Today’s high-pressure, fast-paced culture can interfere with healthy development. When we’re too focused on test scores, performance and grades, we may deny our students the time and energy they need to tackle the demanding work placed in front of them effectively.
However, Maryam Ahli, the highest attaining Emirati in the UAE in this year’s International Baccalaureate programme, with an overall score of 44, created a healthy learning environment in which she was able to reduce academic stress without sacrificing achievement. Here, we speak to Maryam to find out about her approach, challenges and ambitions for the future.
What kept you motivated throughout all of your hard work?
I think one thing that kept me going was a desire to do well. This was especially true because I’m a female Emirati and to want to meet the expectations of society, as well as ultimately contributing to the success of the nation.
Did Uptown International School ‘get it right’? In retrospect, did you choose the right place to study?
It is important to say that regardless of the environment and situation, young people can still succeed. Not everyone is going to have the best resources. But I was fortunate enough to have teachers who were very supportive and who tried to ensure that we had every opportunity to do our best. And they always reminded us to push ourselves, which I thought was the most crucial part.
Do you think it has been important to have a good support system at home?
Yes, but although my parents wanted me to do well, this was something that I wanted to do. They supported me through it, but there was no pressure. So I got to love my subjects and enjoy them.
Did you become part of a study group, or did you work better on your own?
I formed study groups on some subjects; for example, in history, it was fun to discuss different opinions with classmates. But I preferred to study on my own because I felt that I was maximising my time and using it well when, for instance, I was alone in a library or coffee shop.
Learning how to manage time effectively is an essential skill for students. Was this an important aspect during your studies, and how did you go about it?
I planned my days in a very organised manner. I always knew what I would be doing at a certain time. Because the biggest problem for students is procrastination, so I didn’t allow myself to procrastinate; I forced myself to be on top of everything.
So procrastination was your biggest challenge?
Yes, I think so. It’s hard to stay on top sometimes, especially with the IB, which isn’t easy. It’s hard to stay motivated, particularly when there are so many subjects. Sometimes students feel overwhelmed, worrying that they can’t complete everything. So it’s just about persevering and staying on top of things, regardless of how you feel.
What did you think of the International Baccalaureate programme? Did it reach your expectations?
I think the IB programme is really beneficial. However, it’s also academically rigorous. But I learned how to balance my time, which is essential when you have a lot of work to do. I think the IB provides a holistic education that goes far beyond just learning ‘stuff’.
Where do you go from here in terms of your ongoing education?
I’m going to University College London (UCL) to study economics. I want to do as well during my undergraduate degree as I did in high school, and more importantly, to focus on enjoying my subjects. I think if you enjoy the subjects you can do well.
And this is a philosophy you will carry forward into your career?
Yes, I want to find a job I enjoy and something I am passionate about, regardless of other people’s opinions. Some people think that a certain job is more important in society or look at things like income, but I want to just enjoy my job and do something that helps people around me.
What interests do you have outside of school, and how important have these been in getting the balance right in your life?
Because I managed my time so well, I had time to compete in show jumping events during my studies. I found that very beneficial, being able to participate in things that I love, instead of being forced to study all of the time. And I felt that sports were also extremely beneficial in reducing stress and bringing in the element of balance.
Do have any tips for fellow students when it comes to acing exams?
I think a lot of students pick their subjects based on what other people would think or based on what their parents might want. But I believe it’s important to focus on what you like because if you focus on that, the subject becomes much easier. Managing your time is also really important. Some students think they have to give up their interests because of studying, but if you manage your time effectively, you don’t have to stop doing other things you enjoy.