“Plate spinning is a circus manipulation art where a person spins plates or other flat objects on poles without them falling off.“
Doing the IB can feel a bit like this. You’re trying to do so many things at once that it can feel impossible. And all those things, they’re all incredibly different. After all, a chemistry experiment is nothing like a philosophy essay. But despite the crazy amount of things you have to do in the IB there is a formula for how to approach IB projects which successful students use all the time. Now I’m going to explain it to you.
No matter what the IB project you are working on – essay, experiments, internal assessment, EE etc. – things can always be broken down into three stages:
Planning, Execution and Assessment
This involves deciding on what you need to do and organising a strategy to get there. The first step is always the same, it starts with a question and answer
Question: Where do I find out what to do if I want top marks in this work?
Answer: The Mark-scheme / Syllabus
The mark scheme or answer gives you specific goals. If you read the mark scheme for the practical work in science it says that you should produce results that are reliable. That is a goal. You must then create a ‘todo list’ that will tell you what to do to achieve that goal. So, for a science project you might have the following lists:
Obtain reliable results
1) Check equipment to make sure it works
2) Repeat experiment 3 times
Recap: Planning is the stage where you work out what goals are necessary to get top marks. You do this using the mark-scheme, syllabus and the advice of your teacher. Then you turn your goals into simple ‘todo list’ items. This makes it very clear which action you should be taking at any time.
This is, in theory, the simplest step. You are simply carrying out the tasks you set for yourself in the planning stage. The tricky part is navigating the problems that will occur. And problems will occur. Whether your computer dies just before you can print your essay, or you drop you find out your teacher was wrong about the mark scheme and your project was planned based on their poor advice, things can always go wrong. What you need to do is to make sure you are ready for it. Here’s how:
- Good habits. This means making sure you save your work regularly, making sure you print more than 5 minutes before hand in time, making sure you have things organised so they don’t get lost.
- Assume the worst. This means thinking about what could go wrong. Maybe the school printer will break – so print at home the night before. Maybe your teacher was wrong about the mark scheme – so have your own copy and know it yourself. Maybe the person with the powerpoint presentation will be sick before your TOK presentation – make sure everyone else has a copy too. Assume everything will go wrong and you will always be ready, no matter what.
- Stick to the plan. Execution should be the most straightforward part of the process. If you start to make things more complicated for yourself you are asking for trouble. This means that if your plan says ‘try the reaction with two different chemicals’ then try it with two chemicals. Don’t think ‘Oh well, three will be even better’ and change your plan at the last minute. Only change plans when things go wrong. Otherwise stick to the plan.
Recap: Build up good habits, assume everything will go wrong and then stick to the plan. If you do this, your execution will be as successful as is humanly possible.
This is the final stage of your work, but it is also tied to the first. Assessment is about how your work will be received. Therefore, you will naturally be thinking about assessment when you decide on your goals and ‘todo list’. You are always assessed on two things: content and presentation. Your mark scheme will help a lot, but remembering that these two things are how you are assessed will make your life easier and your work better. Below are examples of content and presentational elements.
- Your ideas
- Technical language
- Author’s voice
Recap: You should plan with both content and style in mind. Then after you have finished producing your work you should check again for the quality of both your style and your work’s content.
That’s it! Follow this structure and you will see your performance improve in all you IB projects and work. Oh, but before you go, something you should know…
One of the biggest dangers that IB students face is mixing planning, execution and assessment. Your brain is quite good at doing one task at a time, however, if you try to mix the three stages things become very confusing.
You might, for example, have started writing an essay and thought ‘I wonder if this is going to be good enough?’ This is you trying to assess whilst trying to execute – and it doesn’t work. The same thing is true if you are trying to do a science experiment and you decide to change the experiment halfway through. Here you are mixing planning with execution. Not good.
To be really successful you must make sure you keep these three separate. This means you can carry out each stage effectively and without confusion.