How to Survive the Difficult HLs in the IBDP


Choosing the right academic path and interest can be a hassle for the students and for the parents as well. For sure!! And that the right academic path should pave the way for their success. It should not only make their journey good and smooth but also provide a good and bright future for them. One of the academic curricula we would be exploring today is the IB (International Baccalaureate) curriculum. It is a highly rigorous and demanding program that prepares students for college-level courses and challenges each student with managing time given a tedious schedule.

The IB system offers different programs for children in the age group 3-19 years and broadly classified as

IB Primary Year Program (IBPYP) – nurtures and develops students in the age group 3 -12 years. The program not only focuses on the student as an inquirer but also on the world beyond.

IB Middle Year Program(IBMYP) It is a 5-year program implemented in schools for students in the age group 11-16 years. The assessment is taken at the end of the 5 years, based on which the result is evaluated and the certifications are issued.

IB Diploma Program (IBDP) It is a 2-year course in which students gain academic excellence and an overall personality boost.

IB Career-Related Program – guides a way to higher education or employment.

The IB DP offers a broad curriculum and is made of the DP core elements and six subject groups.

The three core elements are

  • Theory of Knowledge (TOK) – In this the students reflect on the nature of knowledge and on how we know what we claim to know
  • The Extended Essay (EE) –This is an independent, self-directed piece of research, culminating in a 4000-word essay
  • Creativity, Activity, Service – In this the students complete a project related to the 3 concepts.

The six subject groups are

  • Studies in Language and Literature
  • Language Acquisition
  • Individuals and Societies
  • Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • The arts

And there are different courses in each subject group to choose from. Students choose courses from the six groups, They have the option to do additional Sciences, Individuals and Societies, or Languages courses instead of the Arts group. Also, they will have to take some subjects at the higher level (HL) and some at the standard level (SL). Though both level courses differ in scope, they are measured according to the same grade descriptors, with the students required to demonstrate a greater body of knowledge, understanding and skills at the HL. Each student takes at least three and not more than four at the HL and remains at the SL.

SL takes about 150 teaching hours, and HL requires 240 teaching hours. The difference between the two levels is definitely the level of difficulty, but that does not mean the subjects at the HL are intimidating and meant to be avoided. Just that the HL subjects delve deeper into the concepts that the SL cover. For example, SL would discuss the theory and formulae behind calculus and the HL would use those concepts into different real-life situations. In simple terms, SL discusses the ‘what’ of the subject and the HL would discuss the ‘how’ and ‘why’.

With such a broad curriculum offered by the IB system, it is common that the student would have a couple of subjects that are difficult to grasp. It totally depends on the individual abilities of the students to have their challenging list of subjects.

The most important thing is that many IB students have been in this scenario and they have been able to deal with the problem, Regardless of what subjects that challenging lists have, what matters is that there are ways/solutions that really work – and those need to be discovered by the student himself.


Tips to Help the Students for Difficult HLs

Here are a few tips to help the students discover the solutions that work for them and navigate through the difficult HLs.


Time Management/Time Schedule

After knowing your requirements for the diploma, you might want to start a timetable for yourself. Of course, everyone learns and reflects at different paces and for each subject learning and reflecting times are unique for you. So, make your schedule accordingly allotting the time for each subject as per your requirement to devote the learning hours. And once the time schedule is set, sticking to it is yet another difficult task. This will test you on your ability of self-discipline. Remind yourself every day of your deadlines and track the progress of your studies and activities.


New Methods and Study Strategies

We all know that if there is a problem, there are many ways to tackle that problem. And this applies to your studies as well. If you are struggling with understanding or remembering content, try changing the revision strategy. What works for one subject may not work for others. Mathematics is a subject with the purpose to solve problems. So learning mathematics relates to recalling the right concept, effectively to solve the problem. And the goal of science subject is to know how and why things happen. So, we must be aware of the observations and experiments to develop explanations. Language is majorly knowing words and how to use them in vocabulary, and grammar to communicate. Hence the learning is just memorization. Thus, changing the strategy for each subject and considering your learning ability, devise a method to study that subject.


Plan Ahead

Once you are sure that you have challenges with a couple of your chosen subjects, be proactive and tackle them sooner, since you need more time and effort to get to where you want to be in those subjects. Staying ahead means preparing early. Don’t wait for your teacher to cover the topics in class. Use the holidays to begin learning the new content independently. When the new semester arrives, you can use the class time for clarification, revision, and consolidation. Planning ahead reduces stress big time.


Critical Thinking Rather than Memorization

The core values of the IB program include ‘being an inquirer, balanced, principled, and knowledgeable, risk takers, communicator, open-minded, caring, and reflective’. The IB offers formula booklets and factual statements during the examination. The purpose is to let the students know that memorization is not the key to knowledge. Hence the trick lies in how you can interpret and manipulate what you already know and what’s given to you – a critical thinker. So, it is important to think critically and reflect on such ideas in your papers.


Make Summary Notes

As you prepare take notes. This is an important skill to have. These notes should cover the key aspects of each subject – key concepts, equations or examples associated. Do not try to cover it in detail as it will be difficult for you to remember. Once the notes are jotted down, create summaries, and keep going over them. As you recall the points, you will be able to recall the details associated with them too.


Asking for Help

Sometimes regardless of how structured you are, you might find yourself struggling to score well in the subjects or certain topics in the syllabus. This is the time you need to put your hesitations away and get help. Help can be in the form of understanding a concept, getting other perspectives for your work, or getting feedback for your work for any improvements. It can be anyone you feel comfortable to converse and getting help

  • Friends
  • Parents
  • Relatives
  • Class Teachers
  • Online tutoring classes


Manya – The Princeton Review Advantage

Manya – The Princeton Review offers end-to-end study abroad services encompassing admissions consulting services, test preparation, English language training, career assessment, and international internship opportunities to study abroad aspirants. Founded in 2002, Manya holds an impeccable track record of enabling more than 4 lac students to accomplish their study abroad dreams through its network of 47+ centers across India.

Manya has formed long-lasting global alliances with several market leaders in the education industry in order to maximize the benefits of its large service portfolio. Their list of esteemed partners and affiliations includes – The Princeton Review (TPR), Cambridge University Press (CUP), Cogito Hub, British Council, Tuding to name a few. Manya has also forged 600+ partnerships with international universities across top study abroad destinations.

Sharing is caring:
Book your Free Counselling Session now!


What are the most challenging HLs in the IBDP?

The most challenging HLs in the IBDP can vary depending on your strengths and interests. However, traditionally the most difficult HLs are Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry.

How important is time management for HLs?

Time management is crucial for HLs as it can help you manage your workload and avoid last-minute cramming. Effective time management can also help you reduce stress and anxiety, and improve your overall academic performance.

How can you prepare yourself for the challenging HLs?

To prepare yourself for challenging HLs, start early by reviewing the course materials before classes, practicing regularly, and seeking additional help when needed. You can also look for online resources or join study groups to enhance your learning.

What are the study techniques that work best for HLs?

Different study techniques work for different students. However, some effective study techniques include making study notes, practicing past papers, creating mind maps, and studying in a quiet environment.

What resources are available to help you survive difficult HLs?

There are several resources available to help you survive difficult HLs, including online study resources, textbooks, study groups, and tutoring services. You can also seek help from your teachers or academic advisors.

Just One Step Away!
Our Experts require more information to assist you in a better way.

Your privacy is important to us

Admissions Consulting Packages

IGCSE & IB Side Banner