How to choose your subjects in IB

alphabet blur books close up

Part of the IB experience involves the tension of choosing your final subjects for your final two years. As fun as having choice is, making sure those choices are decent for your sanity and your future are… not as fun. 

As a previous IB student who managed to successfully graduate back in 2020, here’s how and why I chose my 6 subjects, and the (subjective) pros and cons of the subjects.

Group 1: English Language & Literature A HL

Reason for choice: English was a core subject for us, however, I chose English HL because it was a subject I found interesting, and I do actually enjoy English. I also chose it as I had a feeling I’d pursue it in some way in University. Furthermore, coming from an IB school in Asia, it helped verify my English language capabilities.


  1. Develops vocabulary, and broadens exposure to differing forms of media, cultural contexts, and mass communication
  2. Allows for exploration of cultural, historical, and societal contexts
  3. Exposure to differing forms of assessment 
  4. The exam paper types are definitely useful for university preparation in the Arts (in essay writing subjects from my experience)


  1. Texts you read in class are highly dependent on your teacher 
  2. Memorising quotes from texts can be difficult for Paper 2
  3. The final exam for Paper 1 is highly dependent on the IB’s choice of comparative texts and can be hard to prepare for outside of merely practising 

Extra notes: If you do enjoy the literature aspect of English more (meaning critical study and contexts), then go for literature!

Group 2: Chinese B SL

Reason for choice: Chinese B was another mandatory subject with no alternative for me, personally. 


  1. You get exposure to a different language and its culture
  2. You gain basic proficiency regarding certain topics and situations in the language 


  1. Chinese itself, can be a really difficult language to learn 
  2. The schooling system in general doesn’t necessarily have the capacity of teaching you to achieve native-like proficiency due to time, nature, and resources, therefore you can feel like you’re not learning anything 

Extra notes: If you have another language you are already fluent in, you have the option of taking it as a Group 2 subject! A subjective wish of mine would’ve been to complete my Group 2 in my ethnic language – Nepali – however, that’s just a subjective regret. If you wish to do a Group 2 in your mother tongue, or another language, make sure you achieve fluency!

Group 3: Psychology HL

Reason for choice: I personally chose Psychology as once again, I was decently interested in the concept of psychology and how it works from an emotional perspective – a more Arts perspective, rather than the science behind it.


  1. Develop a pretty good beginner’s insight into psychology 
  2. I took a Year 1 Psych subject in uni, and a lot of the information from IB Psych was extremely transferable which was great 
  3. The exams are straight-forward in terms of understanding what is required, and how to practice for them


  1. Can be very content-heavy 
  2. Higher Level has to prepare for an entirely different paper with extra topics to learn and engage with

Extra notes: Group 3 subjects offer much variety and if you plan on pursuing something based on the Humanities, then definitely ensure you choose an equivalent. For example, if you think you’ll pursue commerce in uni, go for a Group 3 in Business Management, or Economics. If you don’t think you’ll pursue something Humanities related, you could either:

  1. Choose something that interests you
  2. OR
  3. Choose a subject that has some sort of transferable skill to the area you’d like to pursue

Group 4: Sports, Exercise, and Health Science SL

Reason for choice: When I took IB, Food science wasn’t an option, because if it was, I definitely would’ve taken it. I knew I wouldn’t be pursuing something science related, so I took a subject I found enjoyable, and personally, easier. The main aspect of science I find decently interesting, and would retain higher grades in, was biology application. Therefore, SEHS was the closest subject I had available to me at the time. 


  1. Much more focused biology-specific subject 
  2. The topics are interesting and definitely more unique compared to what we learn in the IB MYP 
  3. I know some of my classmates liked to pair it with Biology as a double science if they were planning to pursue something related to anatomy and body physiology 


  1. As a science subject by itself, there’s a chance certain universities won’t recognise it as a science subject, due to requesting a more traditional science subject (e.g. Chemistry or Biology)
  2. Can be content-heavy for a standard level subject 

Extra notes: Group 4 is similar to Group 3, in which they both do have quite a few options. If you’re planning to pursue subjects in the sciences, choose an equivalent that will relate to what you’ll choose in university. I personally, do have a small regret in taking this subject, as it did hinder my ability to pursue anything related to the sciences. Therefore, I would encourage you all to take this subject with another science, or if you’re fully confident you will not pursue something science related. 

Group 5: Mathematics SL

Reason for choice: Like Group 1 and 2, we have to take Maths in some shape or form. I actually studied the old Maths course so I didn’t have the choice between ‘Analysis and Approaches’ and ‘Applications and Interpretations’. I probably would have chosen ‘Application and Interpretation’, as once again, I wasn’t planning on pursuing anything related to the science and mathematical area. 


  1. Universities commonly have some sort of Mathematic subject requirement, meaning that having this subject broadens the universities you can apply to
  2. Maths is a useful standard subject to have in your repertoire 
  3. The new course structure definitely allows more variety and variation tailored towards students with differing careers in mind
  4. You can get a lot of practice with past papers 


  1.  For students like me who find Maths to be a more challenging subject, it can be difficult to understand at times
  2. There are some units which are completely new; those can be difficult to understand even at standard level 
  3. Quite a bit of time has to be dedicated to practising the questions

Extra notes: Make sure to take a look at the differences between ‘Analysis and Approaches’ and ‘Applications and Interpretations’, and see which one has more material required for your possible career pathway or is more understandable for you, if you don’t necessarily need maths for your career path. 

Group 6: Theatre HL

Reason for choice: Theatre is part of the Group 6, commonly dubbed the Arts category, or where you have more free range to pick a second Humanities or Science subject. I personally chose Theatre as a fun subject to do, because I didn’t want to do a second Humanities or Science subject. I ended up doing a second major with some influence with Theatre, so it worked out well. 


  1. Different from other subjects, allowing for more variety and movement
  2. No exams 😀 
  3. Ability to explore different style of content, and learning method; involve yourself in a more creative subject
  4. Standard gets to have a huge chunk of their timetable freed up after finishing their assessments


  1. Can be time-consuming 
  2. There’s a lot of writing you actually have to do that equate to your grade too 

Extra notes: Theatre is an interesting subject to participate in, if you would like the creativity, and performance element. Theatre has a collaborative aspect, and a solo performance (HL only) to do, along with quite a bit of written work, so if that doesn’t interest you, Theatre will probably not be a great option for you. 

Written by

  • Khusi Batas has been tutoring the IB since her graduation in 2020. Passionate about the power of words, Khusi spends much of her spare time reading and writing. She currently tutors English Language & Literature, Psychology and Theatre and is pursuing a career in teaching.

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