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Understanding the core components of IB

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There are many components that make the IBDP (International Baccalaureate Diploma Program) the way it is. Apart from the six subject groups, there are three mandatory, key components namely: Extended Essay (EE), Theory of Knowledge (ToK) and Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS). All of these components cover entirely different and interesting aspects and approaches. 

  • The extended essay is an essay where you research and experiment a specific research question on one particular subject. It is a self-directed piece of research in 4000 words. All in all, I would call this an extensive IA (Internal Assessment).  
  • The ToK essay and presentation, in summary, is just a way of questioning everything around you and your thoughts. Writing this essay was not my strongest suit, but it definitely gave me an insight on how to think things through before coming to a conclusion. 
  • CAS is probably where you can have the most fun during the course of IB. This gives you a chance to participate and involve yourself in multiple different things in creativity, activities and services. Additionally, not only does this personally benefit your school experience, it also adds weight to your college applications in terms of extracurricular activities. Therefore, I’d ask you to make the most and best out of it.

Why do we need to do an extended essay? What is the significance?

Firstly, going through with this research prepares you for all the documents that you would have to write for your undergraduate degree, depending on the major you choose. So this would be a practice run for the 50 documents to come. This also opens a door of opportunity for you to pick a subject that interests you and explore everything you can.

A bonus tip would be to pick a subject and a subsequent topic that is relevant to your major as the college admission board will know that you are really passionate about the course you want to pick. It gives your college application an upper hand compared to the other applications.

Throughout the course of this essay, you tend to learn multiple things. Some include:

  • You learn to communicate better. This is because you’re trying to get the reader to understand what it is that you’re trying to do through the research document. Communication is an important skill that is assessed while grading the extended essay. The reader merely needs to understand it at the end of the day. As for my extended essay, it took me a while to familiarize myself with the kind of language that I had to use. However, after a lot of drafts and re-reading, it still surprises me from where it started and to how it is now in terms of everything. 
  • Additionally, you will also learn to be able to develop efficient arguments as the EE means to prove whatever you have done in the experiment and justify your results.

The extended essay is majorly done by the student, however, you will have 3 interactions with your supervisor in order to gain a sense of direction as to how your extended essay has been going and what needs to be done to improve it. These are called reflection sessions.

The final reflection session is practically an interview called viva voce where your supervisor questions you on the content of the extended essay. As long as you know what you have done, there is nothing to be worried about for the viva voce. I was in fact unnecessarily worried, but it turned out to be fine as I knew my EE thoroughly given the amount of time I spent on it just reading.

How is the Extended Essay graded:

External examiners grade the EE on a scale from 0 to 34. Depending on the score, it will be categorized into bands. They are:

  • A: excellent standard 
  • B: good standard
  • C: satisfactory standard
  • D: mediocre standard
  • E: elementary standard

What does a CAS project involve?

CAS requires students to engage in a variety of experiences and one project. While doing so, you will need to document these experiences in a CAS journal using photos and text. These activities should incorporate:

  • Ones with a bigger purpose 
  • It can be taken up as a personal challenge 
  • Planning and reporting while reviewing progress
  • Reflections on the learning outcomes 

These experiences and projects are not initiated by the school, hence allowing complete freedom for students to do whatever they wish to. These activities can include creativity, activity or service or all three together. 

The creativity part of CAS accounts to the arts and any other experience that involves creative thinking. Some examples for creativity projects are:

  • Learning a new musical instrument 
  • Learning a new language using Duolingo for instance
  • Learning a new art medium
  • Teaching your interests online as a free workshop
  • Learning to cook or bake
  • Starting clubs in something that interests you
  • Taking up photography
  • Write short stories
  • Start a youtube channel

The activity part of CAS entails physical exertion contributing to a healthy lifestyle whilst complimenting academic work. Some examples for activity projects are:

  • Start a workout routine – take up Zumba classes or join the gym
  • Go on a yoga retreat
  • Take up a sport; anything from archery to badminton 
  • Try skateboarding
  • Go on a hike on an early morning with your pet doggo
  • Participate in a swimming competition – doesn’t matter if you win or lose!
  • Go on a marathon for a cause! (counts as a service too)

The service part of CAS is an unpaid activity where you can volunteer to help people as well as gain personal experience. Some examples for service projects are:

  • Volunteer at a charity
  • Volunteer at a local government
  • Volunteer at a local hospital
  • Organize a bake sale
  • Be a part of a food stall
  • Organize fundraisers
  • Volunteer at an animal shelter
  • Do campaigns on worldwide issues
  • Volunteer at a nursing home

What does the ToK presentation and essay entail?

IB gives the opportunity for students to reflect on the nature of knowledge on how we claim to know what we know. It really gets the student thinking and teaches them to evaluate their surroundings and understand how the world revolves around them. ToK aims for students to be aware of how they interpret knowledge.

This can include personal opinions based on their experiences or factual knowledge that they obtain from what happens in the world. This offers the students to reflect critically on the different kinds of areas of knowledge. They also consider the role and nature of the knowledge in their own culture and the culture in others. 

The ToK prompts instigate the students to be thinkers as per one of the characteristics that makes a student an IB student. This allows them to be more engaged and acquainted with how complex it can get. It also helps students realize that the world is moving at a fast and unknown pace and that there is a lot happening around which requires them to act accordingly and responsibly.

For me, ToK developed a fascination towards how rich you can be with just knowledge along with the understanding of how empowerment follows upon reflecting on it. It also helped me diversify my way of thinking instead of adhering to just one conventional way. It made me think, there is no one right answer. Everyone has a different opinion that makes sense in their own ways. Why don’t I go down that path too? 

Upon completing this, students learn to apply their knowledge with greater awareness and credibility. The core content of ToK focuses on answering questions like such:

  • What counts as knowledge
  • Who owns knowledge
  • What is the value of knowledge

The ToK presentation can be done in groups or individually. As for the essay, IB provides essay topics where the student has to pick one and write 1600 words on it. Some include:

  • “To what extent are areas of knowledge shaped by their past? Consider two areas of knowledge.”
  •  “’There is no reason why we cannot link facts and theories across disciplines and create a common groundwork of explanation.’ To what extent do you agree with this statement?”

ToK is externally assessed based on a 1200 to 1600-word essay on a prescribed title by the IB and internally assessed based on a 10-minute group (for each student) or individual presentation. The presentation requires students to identify and explore the knowledge issues raised by a substantial real-life situation that interests them.

These core components focus on everything outside the academic parts of IB. Fortunately, these are core components because personally, I believe doing the EE, ToK and CAS projects has sculpted me in different aspects thereby making me a more aware and better individual.

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