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  • Zain Asif

The Perfect Method to Actively Learn in your IB Classroom 🏫

Stop wasting time in class! This is a breakdown of exactly what to do in the IB classroom to get a 7. I will teach you about realistic and doable ways to actively learn in class for any subject.

Essentially, the most important use of the classroom is to understand and apply the concepts the IB needs us to know for the exams. Doing this means we can effectively study them later on at home. So I made a guide on just that, specifically for IB subjects.

Usually, we just walk into class and go with the flow. Copy some notes of the board/slides whilst vaguely understanding what's going on. And then we move onto the next lesson. I've been doing this since school started and it never felt right to me. So, what should we actually be doing during class?

I asked myself this many times in university. But after experimenting a lot, I finally came up with a method to maximise learning effectively in lectures and it was one of the reasons I ranked in the highest percentile! I really think this will be greatly beneficial.

Here is a step-by-step customised version of what to do in class for IB Students 😇

Upfront Summary

Phase 1: Scoping and Contextualising the lesson
  • 1.1 Scope: Get a grasp of the key ideas/learning objectives before class even begins.

  • 1.2 Contextualise: Review the lesson's main topics in the IB Subject Guide during class.

Phase 2: Recall Questions and Outline Method
  • 2.1 Recall Questions: Create questions from all the content being taught, so you can actively test yourself at home. Do not focus on making comprehensive notes.

  • 2.2 The Outline Method: Make simple outlines for the complex concepts, to ONLY consolidate your understanding of the topic in class.

Phase 1: Scoping and contextualising the lesson

Everyone gets so lost in the day to day of school. With so many things going on from your tests to your IAs, you never end up contextualising what you're learning in class. It is so easy to get confused about one detail, overestimate its importance and lose sight of the bigger picture.

This is why it is so important to scope and contextualise the lesson. It's the small habits that can make the lesson 10x more effective.

1.1 Scope your lesson

The first thing you should do is gain a general idea about the topics and sub-topics that are going to be taught today. Understand the takeaway points being taught in your class.

Teachers help you with this bit by giving learning objectives (LO) (if they don't, ask them to!). But instead of ignoring the LOs, as I did, intentionally use them to understand what the class is actually about. Simply writing 3-5 LOs down and understanding the main headings of the topic before the class even starts will give you an immediate head-start. It makes it easier to grasp all concepts being taught.

If you scope the key ideas in the lesson, you can gauge the importance of all topics being taught and avoid wasting time on pointless details. Understanding the general concepts prior to being taught about them allows students to have more time for deeper learning during the lesson. Everyone overlooks this but it is so important. Scope the topic out. It's so beneficial.

1.2 Contextualising with the IB subject guide

Where does the stuff you learn today fit inside the bigger picture?

The second step is to find the topic you're learning in the subject's guide either before or during your class and understand what the IB wants you to know about the topic.

For example, if you are being taught about nucleosomes, you should check the biology guide. You will notice that there are 2-3 content points that the IB wants you to know for the exams. Reviewing the guide briefly will allow you to a) understand where the topic fits in that unit and b) help you prioritise what to learn and note-down for the rest of the class.

Phase 2: Recall Questions + Outline Method

During my time in university, I realised early on that my lecture slides contained all the information I was required to learn for my exams. So, taking thorough notes or summarising from lectures seemed useless. However the lectures themselves, just like your classes, were very important for understanding the content. Hence, I had to change the way I approached note-taking in lectures.

2.1 The Recall Questions

Instead of writing notes or summarising content, I started to write down questions for myself during the classes. I would convert all of the content being discussed into questions. Then, I'd use textbooks and Wikipedia to improve the questions so that I could actively test myself on the topic in my own time.

This is a game-changing method for your classes. Converting information into quality questions:

  • Forces you to understand, prioritise and filter the concepts being taught in class.

  • Boosts your concentration immediately as you can't just passively copy things from the board.

  • Makes you ask questions and engage with the topic more or else you won't be able to create good questions for your revision.

2.2 Outline Method

I found that solely relying on the 'Recall Questions' to understand all the content in class is difficult at times. Especially, when you have to engage with harder conceptual information. Therefore, I occasionally supplemented the questions with simple note-taking in class. The most straight forward way to organise content from class is with the 'Outline Method'.

This was my favourite. Start with the main topic, nesting sub-topics with an indent and if there's supporting content nest it further. These are a default go-to and they are extremely easy to make. At this stage of your learning, you are only seeking to simplify the knowledge you receive in class. So, understand and organise the complicated topics in a way that make sense to you!

The purpose of these would be only to supplement further understanding of the topic, they don't have to be perfect looking. They just have to capture complex concepts that you can refer to from time to time. Do not rely on these notes, only use them to consolidate understanding IN CLASS.

Why you don't need to make more notes

Changing the way I did things in class was very difficult. At first, I felt very uneasy about only fuelling my learning with recall questions and some outlines. I was more used to taking comprehensive sets of notes and keeping them there as a safety blanket. But trust me, you DO NOT need to focus on making detailed notes in class because:

  1. Making notes is waste of time if you just summarise from the textbook or your class.

  2. Re-reading them, later on, is a very passive and ineffective way to learn.

  3. There are an abundance of verified IB resources for all subjects out there.

What to do on days when you feel like a wasteman?

It is unrealistic to expect all of us to perform our very best in all our classes. For the days when you can't be bothered to "efficiently work", there are still things you can do to not waste the entire lesson. The minimum you should be doing:

1) Stick to scoping the subject

Write the learning objectives or general headings down. Make sure you know what the lesson is about and where it fits in the overarching subject. It takes 5-10 minutes, very easy.

2) Write a few recall questions down

You can relax with note-taking. But make sure to write down some questions at least, for your revision. I know your focus won't be great on these days but put a few questions down.

3) Listen

Listen to everything being said and try to understand as much as you can. Come back to it after class, when you feel less lazy 🤣 Remember, that tiny bit of effort can go a long way.


At the end of it, you have to be comfortable with exploring your learning style in classrooms. Maybe you love making mind-maps and that's the best way you learn new concepts. Don't be afraid to fray away from what I'm saying and trying newer things. There's no harm. Construct your own method because any method that uses questions and minimises time waste on note-taking is solid.


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