For those of you who are entering DP Year I there may be a degree of trepidation about what is to come. There are plenty of websites and blogs out there that are dedicated to ‘telling you like it is’, which usually comes in the form of fear-mongering with a healthy dose of sarcasm. There are countless aphorisms, the most famous of which, in historical circles, is “the wisdom of the IB is that students are given 2 hours to write one English essay and 90 minutes for two in history.”
Well, today, I am not going to try and scare you – I am going to encourage you and tell you why IB history is not something to be afraid of.
First and foremost, the IB (and therefore your teacher) assumes no prior knowledge of historical information. You may look over your school’s curriculum and see a number of subjects that paralyze you with fear. For example, you may see ‘Apartheid in South Africa, 1948-1964’ and be worried that you are the only person in your school with no knowledge of this. That is most likely not the case. There may be a handful of students who have studied the subject, but, unless you find yourself in an IB school in southern Africa, you will not be alone.
Or, your school may do 20th century wars, and you are comfortable with the World Wars and Spanish Civil War, but you also see the Mexican Revolution and the Chinese Civil War on the list, and you know very little about either. Again, it’s fine; your teacher will be teaching these through the lens of a variety of concepts and major themes. With each war you cover, the themes will be reinforced, and you will learn the material in an effective and comparative manner.
In the first few weeks of class there will undoubtedly be students who seem to know a lot more than you: they raise their hand with every question, they speak eloquently and your confidence erodes. In time, however, you will find that your own skills begin to improve, you develop your own ideas and you begin to see the parallels and comparisons on your own. Others will be be feeling the same way. And those, smart, intimidating classmates will still be smart, but they will no longer intimidate.
Part of what you all need to realize is that you are all in this together – you are not competing against one another, you are competing against a test. This means that helping each other is mutually beneficial. Study groups are the way to go. Group projects and presentations are super helpful.
Similarly, the teacher is there to coach you and wants you to understand the material and methods of assessment to the best of your abilities. There is no bell-shaped curve in IBDP, so everyone can get top grades. However, top grades in DP history are not easy to achieve. Your teacher is not punishing you if you are not receiving 100% on your essays; they are just assessing you as you will be assessed by the IB examiners. If you have always received top marks, the first quarter can be difficult. You may get a 6 out of 15 on an essay and the teacher writes ‘good job’. They are not being ironic; you are adjusting to a new system and it takes time and practice to learn that system.
DP History is truly a challenging and rigorous course. But it is also a lot of fun. Most history teachers love the subject and are very happy to have a group of interested and motivated students in their DP classes. And their love of subject will become contagious. I have never had more heated arguments, or heard more raucous laughter than in my IB History classes. You may never take another history class in your life, but you will have better critical thinking skills, and you will understand the world around you better as a result of the class.
Good luck – and enjoy!
(UWC-USA history classroom, 2016)