Dealing with the demands of the Diploma Programme

Students undertaking university preparatory programmes all over the world, often face similar challenges, regardless culture and their socioeconomic background.

One of the challenges students face is coping with stress and I am hoping this article encourages discussions about the challenges students have and coping mechanisms.

Teachers prepare students for their future, for example achieving “good” grades because reaching for the highest levels of academia is often associated with success.

Teachers also prepare students for post-school life, making sure students are equipped with essential life skills, people skills, imagination and curiosity, to name a few.

One very important skill is the ability to cope with stress.

Stress is relative and the degree to which situations are deemed as ‘stressful’ are as subjective as they are varied.

For example my three year old son earlier today could not get his wooden trains to go on the railway-bridge without the last few carriages disconnecting from the train. His response was to throw all the trains on the floor and begin to cry. This was his threshold of stress and his coping mechanism, whereas this situation wouldn’t be ‘stressful’ for a secondary years student.

Every individual has a threshold of situations which to them are the most challenging and stressful.

The key to not letting the situation overwhelm the student, is learning how to deal with the perception of stress.

The Diploma Programme (DP) is an academically rigorous and demanding qualification.

Students must be dedicated if they are to achieve a high point score. There are 7 subjects (including Theory of Knowledge), each subject has Internal Assessments (IA) which contribute towards the final grade, plus there are additional pieces of mandatory assessments such as the Extended Essay and then there are the final examinations to prepare for.

A student must tackle all of this, at a time when they are still trying to figure out who they are and where they want to be.

It is of no surprise to me after a decade of teaching, when I first start to hear the words “I’m stressed” towards the end of G11 and then daily in G12.

Often students just need an outlet, I’ll let them vent their frustrations and usually students feel immediately better.

I completely agree that right now, the situation the G12s are facing (deadlines / examinations) is stressful, it’s the hardest students have had to work up until now.

In the future, writing a dissertation will take the number one spot in being the most stressful, applying for employment / promotion, raising a family, life is full of stressors.

As such students need to learn to cope with the current stress.

Yes, the DP is a demanding qualification, but then if it was easy it would not be worth pursuing.

I often say to students to think of the DP as a stepping stone in your life, to where you want to be in the future.

Right now, it may seem as if school work is consuming your life, but where do you see yourself this time next year? You need to get passed the DP in order to get to where you want to be.

Here at GEMS (Singapore) we help students dealing with pressure of looming deadlines.

We have put in place a number of strategies, including:

  • All students are given 9 independent study periods over the 7 day cycle. These periods enable students to catch up on work and see teachers for additional guidance if necessary.
  • Upon commencing the Diploma Programme, the Internal Assessments due dates + Examination dates are on the shared ‘DP Calendar’ and are fixed for the next two years. This allows students to plan their time accordingly.
  • Every so often, we take students on a ‘Fun Day’ experience. For example, we have attended Baker’s Brew, which required students to work in teams to make cup cakes. We will also visit Botanic Gardens for a picnic and team-building games towards the end of quarter one. Having planned ‘downtime’ is essential in managing a work-life balance.
  • Every week, the teachers run a grade level meeting for 20 minutes. Just to pass on essential information to students, and also have a catch up and allow students to ask questions and offer clarity. This get together once a week also encourages a healthy community feel amongst students, and has been well received.
  • The school provides a very thorough support network for students, including but not exclusive to, Homeroom Teachers and School Counsellor. Along with all teaching staff, here to provide a supportive network for students to ensure they are on target and achieving, whilst still enjoying learning.

I tell students they are not alone, there are approximately 150,000 students in their final year of the Diploma Programme, who are all feeling the strain right now.

It is important that students find a balance between studying and relaxing. I would like all my students to try the following:

  • Commit to a sport – there should be a non-academic focus, that enables students to switch off from their studies on a regular basis.
  • Make a positive comment to another student. Not only will this boost someone else’s confidence a little, but will also be rewarding for the student who initiated the positivity.
  • Make time for family and friends, as these will be your biggest support network, especially when you need them the most.
  • Don’t procrastinate, just get on with it. Speak to a teacher if you’re not sure where/how to start.
  • Encourage a positive mindset, saying “I’m stressed” is a self fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps say to yourself “I can do this”.
  • Appreciate what you have achieved so far and be proud of yourself.

Students should look back on what they have achieved so far, think of the DP as a two year marathon, they’re past the halfway mark and can see the finish line, they’re almost through the thick of it. Once all these IAs are completed, its revision revision revision, plain sailing all the way.

The sense of accomplishment students feel upon receiving their results in July will be their best day yet. The more work they put in now, the more proud they’ll be on results day.

Michael Fletcher
Michael Fletcher, DP Coordinator

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