A Student’s Explanation: What is the IB?

For those of you out there studying A levels, consider yourself lucky to have lots of spare time and fewer pressures that come with studying only 3 or 4 subjects. Don’t even try to argue that A level is just as hard as IB – it’s not.

I meet a lot of A level students who don’t understand the International Baccalaureate (IB). The two qualifications lead to a completely different sixth form experience: we seem to be from two completely different worlds when it comes to studying.

This is not going to be a fun post.  Sorry.

IB Diploma Programme


The IB Diploma Programme Diagram

From the above diagram, throughout our 2 years of IB, we have to:

  • Study 6 subjects
  • Write an Extended Essay (EE, like a compulsory Extended Project Qualification)
  • Do a Theory of Knowledge (ToK) essay and presentation (basically philosophy/critical thinking on how we know things)
  • Complete CAS (short for creativity, action, service: all of the things you have to do for DofE except for the expedition.  Although they’re not graded, you still need to input evidence and sign them off, else you fail).

Choosing Subjects

Each of the 6 subjects must be chosen from the following categories, like GCSE.

  • Humanities (‘individuals and societies’)
  • Sciences
  • Foreign language (‘language acquisition’)
  • English (or your native language)
  • Maths
  • Either another one from above or a Creative (‘arts’) – which is very unfair for artists because it treats creative subjects as ‘not compulsory’.

However, these 6 subjects are not created equal. You can choose to study 3 of your chosen subjects at Higher Level and the other 3 at Standard Level: your HL subjects will be just as in-depth, if not more so, than their A level counterparts, and you’ll be spending a lot of your time studying them.

Choose HL subjects that you’re good at and also that you enjoy (although I can’t guarantee that you’ll still enjoy them afterwards).

Your SL subjects should be subjects you find easy because you will need the points and you’ll be so busy studying your highers that you won’t want to spend that much time on your standards (unless you definitely need that particular subject, like maths standard, for university).  If you can’t think of subjects that you will find easy, do A level so you can just focus on 3 subjects.

Grading System

The points work like grade boundaries so for each subject, your performance is graded out of 7. if you get like 85% in maths you get a 7 etc. This is only for actual subjects (like maths, physics, etc.) so 7 is sort of equivalent to A*.

You automatically fail your entire IB if you get below a 3 in HL or 2 in SL, or if you don’t complete your CAS (which isn’t graded, as explained above).

Since we only do 6 subjects and 6 x 7 = 42, the remaining 3 points are calculated according to a matrix of your ToK and EE grades to give a maximum score of 45.

EE and ToK are graded A-E and basically, if you get an A in EE and A in ToK, you get 3 points. A and B in either still gets you 3 points.

BB gets you 2, as does BC. CC gets 1.

Luckily, the world average in 2016 is 30.07 so most people do pretty well!  This could be due to the fact that IB tends to scare off people who are less capable.  Who knows?


20 thoughts on “A Student’s Explanation: What is the IB?

  1. This. Sounds. Like. Torture. I don’t even know how people could COMPARE this to A-Levels; I remember thinking A-Levels were a bit of a relief compared to GCSEs because you could just focus on your subjects….good luck on your studies girl! It looks really hard, but think how proud you’ll be to achieve it!xx

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow… IB seems harder than STPM that I am facing now, I am unclear about IB so I will make less comments about it, but for STPM, it is like a constant chase of time, four subjects, one of them is compulsory (Malaysian Studies), broken into three semesters, and coursework, you have very very less time to do other things, I surmise that IB is more challenging knowledge wise, but STPM is more on very good time management. Good luck on your studies 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sharing how the program works is a great idea. It creates greater clarity as to what is expected and qualitatively the difficulty in the program. The concept of challenging minds is a positive one if approached correctly. I wish you all the success possible going through this challenging curriculum.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you very much for your lovely comment, I agree that many people go into the programme not exactly understanding the amount of work that is expected of you! It is definitely worth it though if you manage to make it through, you learn so much and develop a lot as a person.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m not saying what you’re doing isn’t harder, it probably is, but it seems like you’re kinda disregarding a-levels. I had no free time when I was doing them, at all, I had to constantly study day and night. There was no ‘spare time’ as you put it. I was also under immense pressure and ended up dropping some subjects. My anxiety issues were really high because of the stress of a-levels. I know what you’re doing might be harder but the amount of work you get in a-levels is awful. I had a terrible time during them, and it sucks when someone just disregards what you’ve done as ‘easy’. I had so much work, and coursework, that I could not complete it all. My friends sometimes would have meltdowns about the amount of work too. We did not have spare time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • also, from my experience, people who do the IB are generally from private schools. This is not always the case but most public schools/colleges do not provide it as an option. We have to do a-levels. This means that people of all abilities will be doing a-levels, whereas people who have had a better education can be doing IB.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You have an excellent point here Lia, and I agree that A levels are what you make it and kudos to you for making the most of it! I know a lot of people who did IB (who had no choice) and came from a state school and they certainly were lucky to have great teachers but a lot of the effort comes from the students themselves. I think that it’s important to put things in perspective – for IB students, the workload is far greater and less enjoyable than for A level students (due to the sheer volume and breadth of subjects) but I believe that education is what we make of it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I didn’t find the amount of work enjoyable in my experience, because I still found that I had no spare time. My friends would agree. And I went to quite a good public college, with good results. It was just really tough for me, and I remember my friends finding it tough too. Maybe it’s different for the a level students you know, but the ones I know found it really hard, and are probably so proud they saw it through. that’s why this did feel a bit like you were saying yeah, well it wasn’t that bad, and honestly it was so much work most of the time! And I also chose coursework and exam based subjects, which meant that a lot of work i did at home was going to be put in my final grade, so I had to make it as best as I could, and I still dropped one a level a few months in and another after doing the AS. I did get one full a level in the end, at a decent grade, but I honestly struggled so much. Education is definitely what we make it, but everyone finds it different. I know people who breeze through it and people that lose sleep over it, so everyone has a different feeling when it comes to learning.

        Liked by 2 people

      • In my experience, the harder you find things, the more you get out of them in the end. It’s definitely impressive that you and your friends got through the tough years of A level 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: STPM VS. COLLEGE (For SPM students) (Malaysia) – Zeckrombryan

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