From overcoming language barriers to switching countries, schools and curriculums amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the UAE’s International Baccalaureate top scorers have achieved it all.
Fourteen pupils in the Emirates achieved a perfect score of 45 this year. Globally, only 640 pupils out of almost 174,000 who received their results on Wednesday earned this perfect result.
Of the 12,614 pupils around the world who scored more than 40 points, 337 pupils were in the UAE.
Mario Gonzalez, 17, could speak only limited English when he moved to the UAE from Spain eight years ago but went on to score a six out of seven in the language in his IB diploma.
The pupil, who attends Raha International School in Abu Dhabi, scored 44 out of 45.
He earned top marks in French, physics, chemistry and mathematics but was most excited about his improvement in English.
“When I came to the UAE eight years ago, I definitely was not expecting to be one of the top scorers, especially in a language that I barely spoke,” Mario says.
“It is great to see the progress and the ways that that my school has helped me. I'm very proud of myself.”
In autumn, he will go to the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands to study for a degree in aerospace engineering.
“Ironically, this university actually does not need grades as they hold their own entrance exam. In other places that I applied to, I'm certain that the grades would definitely have helped me," Mario says.
“The scores give me a chance to get some scholarships, which is one of my main concerns right now."
For Akshara Thakur, an 18-year-old Indian pupil at Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills, getting a perfect score of 45 was a pleasant surprise.
The pupil moved from India to the UAE in 2020 during the pandemic, switching from an Indian-curriculum CBSE school to the IB diploma. Despite the disruptive changes to her learning, she achieved a perfect IB score of 45.
“It was magical. It was a surreal feeling. I was expecting a high score, but a perfect score was only something I had dreamed of," Akshara says.
“I entered a new curriculum and a different country because I had shifted from India to UAE.
"It was quite a big difference between both the curriculums. When I joined the IB it was a different way of learning, but the knowledge I had from CBSE was immensely helpful."
She will go to Columbia University in New York to study computer engineering after the summer.
The IB is often regarded as the most demanding school programme in the world, and is considered to be the gold standard by many universities.
Students who have high IB scores can often transfer credits, skip courses and access scholarships.
Akshara says that she would be able to skip some courses at university thanks to her high grades.
Another Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills pupil, Nour Hedna, 18, says she was predicted high scores by her teacher but did not expect a perfect 45.
For her, as a Swedish-Algerian, representing her community as the only Arab at her school to achieve the top score was important.
“I just felt really, really proud. For me, representation is a big thing. I would say I am very proud representing my community and making my family and my grandparents proud," Nour says.
"Hard work pays off. I'm not someone who tends to share their results. I think I am my biggest competition."
Nour hopes to study medicine at the University of Sharjah later this year.
Her strategy to achieve the top score was consistency.
“'I have been preparing my notes since day one and making sure wherever there were holes in my learning, I made sure I emphasised those. I had no external help, no tutors," she says.
Nour says it was important to find the right technique for different subjects
"I would say my biggest advice to IB pupils is that past papers become your best friend. As long as you are familiar with the IB style of questions, it's great preparation," she says.
She encouraged pupils to ask questions in class and be curious.
"Just dare to ask questions, even if it comes off as a silly question. Those are the ones that will help you," Nour says.