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She Swam, She Studied, She Scored!

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And lemonade she made!

We recently caught up with our former student, Emma, who dropped jaws when she scored a near-perfect 43 points for her IB Diploma. Emma achieved this feat despite having to juggle competitive swimming and her IB studies. In this interview article, Emma reflects about her time as an IB student - the challenges and euphoria she had experienced over the two short years. She also shares about the “happy dilemma” that arose from “a stellar IB score” before taking the time to generously dish out some handy IB survival and success tips.


Q: You have come very far since I first met you in Shanghai. Back then, you were in Dulwich College preparing for your IGCSE. You subsequently returned to Singapore to complete the IB Diploma at Hwa Chong International School. You are now embarking on your undergraduate studies at Asia's top

university, the National University of Singapore (NUS). I always ask my past

students this question as an ice breaker and I will do the same with you. Having taught you English and Literature for so many years, I am curious to find out what was the fondest piece of knowledge or advice you learnt from me? You may also answer the same question about Dr Boon who taught you Math!

When I came across something challenging, you always told me to not be afraid, that there is always a way to get it done. Over time, it slowly clicked that being scared never does any good. This is because I would have to do it regardless of whether I was scared or not. It changed my mindset completely and I slowly started to develop greater belief in myself which I think shaped me into becoming a confident person. As for Dr Boon, he taught me to challenge myself. In class, he would give us questions that were more difficult than exam standard. I learnt to appreciate that doing this made the exam feel a lot easier. This is applicable more generally to life as well. Taking up challenges is a way to push myself out of my comfort zone and allows me to stretch my potential. Also, as I get used to a higher standard, most things in life start to become simple and easy.

Q: You did very well for the IB Diploma! Could you share a little about your experience with the IB Diploma programme? Perhaps I can make this question easier for you. If I was to give you one word to describe your IB experience, what word would that be? And why?

I think the best way to describe my IB experience is that it was a rollercoaster. From the sleepless nights of doing internal assessments to the grind towards the final exams, and finally to having to eagerly await my fate on results day... My IB journey definitely wasn’t smooth. There was a point in the beginning of my 2nd year where I genuinely felt like I hit rock bottom. I was very behind on my coursework in general and was barely keeping up with the new content being taught. I didn’t know what my goal was, and I felt very lost. I think the turning point for me was when I miserably failed a test. I never considered myself an outstanding student but I had never failed so badly in my entire life. It dawned on me that I was doing something wrong and I could not keep doing what I was doing if I wanted to do well. Thankfully, my tutors were understanding. I was able to take a step back and evaluate what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. My tutors were supportive and helped me both academically and emotionally. I found a study method and schedule that worked for me. I

stuck to it and was able to achieve a final result that I am proud of.

Q: I remember you were very involved in activities outside of school such as

swimming. How was that like, having to juggle competitive swimming and studying?

I’m not going to lie and say that it was easy, because it wasn’t. Waking up at 5am multiple times a week for morning trainings before school can be extremely tiring. I had to find ways to cope and one of those ways was to make sure I set aside enough time before or after trainings to complete my school work.

Time was precious and I had to make full use of lesson time by asking all the questions I needed to make sure I understood what was being covered. This way, I could be faster in my revision. I would also better be able to complete any assigned work faster and with greater ease. So in short, I had to be smart and efficient with my time – that was how I was able to juggle swimming and studying. As a side note, I just want to say that morning trainings actually helped me to stay more focused and alert in school. Swimming was a good way for me release stress as well as being an effective form of exercise.

Q: I have to interject and ask this question because I am sure many of your IB juniors would be interested. Do you have any tips, advice or secrets for doing well in the IB?

One tip I have is to never be afraid to ask - for help and for clarification. It is very important to understand the concepts and not just blindly copy answers. Understanding what we are being taught can also make the learning process so much more interesting, and it can save a lot of time when you get to the homework part. If you are stuck on something, it never hurts to ask your friends or teachers for help. I don’t know why but I had this realisation quite late which is why I struggled a lot during the early part of my IB journey. That said, I want to say that it is important to remember that it is better to do it later than never do it at all.

Another piece of advice is to complete the coursework early. I was fortunate that my school had set their internal deadlines for coursework much earlier than the official ones given by the IBO. This gave me ample time to prepare for my final examinations, without having to worry about rushing out the coursework.

Finally and most importantly, believe that you can do it! Do not underestimate the power of a positive mindset.

Q: If you could only choose one, what is the one thing you hope or want to achieve in your time as an undergraduate?

Practically speaking, the main purpose of studying in a university is to learn and develop skills to prepare us for a job in the workforce. But more than that, I want to be able to find a specific area within my course that I enjoy and that I can see myself working in. University is a whole new experience, and I am lucky to be in a position to have many opportunities such as internships and workshops to experience. I will make the best use of these opportunities to see what area I would be interested in pursuing.

Q: So what is in store for Emma? I'm going to put you in the spot and ask you where do you see yourself or hope to see yourself in 10 years?

I am honestly not completely sure of what I want to be doing 10 years down the road, and I have a feeling it will change. For now, I hope to have a management role working in something related to machine learning, business intelligence, or data science. As business analytics is a field that is constantly growing and changing, I hope to continue learning how to use new technologies and grow my knowledge base.

Q: One final question before I let you go. What advice would you give your slightly younger self - a 15/16 year old Emma who is about to start on her two-year IB journey?

It may sound cheesy, but I would say not to worry, and that it will work out in the end. I was always so worried I wasn’t making the right decision. And trust me, I made many wrong decisions. But those wrong decisions turned out to be blessings in disguise because I picked up so many valuable lessons from them.

So just worry less and enjoy the process!


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