like, “Oh, it’s really hard. The DP programme is a lot of work”. Students need to experience the Diploma for themselves, and a negative or fearful mindset can hinder their ability to enjoy the next two years. It’s a very personal experience.

Parents can help by guiding their child to refocus on themselves and their particular educational journey, as opposed to comparing themselves to others. At this stage of your life path and career path and journey, comparing yourself to others doesn’t mean anything. Parents need to give students the space to follow their own. It’s far more likely that students will enjoy and succeed in the Diploma if they’ve chosen options that they’re happy with, that they’re interested in and passionate about. 

If students find they’re not enjoying a subject, it’s better to talk with the DP Coordinator earlier rather than later, and we will try to work with to find a way forward. Ideally, students will have been having these conversations before they start and will have chosen their subjects well. 

Lastly, we want students to understand that the DP is a collaborative endeavour, where they are immersed in a network of people who are very willing to support them and who they can learn from and should communicate with. We encourage students to be very open, to discuss their learning with their parents, to be open-minded about discussion with staff within the school, but also with their peers. One of the best enrichments the IB can do is to allow a sense of shared learning as well as independence. So, talking to one another avoids ending up feeling that you’re in a vacuum, that you’re working through things on your own.”

Ann Lautrette – IB DP Coordinator, Inter-Community School Zurich.

“I take a very IB mission statement kind of approach to starting the Diploma. The workload is a little less intense at the beginning and I think that there’s an opportunity to dream a little bit, to explore and be critical about what you want to get out of the next two years. So, I encourage students to think beyond their subjects and imagine what they want the world to be like and their place in it. How would they achieve that? In the first weeks it’s also all about setting good foundations and work habits in place.”

Dr. Zoe Badcock – AP and IB DP Coordinator, International School of Zug & Luzern.

“At TutorsPlus we echo many of the sentiments of the IB Coordinators we have spoken to. It’s really important the student has chosen the subjects carefully and not been overly influenced by peers or what they feel they should be studying. No matter which school, we find that students who’ve chosen their subjects carefully are able to keep motivated and stay applied, even when it gets challenging. Our tutors say this is especially true with the Extended Essay and Internal Assessments where it’s so important to have a personal interest in the topic to inspire independent research”. 

Sandra Steiger – Academic Support Manager at TutorsPlus

So, add these points to your pre-first semester checklist:

  • Remind your child that the IB DP experience is a personal one, that it will be a foundation for finding their place in the world and achieving their goals for the future. That’s exciting!
  • Make sure they’re truly happy with their subject choices. If they have any doubts, they should speak to their DP coordinator sooner rather than later.
  • Ensure your teen knows that they have the support of the school and their families, and shouldn’t hesitate to reach out for help or advice at any stage.

What would you say are the most challenging aspects of the DP that maybe parents and students don’t fully appreciate at the beginning? 

“It’s different for all students. They come in with differing talents and abilities. Some students like the Extended Essay, if they were lucky enough to get to work on their passion, then it’s easy. For others, the struggle is very real. It really depends on the student. Overall the biggest challenge I would say is going from the ninth and tenth-grade curriculum and having to ratchet it up two or three degrees to cope with the six courses, the Extended Essay, and doing CAS. It’s a big jump, and certainly, when we’re counseling tenth graders, I try and emphasize that again and again. Some people listen, and some people get scared, which they shouldn’t. But some students don’t pay attention, and they suffer the consequences.” 

Joseph Amato – IB DP Coordinator, Zurich International School.

“They don’t anticipate how organised they will need to be, and how structured in their time they’ll need to be. That is a huge challenge for students. They often start the programme feeling like, “Oh, this is okay… what were they talking about saying it’s so hard and there’s so much work?” And then, often, there’s quite a steep increase, and they find themselves wondering, “How can I manage this?!” We always try at school to prepare students for that. We put in place a core curriculum programme that supports those organizational skills. But then they go from a really structured programme to one where they have study periods, where they have to learn independently. So, part of our job is to prepare them throughout the school for that independent learning that we know they’re going to have to deal with in the DP and beyond. Because after these two years that’s it, they’re completely independent in terms of their learning.” 

Ann Lautrette – IB DP Coordinator, Inter-Community School Zurich.

“Every year, the start of the 2nd year is a surprise in terms of how challenging it is for the students, even if you prepare them. At that time there’s a convergence of deadlines and expectations. There’s the pressure of university applications while simultaneously completing Internal Assessments, and feeling like they need to show that they’re performing in tests to get good predicted grades for university. I think that the first semester of the 2nd year of the DP, any Diploma coordinator will tell you, is the most challenging. And I think that it still catches parents and students out.” 

Dr. Zoe Badcock – AP and IB DP Coordinator, International School of Zug & Luzern.

“We are often inundated with requests for assistance for revision at critical points in the year, or for help getting started on essays with deadlines just around the corner. The best advice we can give is that it is important that students take their DP coordinators’ advice on timelines and schedules seriously to avoid very stressful moments for parents, students, teachers and tutors alike!”

Sandra Steiger – Academic Support Manager at TutorsPlus

If your child is struggling with ideas to get started or needs to revise structuring their coursework, encourage them to sit down with their teacher, a friend, you, or a tutor to help set their ideas out. While the student must complete the IAs and the EE independently, there’s no limit to how much students can talk their ideas through and receive advice on how to move forward if they’re stuck. We recommend that:

  • Your child spends time over the summer reflecting on all the learning and feedback they’ve ever received on organisational skills. Put an action plan in place that helps them to organise themselves. Ask your teen how they arrange themselves – and explore different methods if they haven’t yet found what works for them.
  • Stay in touch with the deadlines. If their teacher warns them of a “crunch time” where many deadlines will converge, mark it in red in the family calendar. Help your child get started extra early on any preparation needed for these tasks to avoid unnecessary panic and stress”.

When students are thinking about organisation and maintaining a healthy schedule, what should they bear in mind?

“There isn’t a one size fits all formula. Some students would not do well if they didn’t have sports as an outlet, although physical activity is part of the IB programme. Some need the rush from playing on a very competitive football team and I would never want to take that away from them. If I see someone who seems to be overextended, I would talk to the family and advise them, especially in year two, to think about curtailing a little bit. However, most students do this on their own. 

As a school, we try to have an overview of what else students are doing, outside of academics. How many clubs they belong to, and to which sports teams they belong. Many of our students belong to teams in their local communities, which the school may not know. Overseeing all the students and getting the full picture of what’s going on in their lives helps us better understand when some students aren’t doing as well as they would like to do.”

Joseph Amato – IB DP Coordinator, Zurich International School.

“We’ve always said that the IB Diploma is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s crucial that students pace themselves well. Towards the end, they need to be prepared to focus their remaining time and energy on the task at hand, while still eating well, and being active and social as this is well known to combat stress.”

Sandra Steiger – Academic Support Manager at TutorsPlus

Some final things to add to your pre-first semester checklist! 

  • If your child has a very active life outside of school, make sure the school knows so they better understand your child’s situation and can help balance demands on their time. 
  • Students should keep active and involved in sports, theatre, music, and clubs that make them happy. Having these non-academic outlets is essential. Just prepare them already for the idea that by the 2nd year of the IB DP they may need to cut down on these to be able to manage the workload.

TutorsPlus can provide specialist IB tutors, experienced with all areas of the curriculum, exam preparation, as well as organisation and time management. If you feel your child has any gaps ahead of moving into the IB Diploma, we’d be happy to match them with an experienced tutor who will ensure they move forward with confidence and solid foundations. The summer break can be a great time to review and prepare ahead of the IB Diploma journey. 

You can reach TutorsPlus at 022 731 8148 or

By Sandra Steiger – Academic Support Manager at TutorsPlus 

Sandra Steiger has over ten years’ experience teaching English at various schools in Switzerland. She now works as Academic Support Manager at TutorsPlus. During her six years at the International School of Geneva, she was also the Service Learning programme Coordinator, International Award Supervisor, a Homeroom Mentor and Head of Year 8. 

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