Preparing for the Baccalaureate


MY EDUCATION WEEK:Stephanie Bruce-Smith, International Baccalaureate student, St Andrew’s College, Dublin


Three months to the exams, folks! Did that give you a fright, Leaving Certs? Well don’t panic – that’s just for those of us taking the International Baccalaureate (IB) this year. Along with 30 other students in St Andrew’s College in Booterstown I will be sitting my first exam on the first of May. The flipside is that I’ll be finished by the end of the month just as the other 50,000 people my age are about to begin.

Best get going on my essay. A lot of the marks I need for my final result come from projects I do during the year, including this 4,000 word academic essay on Margaret Thatcher, due in this week. I’ve been working on it for months – too long really, when you consider it’s only worth 1.5 marks out of a total of 45.

My essay is on Thatcher’s invasion of the Falklands. I’ve been so busy with citations, references, bibliographies and trying to find the right cover sheet that I haven’t even had time to go and see Meryl Streep play the Iron Lady herself.


I just finished my IB mocks last week so I took some time off this weekend; slept, read, babysat, watched Lie to Me, practised violin (to get back in the good books with my music teacher) and did a draft design experiment for a physics internal assessment.


Back to school where it’s very subdued because the 120 Andrew’s students taking the Leaving Cert are sitting their mocks this week.

I’m glad to be finished.

I decided to do the International Baccalaureate instead of the Leaving Cert because I wanted to do fewer subjects in more depth. My brother did the Leaving so I’m familiar with that exam and it’s not for me.

With the IB, I do six subjects and only four in great depth – English, Maths, history and Spanish. It’s closer to the level you’d study at university.

From the start it helped me with my career choice. Originally I planned to go for medicine but after a few months of studying chemistry at IB level I realised it was not what I wanted to do at college. On the other hand English, which was my weakest subject at Junior Cert, became my favourite subject when I did it at the depth of the IB. It’s more analytical with a wider choice of texts.


I spent some time today finalising applications for UK universities.

I’ve already been over there for one interview and have received an offer from a university in York. I am also filling out the CAO, due next week. The IB can be used for Irish universities as well, but you don’t get quite as much bang for your buck. In order to match a student who gets 600 leaving Cert points, I would need to get 45 IB points, which is the maximum. That is not easy – the exam is recognised as being harder. Even Oxford only looks for 35 to 40 IB points for entry.

Still, it can be done. About half of last year’s IB class in St Andrew’s went to Irish universities, they rest are in international universities.

I’m going for courses mainly in the area of English and politics. I’m really enjoying the IB English curriculum. We don’t have to write any creative essays, it’s all analytical which suits me. I’m interested in debating and have travelled to London, the Hague and Macedonia with the Model United Nations branch here at Andrew’s. My last trip was in October – I haven’t done much debating in the meantime but I hope to get back into it over Easter.

There’s an International Model United Nations Conference in Andrew’s each year. About 750 second-level students from all over the world will be here over the Easter holidays. They will come from 50 schools representing 26 countries and 70 different nationalities. I don’t want to miss that.

The exams may be looming but I’m not too stressed. Because a good proportion of the marks are already secure before the exam starts, it has kept me focused right from the start. Half of my English marks will already be behind me by the time I sit my exam. The exams themselves are shorter than the Leaving Cert – the longest paper is less than two hours. The science papers (I study chemistry and physics at standard level) are only 45 minutes to an hour.


Working on my Theory of Knowledge essay today. This is a project that all IB students must complete.

It focuses on developing skills of critical analysis and thought, and examines ideas of ‘knowing’; perception, emotion, language and reasoning, arts, mathematics, history, ethics and science.

The essay choices are interesting, such as: ‘How important are the opinions of experts in the search for knowledge?’; ‘To what extent are the various areas of knowledge defined by their methodologies rather than their content?’; and ‘There are no absolute distinctions between what is true and what is false. Discuss.’

I like these analytical essays. They give me a chance to examine what I’ve learned. The Leaving Cert is more about repeating what you’ve learned.


Read some of Kafka’s Metamorphosistoday, as part of my English course. Also went horse riding after school. I’m trying to keep hockey and horse riding going throughout my exam year.

We still do PE in school, in fact it’s the only class I still share with the Leaving Cert students in the school. At first, doing the IB was a bit like starting in a new school because I went into different classes with some students I may not have known so well before, and a number of overseas students who came to Andrew’s specifically to study the IB. I still hang out with my Leaving Cert friends at breaks and outside school though, so I still feel part of the bigger school system, but I have come to know the 30 IB students much better.

I practised with the school orchestra in the afternoon. Looking back, perhaps I should have taken music as an IB subject. I’m still taking two science subjects though, just to keep my options in medicine open.

You never know.


This week has been a bit of a calm period before the storm. By next week I’ll be back to the books in earnest, with just three months to go until the IB starts. The way I study will be different from my Leaving Cert peers.

There’s not much point in practising past papers for the IB because the questions do not repeat – the whole idea is to present you with a question you have not been asked before and to challenge you to apply your learning. I also still have quite a bit of coursework to prepare, including some presentations.

This weekend, however I will take a deep breath before diving in again.

Must go and see that Thatcher film after my essay is safely handed up and it cannot influence my judgement on the Falklands.

This week I was . . .

Listening to

Bon Iver, Oasis and Second Hand Serenade


Not following any series so have only being watching the news


Before I Go to Sleep (SJ Watson) and Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)


Facebook, Youtube and the BBC website