My transition from IB diploma to Uni studies – OurWarwick

My transition from IB diploma to Uni studies

Valentina Calvi
Valentina Calvi | Philosophy, Politics and Economics Contact Valentina

The academic transition from high school to university learning is a delicate part of your university experience. The mode of learning is completely difference, the level of independent study required is higher and the depth of analysis will also require a shift in your approach to studying. As an IB graduate I’ll be speaking from my own experience, but I’m sure parts of this blog will be useful to other diploma graduates!


How IB prepared me for University

Personally I loved going through the IB diploma. It was academically challenging and at times puzzling (I still don’t understand what TOK is and I study philosophy), but I honestly thought it prepared me pretty well for my university studies. The IB diploma asks you to prepare an IA, an in-depth research paper, for all the subject you’re taking, and while these cannot be labelled similar in content to what is expected at university the mode of approaching a research question is somewhat comparable. Setting a precise scope for your essays, researching from a range of different sources, backing your assertions up with citations and producing in depth analysis are all skills the IB taught me and that I’ve definitely refined here at Warwick. Not only, but the study intensity and workload I experienced during my last two high school years gave me the self-assurance to confidently embark in my Uni studies, I personally felt my first year at Uni was a lot less stressful and intense than my final IB one.


I also feel like the approach to independent study is something I picked up from my IB years. When I had to prepare my Extended Essay in English Literature I had full liberty of choice for my topic, and had to independently decide how exactly I wanted to approach my chosen research question. This will be the case in nearly all your essays at Uni: you’ll have a wide range of very open essay questions to choose from and from second year onwards you may negotiate your personal essay title for certain modules. Knowing how to narrow down the scope of your essay is a crucial skill to produce meaningful analysis is a 1,500 word essay, and I feel like the IB, especially in subjects such as Literature and History has given me a good base to work on.


The differences between studying at the IB and University level

The principal differences are two: firstly the method of teaching and secondly the level of independent study you’ll be required to do. In high school you’re used to having classes that merge the certain aspects of lecturing with student interaction with the study materials. In Uni the two features are separated in lectures and seminars. Lecture sizes will greatly vary from module to module, from more than 200 to less than 30, while seminars have the tendency to have between 14 and 16 students. In university lecture you’re essentially expected to assimilate as much of what the lecturer is saying as possible, as while you can ask questions not all lecturers welcome them and you might disrupt the lesson for other students. Your best bet for asking specific questions is right after the lecture or during the lecturer’s office hours, they’ll be more than happy to address your concerns then. Seminars instead is when you’ll have the opportunity to have a closer look at the materials studied and start discussions or exercises on it. Your seminar tutor is there to guide the interaction, but it can be hard to remember all things discussed in the lecture if it was a few days prior, so make sure to refresh yourself on the content if you want to make the most out of your seminars.


Let us close with a note on independent study: it’s hard, it needs a good dose of self-discipline and diligence and it is not an automatic skill but rather something you’ll acquire with your time at Uni. You’ll be required to do all the readings for your seminars, and in most cases you’ll actually be discussing a fraction of it but completing the required and (when possible) the suggested reading is something you should do for yourself. Seminar tutors won’t care if you don’t do the readings, but the level of discussion in your groups will be lower and everyone loses when that happens. You’re supposed to do the readings because you’re interested and genuinely care about learning what you’re studying, not to please teachers or avoid detentions as might have been the case in high school. Its perhaps a little harsh, but at Uni nobody cares about your academic progress the way high school teachers cared, so you must take the responsibility of caring upon yourself.


Again, the transition from high school to Uni is a unique phase of one’s life, and while it’s impossible to completely extricate your academic experience from your wider uni experience I hope this blog has provided some useful information. I felt quite prepared to take on my university studies after graduating with an IB diploma, and I’m sure a lot of other programmes do just as good. Anyways, I’ll say it once more: it’s gonna be a learning curve, your first year does not count towards your final grade so take it as an opportunity to explore new learning methods. And don’t forget that Warwick has a lot of resources to help you with your academics, so don’t feel afraid to ask for help.    

Valentina Calvi
Valentina Calvi | Philosophy, Politics and Economics Contact Valentina

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