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TOPPER TRIO: Three ABA students share the secrets of their success in IBDP

29 Jul 2020 By HUBERT VAZ

If the ‘Class of 2020’ of ABA – An IB World School had anything that made it stand out from the rest of the students passing out every year during the illustrious history of this educational institution, it was exceptional grit and determination combined with an outstanding zeal to excel against all odds. 

It were these qualities that brought forth a stunning result for the school this year, as its Class of 2020, despite challenging circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, achieved excellent results. Coping with online learning and the sudden changes to assessment requirements from the International Baccalaureate, ABA students achieved an average points score of 34, which was well above the world average of 29.9. 

The maximum number of points in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) is 45, and this year, nine ABA students achieved 40 or more points, which globally is in the top 9%. These include three toppers – Fatma Hani al Bahrani (Omani), Ana Sofia Garcia (Columbian) and Rita Yammine (Canadian) who achieved a world-class score of 42, putting them in the top 4% of IB DP graduates worldwide.

While Simon Walker, ABA High School Principal, tipped his hat to the outstanding achievement of the trio, as well as to the Class of 2020, the school takes pride in disclosing that ABA graduates head off every year to study at a number of top universities around the globe, including University of Chicago, University College London, University of Pennsylvania, Durham University, University of California Berkeley, Imperial College London, University of Melbourne, the Delft University of Technology and the University of British Columbia.

In a bid to provide hands-on tips to the next class in waiting as well as the student community in Oman, in general, Muscat Daily sought to feel the pulse of the three girls, with regard to what made them shine despite all odds. Here’s what the trio disclosed:

‘Creating a goal for myself gave me a sense of direction’

Fatma Hani al Bahrani

(Heading to: University College London, to study Information Management for Business)

Whilst exams definitely put students under immense pressure, I think, that it’s vital that students give themselves enough time to study to avoid additional stress and tension. Starting early and organising time effectively, is the key to success. Personally, I created a balanced study plan and schedule to effectively cover each subject in its entirety, focusing on areas which needed improvement. Although I studied regularly on a day to day basis, I didn’t study for long hours; instead I devoted quality study time. I made sure to take breaks, to avoid exhaustion. Finally, and most importantly, it is vital that students set a positive mindset to increase their confidence and determination. 

As a student, we face many challenges on a day-to-day basis, as there is so much to learn and very little time. However, I am not deterred by challenges, as every challenge gives us an opportunity to learn and grow. The ‘most challenging challenge’ of 2020 has been the COVID-19 pandemic which has had a far reaching effect and changed the lives of many people. 

With the pandemic and schools being closed, I was initially skeptical of the way forward. There was a lot of uncertainty and anxiety as we had to cope with remote learning. I motivated myself by creating a goal for myself, which gave me a sense of direction. I made sure to stick to my study schedule and avoid procrastination to keep myself motivated throughout the preparation period before the exams. 

Perseverance, persistence and determination was the key to facing the challenges. In addition, I am thankful to have been in a supportive environment – my Mum has been my guiding force and her constant motivation pushed me to do my very best. Fortunately, our school was also extremely supportive and their constant encouragement and direction helped me deal with online learning. Our teachers, too, put in extra effort to make sure that the pandemic does not affect our progress in any way. 

I have not made definite plans for the future but I am determined to succeed and aspire to excel in whatever I choose to do. I am inspired by my grandfather (Mohsin Haider Darwish) and my mother (Areej Mohsin Darwish) who are both my role models. 

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‘Being organised helped easy transition to online learning’

Ana Sofia Garcia

(Heading to: Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, to study Aerospace Engineering)

I would say, that part of my academic success came from being interested in what I was learning. This is because I wasn’t solely focused on the grade at the end of the unit, but rather, the content that we were learning, as it is one that I wanted to know more about. Studying is less of a chore to obtain a grade but more of a method to learn more. Moreover, I am a person who likes to have things organised, which led to a lot of planning and scheduling tasks, to make sure I had plenty of time, without exhausting myself, to do all the work that was necessary.

I would consider myself lucky in terms of the pandemic impacting my studies, as it was a very minimal impact. This is because by the time we weren’t allowed to go to school I had finished practically all of my coursework and just needed to do some minor editing. So, in terms of continuing school, it was rather simple, and all of our teachers were there to provide one-on-one sessions, if necessary, to discuss the work. Overall, I would say, that me being ‘organised’ facilitated an easy transition into online learning. However, it should also be noted that the uncertainty as to what would happen to my future plans definitely had an impact. Not only did we finish high school in an unprecedented manner, we also would not be starting university as I had expected. Presently, I will be doing the first semester of university online.

I have decided to study Aerospace Engineering as it incorporates subjects that I enjoy and interest me, and the idea of working in this field is an exciting prospect. As for my aspirations, at the moment I am focused on starting a life in Montreal and discovering what they have to offer. It is a city with a focus on aerospace. Through my higher studies, I hope to develop a deeper interest in what I will study.

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‘There is no general recipe for success, find what works for you’

Rita Yammine
(Heading to: Imperial College London, to study Design Engineering)

Right before starting our first year of IBDP, we all had the preconceived notion that the next two years would be miserable. I was strongly discouraged from taking certain subjects together that were rumoured to deprive students of having a social life. While I don’t deny that the programme is rigorous, I know from experience that these rumours are overly exaggerated. The first step was to be mentally prepared to take on the challenge.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not a great example to follow for managing the demands of the DP. I didn’t do things the best way – my time management was all over the place. I wanted to do everything, from training 8-9 hours a week on the varsity football and volleyball teams to going on social outings every weekend (before COVID-19, of course). While this may seem to have been the issue, it wasn’t. I couldn’t concentrate when I needed to and would only start my work past 1am, which gave me 3-4 hours of sleep a day on an average. I handed most of my work in past the school deadlines and only revised when I had a test coming up. Over time, this accumulated badly, and I reached a point where my procrastination and not-so-good habits had an effect on my wellbeing.

What I can definitely say is I learned a lot from my mistakes and have plenty of advice to offer. I believe, that there is no general recipe for success because every student functions differently; so, I can’t speak on behalf of everyone. Find what works for you. For example, I found that having a schedule may work for some students but not myself, or that working later at night was much more effective for me than during the day. However, I now stand by the fact that maintaining healthy sleeping habits should take priority over anything else. I would never suggest giving up on sports, hobbies, or hanging out with friends (when circumstances allow) because these are what got me through the stress of the IBDP workload. If I were to redo the last two years, the only thing I would change would be to focus and submit my work on time in order to get more sleep overall and have more time to revise the tougher subjects in a more reasonable way than cramming the day before a test.

With regard to the pandemic, I would say the biggest challenge to handle was the abrupt end to our senior year and not being able to spend more time with our friends and teachers before we part ways. We initially thought we had gotten lucky for having had the May 2020 exams canceled. However, when our results came back, several students, especially those with conditional offers from the UK, felt as though the grading was done unfairly. Many of us, including myself, have requested subjects to be remarked and are awaiting the new results if any changes are made. Our school has helped us a great deal and has taken action, as well, which we are very thankful for. At this point, there is nothing we can really do but wait, keep safe, and hope for the best.

As for my higher studies, I will be attending Imperial College London to study Design Engineering (MEng). The idea of applying to the UK had not crossed my mind before the beginning of this academic year. Initially, I just wanted to challenge myself – I never thought universities like Warwick, Oxford, or Imperial could ever be a reality. After this experience, I believe the most important aspect of going through the university application process is to be yourself and take risks. If you have the grades to apply to high-rank universities, go for it. However, the name of a university isn’t everything. In my opinion, the course and environment impact your future much more significantly. I admit, I have not thought of my long term plans yet, but I’m excited to start my course and see where it takes me.

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