What is the IBDP
The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP) is an international high school curriculum aimed at developing knowledgeable and caring individuals with an inquisitive mind. Students have to take 6 subjects in total, including 3 at Higher Level (HL) and 3 at Standard Level (SL). In addition, students have to complete the Extended Essay (EE), Theory of Knowledge (TOK) and CAS (Creativity, Action and Service) requirements. It is a highly competitive qualification and is widely recognized by top universities, especially the most prestigious institutions in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong.
Our IB tutors cover the following subjects from the Diploma Programme:
|Language and Literature||Individuals and Societies||Mathematics|
|Chinese Language and Literature||Business Management||Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches|
|Chinese Literature||Economics||Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation|
|English Language and Literature||Geography|
|Spanish Language and Literature||Psychology|
|Chinese ab initio||Biology||Film|
|English B||Physics||Visual Arts|
|French ab initio||Sports, Exercise and Health Science|
|Spanish ab initio|
|Theory of Knowledge (TOK)|
|Extended Essay (EE)|
How to do well in IBDP
The IBDP places heavy demands on time management, communication skills, independent learning and research capabilities. To prepare for the challenging IBDP program, students should focus on improving both their spoken and written English during the early years of high school. At CANA, we offer programs designed to assist you with the development of language skills, as well as cultivating your skills in other areas.
Most of our students take regular lessons once or twice a week, which are supplemented by intensive courses during Christmas, Easter and summer holidays to boost their grades further. Students who join our university application consultation package will also receive close guidance throughout the whole application process. With our help, students are able to juggle their university applications and school deadlines with ease.
Regular courses for IBDP are accepting enrollment at all CANA centres. The course schedules are available here.
CANA’s IB track record
Having worked with senior IB examiners to publish our proprietary study guides and workbooks, our experienced IB tutors will help you through this challenging and rewarding journey. As well as past paper drilling, the teaching of concepts and coaching on winning exam techniques, we will guide you through internal assessments (IA)/subject exploration, Theory of Knowledge (TOK) and Extended Essay (EE).
Our approach has helped our students improve by an average of 1.5 grades across their subjects, with over 90% achieving a 6 or 7 in their respective discipline. After attending CANA, more than 50% achieved 40+ in their overall result, and many of our students go on to study at leading universities, including Cambridge, Oxford, Columbia, Cornell, LSE, Princeton, UCL, Durham and Warwick.
Commonly Asked Questions
The IBO has announced a dual route approach to the May 2021 assessments due to the pandemic. Schools can decide whether their students would sit the external exams this May, or take the non-exam route if schools are impacted by mandated closures or restrictions. If schools choose to proceed with the non-exam route, students would be assessed based on their external assessment work including the IAs, TOK, EE that are submitted to the IBO, as well as the school internal assessment on the students’ academic performance.
At this point, IB schools in Hong Kong are opting for the external examination route in May 2021.
A lot of parents and students often inquire about the students’ IBDP subject choice. Students can consider their IBDP subject choice based on the following several criteria
1. Subject Interest
I very much believe that students should select their subject choice based on their personal interests. Students usually perform much better if they have an interest in a subject. As IB requires students to pick two languages, one maths, at least one subject on individuals and societies (aka social sciences), at least one subject on sciences, most students would find that they like some better than others. For example, if students like writing better than doing Maths and learning about Sciences, students could pick two languages, and two individuals and societies subject e.g. History / Philosophy / Psychology / Economics etc. If students prefer doing more Maths and Sciences, and plan to do those courses at university, then they can consider doing Maths AA or Maths AI HL, two Sciences e.g. Physics / Chemistry / Biology etc. This way, students can pick a subject combo that could match with their interests.
2. Meeting IBDP subject requirements set by universities
Some university courses could place subject prerequisites on admissions. This is most commonly found among UK and HK universities. US and Canadian universities are less strict on this count. Take some examples - Top UK Economics schools like Cambridge University, LSE etc would demand students to have done IB Maths AA HL and some, preferably Economics HL (Economics is usually not a prerequisite for Economics courses). UK medical schools would demand applicants to have done Chemistry HL and/or Biology HL. (Some say Biology HL is preferable while some say it is a prerequisite). For engineering schools, they would prefer students to have done Maths AA HL, and some might also require Physics HL. It would be very important for students to have some idea as to which subject they would like to do at university level, check the prerequisites on the IB subject requirements, and choose accordingly.
However, it would be demanding to ask a lower sixth grader to confirm their university subject choice. If students have no idea which course they might pick at university (which is extremely normal) by the time they have to decide on their IBDP combo, we can use the “keep the door open” strategy to select the IBDP subject combo.
“Keep the door open” means that you try not to shut any “potential subject” doors for university. First ask yourself, are you inclined to do Maths, Sciences or humanities-related subjects at university. Say if you would have ruled out subjects with heavy writing at this point and would like to do Sciences or Medicine, to keep the option open, pick Biology and Chemistry at HL, and maybe Maths AA HL too if you could handle it. With this combo you have the option to pick Medicine, Biochemistry-related subjects, Maths, some engineering courses, as well as Economics. Take another example, if you are not interested in Maths and Sciences, and would like to do more writing-based courses like Law, Business, Journalism etc at university, then you don’t have to worry much about the subject choice. It is because these courses usually require students to have some demonstration of good literacy and writing skills, and the two languages that you’d be doing in the IB would already fulfil their requirements. One thing to take note of is that good UK Law schools usually require students to take a “balanced” set of subjects, and the IBDP curriculum has taken this aspect well into account by asking students to pick languages, mathematics, individuals and societies and sciences.
3. Maximising your IBDP results
Different IBDP subjects have different distributions of the range of scores. If you look into the IBDP Statistical Bulletin, you would be surprised to know that less than 5% of students in a certain subject would receive a 7, while more than 15% of students in another subject would receive a 7, and the data has been quite consistent in the past few years!
Take the May 2020 IBDP Statistical Bulletin as an example: only 4.1% and 15.2% of IBDP History HL students receive a 7 and a 6 respectively, while 15.2% and 32% of IBDP Economics HL students score a 7 and a 6 respectively! Both History and Economics belong to Group 3: Individuals and Societies under the IB, so in a way, choosing IBDP Economics seems “easier” for students to receive a higher score than History, holding all other factors constant. Therefore, do read through the IBDP Statistical Bulletin before you confirm your subject choice. You can find the link for the IBDP Statistical Bulletin here:
Besides taking into account the score distribution per subject, it is important to consider which subject you pick for higher level (HL) and which subject for standard level (SL). For UK universities, they would usually give out conditional offers requiring an overall IB score; for example, 37/45 in the IB, as well as requiring HL specific scores e.g. 666 in HL. US and Canadian universities usually don’t have such requirements. Therefore, if you are heading to the UK for university study, it’d be important to make sure that you put subjects that you are confident of doing well into your HL courses.
4. Availability of the IBDP subject at your school
Most IB schools do not offer the whole range of IBDP subjects. Common subjects like English A, Mathematics AA, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Economics, History are usually offered. However, subjects like Environmental Sciences, Psychology, Philosophy, Geography, Business Management, Visual Art, Music, Theatre, Film etc. might not be offered, due to a shortage of manpower. If students are to study that particular subject, they might have to rely on online resources to conduct self-study, or schools might provide them with some subsidies to pursue online tuition. Even if those subjects are offered, the subject teacher might be “part-timing” teaching the respective course. The quality of teaching might vary.
I know of a few students who come to us to seek help with these “non-common” subjects. An IBDP Music student wanted to do her EE in Music. However, her Music teacher has no idea what IBDP Music EE should be like, and therefore was not able to take her on. Another case is that a couple of students are self-studying IBDP Chinese at an IBDP school in Europe. The school does not have a Chinese A teacher and therefore those students have to pursue external tuition help. Therefore, it’d be crucial to gain an understanding of which subject your school can and cannot offer before firming up your IBDP choice. If you desperately want to self-study a subject that is not offered at school, better check out if external tuition / teaching help is available before signing up for it.
Last year, most IBDP examiners were not assigned any external grading work due to the cancellation of the May 2020 exams. This year, the IBO has adopted a “dual track”, allowing schools to decide whether their students would be taking the May 2021 external exams. To support this effort, the IBO has also decided that on top of the IB external exam papers, all student assessment work, including the subject IAs, TOK (Theory of Knowledge), EE (Extended Essay) etc would all be graded externally.
You might wonder how the external grading works after you have submitted your exam answers. Indeed, the exam papers would all be sent to Cardiff, UK, where the papers would be scanned to the IBIS, the IB examining platform. IB examiners would be grading the papers online.
Before we start grading the paper, we need to pass the assessment. Take my case as an example- I grade IBDP Economics SL Paper 2. Each year I would grade around 180 actual exam papers. Before grading, we have to do some training online, and then we would be asked to grade some papers that have been graded by the chief examiner. If our grading is satisfactory, we can proceed to grading actual student exam papers. However, if our grading is not satisfactory, our team leader would be in touch with us and we would have to do the grading assessment again, until our grading comes to a satisfactory level.
“Seed papers” are there to ensure that examiners are keeping up with a good standard of grading throughout. We would be expecting one seed paper in every ten papers. If the grade examiners give for the seed paper is within the grading range, then examiners can proceed to more grading. Otherwise, a warning would pop up and if the warning pops up for two consecutive times, the examiner’s grading account would be locked. Again, the team leader would be in touch to provide guidance before we proceed further.
Usually, we would be given around one month to complete the grading work.
One very important tip - remember to write neatly! Examiners have the right to pass your answer if your writing is illegible!
I always encounter this question: should I do IB or the A level? Frankly speaking, there’s no definite answer.
I think you could approach this question in three folds - 1) which curriculum does your school offer, 2) your interest, 3) your strengths and weaknesses
1. Which curriculum does your school offer
Some schools only offer either IBDP or GCE A level. Therefore, if you’d like to stick with your current school, there’s not much you can choose. If your school offers a dual track, e.g. CLC, Headington, Sevenoaks in the UK etc, which means that it offers both the IBDP and GCE A level, then this might be something that you really have to consider seriously.
Unless you desperately want to do one curriculum over the other, I wouldn’t advise students to change school solely because of this.
2. Your interest
The IBDP curriculum requires students to do six subjects, three HL and three SL, while most A level students would be doing three to four subjects, some five. If you have a broad range of subject interests, from language to humanities to sciences to art, doing IB would allow you to venture into a broader range of courses for sure. However, if you are very interested in Maths and Sciences, and not really into writing-heavy subjects, then A level could be a better fit. This is because most IBDP subjects require students to complete IAs (internal assessments), and the majority of the subject IAs require students to write lab reports / essays / commentaries etc. For example, students would need to write a 12-20 pages Exploration report in their Maths course, a 12-page-limit IA in Chemistry, or three Economics IA commentaries with a maximum of 800 words each etc. In addition, IBDP requires all students to write a 4,000-word EE (Extended Essay). It could be very challenging for students who do not enjoy writing (not speaking about the fun of the research itself).
In addition, IBDP subjects only permit a maximum of two Sciences (unless you do the seventh subject). If you would like to do Physics, Chemistry and Biology for example, then you would have to do a seventh subject under the IB in order to do that. However, under the A level, you can easily pick Physics, Chemistry, Biology in your combo without having to increase the number of subjects that you’d be doing.
3. Your strengths and weaknesses
Unlike the IB, in which students have to do a “balanced subject portfolio”, A level students would not be required to do any specific subjects. For students who excel in Maths and Sciences and are weaker in languages, doing the A level allows them to put together a subject combo that plays to their strengths. Firstly, such students can pick subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Maths, Further Maths, Computer Science etc, while opting out English Literature, Psychology, History, Economics etc which are essay-based. Secondly, while the option of doing a research project (called the EPQ in the A level) is available under the A level, it is not compulsory. This is not the case under the IB. It is compulsory for IB students to do a 4,000-word EE (Extended Essay).
For students who are more interested in and perform better in essay-based subjects, doing the IB could play to their advantage. All language subjects e.g. English A, Chinese A, French A, Spanish A etc are essay-based. Most Group 3 courses like History, Psychology, Economics, Philosophy, Geography are also essay-based. Even Group 4 Experimental Sciences subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Environmental Systems require students to write IAs. Students with a stronger command of language will definitely be able to excel in the IB compared to others. Even though a student not necessarily strong in Maths might be required to do Maths in the IB, IB students can do “easier Maths” than A level students by choosing Maths AI SL. Of course, such students can also do A level and choose subjects like English Literature, History, Philosophy, Psychology, Economics etc. However, one thing to take into consideration is that top UK schools do prefer students to have a broad mix of traditional academic subjects. Take LSE as an example; their competitive law program explicitly states such preference:
Therefore I believe that the IB curriculum provides a “middle ground” for such students, allowing them to do an “easier version” of Maths than the A level Maths, while meeting the demand from top UK universities for a broad mix of traditional academic subjects.
This is a commonly asked question. There are various bridging curricula for the IBDP. In Hong Kong, most schools use either the IB MYP, IGCSE or the Pre-IB course as the bridging program, while in Singapore most schools use IGCSE (O-level) as the bridging course. Pre-IB means that schools start IBDP a year early to prepare students for the rigour of the IBDP. Students can explore which subject that they’d like to study in the Pre-IB year, allowing them to make a more informed decision on the subject selection.
A good bridging program for the IBDP 1) equips students with a solid academic background, 2) provides chances for students to select the subjects they wish to pursue at the IBDP, and 3) prepares them for the rigor of the IBDP external exams. Among all courses, GCSE / IGCSE seems more preferable than the other two curricula.
GCSE / IGCSE?
GCSE and IGCSE students usually do six to twelve subjects (there’s actually no subject limit), depending on the school’s requirements and their personal preferences. As most GCSE and IGCSE subjects are academic-heavy, like English Literature, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Economics, Geography, History etc., students should have built strong academic foundations in anticipation for their IBDP years.
Given that students would be able to do a wider range of subjects during the GCSE or IGCSE years, they could get a taste of what each subject is like before deciding on which IBDP course to do. This would allow them to make a more informed decision. Moreover, students would have to sit the external GCSE or IGCSE exams, usually in year 11. Although this means students would have to experience the stress of the external exams earlier, on the bright side, students would be more equipped with the necessary psychology to take on an external exam, and this in turn helps to prepare them to write the IBDP external exam papers.
Compared with the GCSE or IGCSE, IB MYP is a 5-year program ranging from year 7 to 11 that is offered by the IBO. Some schools do an abbreviated format of the MYP e.g. doing 2, 3 or 4 years instead of 5. You can see the last two years of the MYP as GCSE-equivalent. MYP students are required to do eight subject groups, including Language Acquisition, Language and Literature, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics, Arts, Physical and Health Education and Design. You can check out more about the program structure of the MYP here:https://www.ibo.org/programmes/middle-years-programme/curriculum/
IB MYP is more task and project-focused. Therefore, students are encouraged to do their own exploration in projects. For bright students, this is a perfect opportunity for them to explore their research, analytic and presentation skills. The process allows them to assimilate various theories or concepts. However, for students that require more guidance, they might possibly get lost in this process. The requirements of teachers to identify students’ weaknesses, as well as to be able to coach and debrief are extremely important. However, this could be a challenging task to the teachers given that all projects / researches that students deliver are all different.
From the perspective of examination, as the MYP curriculum is more task-based, you would expect less academic-heavy tests or exams. In a way, this helps students to relieve the stress of exams. However, it could sometimes be challenging to trace the student’s progress and make necessary remedy when needed.
IBO introduced the first e-Assessment in 2016 for the IB MYP students. This is equivalent to an external exam, with a full score of 56. The e-Assessment is not made compulsory for MYP schools. The e-Assessment would demand students to do some parts as on-screen exams, while other parts as ePortfolio. (https://www.ibo.org/programmes/middle-years-programme/assessment-and-exams/)Compared to the GCSE or IGCSE exams, the IB MYP on-screen exams are less rigorous.
Overall, the IGCSE or GCSE curriculum does seem to be more academically rigorous and able to create an IBDP-like exam environment for the students. I believe that for students that are very bright, they would benefit from both curricula regardless. For students that require more coaching, IGCSE or GCSE seem to be a better bridging program to the IBDP than IB MYP.
IBDP is a writing-intensive curriculum compared to the GCE A level and the AP. Below are some facts to showcase how writing-intensive IBDP could get:
Group 1 and Group 2, the two languages that students have to do in the IB, contain a lot of essay writing. Take an example: in English A Literature or Language and Literature course, students have to do essay-based Paper 1 and 2. Each paper has a time limit and most students would be able to write around 1,000-1,200 words in each of them. HL students would be required to write an HL essay. The word limit for the HL essay is 1,200-1,500 words.
For students doing Chinese A, take Chinese A Literature as an example: there is a time limit for the Paper 1 and 2 essays. Students usually would be able to write around 1,500 Chinese characters for paper 1, and 1,800-2,000 characters for paper 2. Students who take HL course would also need to write an HL essay (高級課程論文), which has a word limit. For Chinese A LAL HL, the HL essay is 1,450-1,800 Chinese characters. For Chinese A Lit HL, the HL essay is 1,500-1,800 Chinese characters.
In Group 3 (Individuals and Societies), subjects like Psychology, History, Geography, Economics etc. are writing-intensive. For example, History students are required to write an IA with a word limit of 2,200. Psychology students are required to write an IA of a maximum of 2,000 words. On top of the essay-based papers, students would have to sit the exam. For Economics, paper 1 is an essay paper. Paper 2 also contains a long essay. In addition, Economics IA (internal assessment) contains 3 commentaries with 800 words maximum per commentary.
In Group 4 (Experimental Sciences), subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Biology or Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS) all require students to write an IA on top of the external exams that students have to sit. The IA has a 12-page limit. Compared to GCE A-level Sciences and AP Sciences, IBDP has the highest demand on writing for Sciences subjects.
You might have thought that no essay writing is needed for Mathematics. The reality is the opposite. In Group 5 (Mathematics), IBDP Maths students would be asked to write a Maths Exploration paper (i.e. the Maths IA), and it is recommended to be 12-20 pages long.
On top of the six subjects, all IBDP students would be required to submit a 4,000-word Extended Essay, as well as a 1,600-word TOK essay. In a large sense, all subjects, be it Maths or Sciences or Humanities courses, involve essay writing under the IBDP.
Although the A level also has a research component called the “EPQ” with a 5,000-word limit, and AP has a research course as well with no word limit, those courses are non-compulsory and students can do them only if they wish.
Background of the IB and the AP
International students planning on pursuing undergraduate studies in the US are often mystified as to whether the IB (International Baccalaureate) or AP (Advanced Placement) offers the best path – Which is harder and which is more likely to impress admissions officers.
Both the AP and IB programs offer challenging courses that can earn you college credit. However, their philosophies and goals are quite different.
The AP program was developed in the US to help high school students prepare for college by taking advanced courses, with no set program of courses. Students could take just one or even a dozen AP classes, depending on their school, schedule, and goals. In contrast, the IB was developed in Switzerland to be an internationally recognized diploma. To earn the diploma, you have to take a certain number of courses in a range of subjects. Although it is possible to take just a few IB courses without earning the diploma, IB was developed to be a set program. AP courses tend to focus intensively on a particular subject, while IB courses take a more holistic approach. AP tests are designed to see what students know about a specific subject, pure and simple. IB tests ask students to reflect on the knowledge they possess in order to test a student’s skills and abilities to analyze and present information, evaluate and make arguments, and creatively solve problems.
4 Key Differences Between IB and AP
- AP is much more common than IB in the US:
In the US, more than 2.8 million students took AP exams in 2019, but only about 166 000 took IBs. AP also reported that over 30% of US public high school students took at least 1 AP exam.
- IB and AP have different program goals:
IB puts more emphasis on writing and developing critical-thinking skills—not just on the exams themselves. AP focuses on teaching students specific content and testing their knowledge via exams. There is more multiple choice on these tests and a greater emphasis on meeting certain content goals.
- Only IB requires enrollment in IB schools :
You can take AP exams without being enrolled in an AP class, but you must be enrolled in an IB school to be able to take an IB exam. If you have proficiency in a language that’s not offered by your school or you want to self-study for a niche subject such as art history, then the AP program affords more flexibility.
- IB offers higher-level and standard-level courses:
Under IB, to get the Diploma, you have to take at least 3 higher-level courses. AP courses are offered at a single level, though there are certain subjects, such as Calculus and Physics, that have different course options.
Comparison on the benefits of IB and AP:
- Students take a standard set of courses and corresponding assessments during the IB program.
- An IB diploma is recognized by universities and colleges worldwide.
- IB’s global educational philosophy works well for international students.
- Community service and a research paper (Extended Essay, commonly known as the EE) are IB program requirements.
- With its emphasis on global education, IB may be ideal for those interested in eventually living or working abroad. An IB diploma might be more common for students applying to the UK schools, for instance, since students with IB qualifications are UK universities’s second largest application group after A-level students.
The IB program is not solely about academics; it also challenges students to enhance their personal growth. IB aspires to develop well-rounded students with strong character and a global mindset while allowing the gaining of excellent time-management skills and other critical attitudes needed for academic and personal success.
The IB increases understanding of languages and cultures and explores globally significant ideas and issues in each subject area. However, subjects are not taught in isolation: IB classes are interdisciplinary and connect learning across the curriculum; it is an integrated or liberal arts approach to education. As students must study 2 languages, math, science, individuals and societies, and the arts, there is both depth and breadth.
A unique part of IB is the requirement of 3 core courses for full diploma status: Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course, Extended Essay (EE) research project, and the Creativity, Action and Service (CAS) component.
Finally, in terms of assessment, students have multiple opportunities in each course to “show what they know” using various modes of communication and formats. The IB program is not about memorizing and guessing from a list of answers, but about truly understanding the material at a deeper level.
- AP classes reinforce your choice of major and/or minor. High scores demonstrate advanced skills in your subject of interest.
- Taught at a college level, the rigorous schedule impresses Admissions.
- Students’ AP specialized classes such as Micro and Macroeconomics, Art History, Computer Science, Human Geography, Psychology, and Statistics can open doors to a whole new world of interest.
- The AP agenda can improve study skills and time management, both of which are essential for college success.
- As AP is solely curricular, it may be the right choice for students who are over-scheduled and cannot meet extracurricular commitments included under IB.
- Many schools give extra weight to AP grades when calculating your GPA. Getting a B in an AP class is often better than getting an A in a regular class.
- Universities and colleges may grant credits for a minimum score of 3 in an AP exam.
At most colleges, students receive some sort of class credit for AP exam scores of 3 and higher (exams are scored from 1 to 5). This credit often goes toward introductory-level college courses in the same subject. With the option to skip some introductory classes, AP students can choose to graduate early. Further, AP students often find more flexibility in their scheduling at college because they can jump right into deeper waters once they matriculate.
How does the AP Capstone compare to the IB Diploma program?
The AP Capstone and IB Diploma are both optional programs.
The AP Capstone was introduced in 2014 in an effort to create a program that is more interdisciplinary, along the lines of the IB Diploma. AP Capstone is a diploma program based on 2 years of additional courses - AP Seminar and AP Research. These courses are designed to complement other AP courses that the AP Capstone students may take. Instead of teaching specific subject knowledge, AP Seminar and AP Research use an interdisciplinary approach to develop the critical thinking, research, collaboration, time-management and presentation skills needed for college-level work. These components are comparable to the IB program’s 2-year sequence and the additional components of TOK, EE, and CAS that are compulsory to receiving a full IB diploma.
Is the IB or AP a more difficult program?
Students say the IB is more difficult because you should be enrolled in the IB Diploma program which requires you to complete a 4000-word Extended Essay and 150 hours CAS (creativity, activity, service). Internal Assessments must also be passed and you need to score 4 out of 7 to pass IB exams compared to the need to only score 3 or higher in your AP class final exam.
IB higher level is, at some high schools, considered harder than AP. Most colleges give credit for AP exams and higher-level IB exams, but not all give credit for standard-level IB exams. Elite private institutions generally have stricter requirements for credit or only offer advanced placement , whereas state schools often offer generous course credit that count toward graduation or the degree.
The AP and IB programs are both considered the highest level of courses a student can take in secondary school. In recent years, the IB has become a preferred curriculum for many post-secondary institutions because of its similarity to university-level learning and teaching methodologies; nevertheless, the AP is still the predominant and most prevalent curriculum in America’s schools.
In general, U.S. universities and colleges equally appreciate the AP and IB as they both show that a student has the dedication and determination needed to succeed academically. Because the IB is taught much more like a college or university class, some schools believe that the IB offers a more seamless transition to higher education. Further, an IB Diploma stands out because a student has had in-depth study in all types of subjects, not just the ones in which a student is strong. However, that may be perceived to be the downside of IB as you have to complete classes from all six categories in the core, so it’s possible you will have to take a class in a subject you dislike or are not very strong in. That said, the AP Capstone program, because of its similarities to the IB Diploma program, definitely gives students an advantage in the college application process as well.
Overall, colleges tend to aim toward neutrality on this and don’t state preference simply because few students have a choice in programs. If they want rigor, students will have to go with whatever their high school offers.
If not enrolling in a class at your school for whatever reasons, consider taking an AP course through a third-party provider like UC Scout – University of California or Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth which offer online AP classes. They can be useful for independent study if you are motivated, have access to quality materials, and know how to find balance with other classes. Engaging a tutor’s help to oversee your mastery of concepts and making timely progress would also make a lot of sense.
How can we contrast between their exam methods?
For most courses in IB, written exams are a major component of the assessment. There are also in-house assessments, labs, performances and oral exams. Externally assessed coursework, completed by students over an extended period under authenticated teacher supervision, forms part of the assessment for all IB courses and several program areas, including the TOK and the EE essays. In most subjects, students also complete in-school assessment tasks. These are either externally assessed or marked by teachers and then moderated by the IB.
For AP, the exams are given at the end of the year as the culmination of a yearlong course. All AP exams (with a few exceptions) combine multiple-choice questions with a free response section in either essay or problem-solving format. For students skilled at standardized testing, the AP might be a better program in terms of assessment.
How can we contrast between their grading systems?
Because IB is a global program, the scores for these exams are more widely accepted in universities and colleges all over the world. Because there are more score ranges in IB, the highest-ranked students are truly the top in their class, while in AP there is a wider range in each level.
AP tests are accepted by most U.S. colleges and universities (some international universities will consider them, as well), while IB is accepted worldwide at most universities and colleges.
How do the programs differ in focus?
IB focuses on learning subjects deeply within the context of an interdisciplinary curriculum, while AP is more fast-paced and encourages students to learn as much as possible in a subject in a short amount of time. If a student enjoys writing and reading, IB might be a more suitable program; students who enjoy studying material at a fast pace and taking standardized-style tests will likely find AP more appealing.
You might be attracted to the IB’s focus on writing and a broad education, or you might think the AP’s flexibility makes it a better choice for you. The bottom line is that you should consider your school’s offerings and how challenging your schedule (including extracurriculars) looks. If you can, try to take AP classes in a broad range of subjects while digging deeper into subjects you are passionate about. For example, if you are a writer and do well in your English classes, definitely take AP English Literature and AP English Language if you can. But you should also consider taking AP Statistics or AP Calculus to prove that you have strong quantitative skills and versatility.
Does IB or AP give you more college credit?
While IB higher-level courses are usually accepted by colleges, standard-level IB courses aren’t always taken. In contrast, AP is offered at one level. So if you take three higher-level courses and three standard-level IB courses as part of the diploma, you might end up with less credit than you would for the same six AP courses. Furthermore, many colleges have slight variances in credit hours between AP and IB. For example, at Stanford, the IB and AP credit lists are mostly the same, with language and math receiving the same credit. However, you receive more credit for IB Chemistry than AP Chemistry. Generally speaking, you only receive credit if you have a 5 or higher on IB exams or a 4 or higher on AP exams.
Should you switch between IB and AP schools?
Colleges evaluate you in the context of your school. But if you feel like you won’t have many opportunities to be challenged at your school and really want to attend a different one, you can do so – just don’t feel pressured to switch because you think either IB or AP will look better on an application. In most cases, it is more feasible to stay and make the best of it. In the end, it’s all about a student’s performance. Did they perform at the very top of the scale for either program? Did they pass the independently administered exams with flying colors? If so, colleges will be heavily recruiting those students, regardless of the AP or IB label.
How do I choose between AP or IB?
If you are sticking with your school, embrace the curriculum offered by your school and do the best possible job you can in that curriculum. However, some students may be considering a choice between two high schools offering the AP and IB respectively. Consider your preferences. Do you want a bit more freedom to accelerate your learning in areas that interest you the most? Do you want to double up in some subjects in which you perform extremely well, while dialing back on those that are not your cup of tea? If so, you may want to choose AP which allows you to pick and choose the AP courses that suit you best.
Consider IB if you tend to like a variety of subjects and perform well in all of them or if you are serious about advancing in many subjects, not just those you are best at. Similarly, consider the IB if you would like to focus on a particular subject during the two-year diploma program. Some students find that they get more out of their IB chemistry or physics courses because they dive more deeply into the subject over two years than they can during a one-year AP course.
You may also want to consider that while the IB program worldwide does offer quite a few different courses and curricular options, the reality is that economies of scale dictate the offerings. For example, an IB program in a small private or international school may not have a large enough enrolment to offer a full range of courses in the social sciences or fine arts. Do look carefully at what the school does and doesn’t offer before you sign up for that school.
From experience, IB students often have a harder time balancing extracurricular commitments and their social lives with the rigors of the IB diploma program. The cafeteria-style AP program, on the other hand, can be better for students who want to find a better balance. They can choose only those AP courses that interest them, and in which they feel they can and want to succeed.
So if you do have a choice between AP and IB, don’t focus on which will give you a better shot at your dream school. Both will do the job as long as you perform at the highest level. Rather, consider which curricular structure best suits your personality, learning style, preferences, and academic curiosities. Also, don’t neglect other factors like your extracurricular priorities as they can be decisive when it comes to whether you can manage your academic load.
The short answer is yes. Whether you’re an eager student who just really wants to take that 7th passion subject, or you’re a go-getter who wants college applications to see how academically minded you are, some of you will want to take seven IB subjects. However, teachers and educators often advise against it for the following reasons:
- It is very stressful. IB is already well-known as an academically and holistically challenging program. Most students find the workload extremely tough, even when they take the standard six subjects with 3 Higher Levels, 3 Standard Levels. Remember that you also have IAs, extracurriculars requirements, Theory of Knowledge, and an Extended Essay to handle.
- Students who take seven IB subjects are more likely to do poorly in all of their subjects. Having a wide range of interests is typically a good thing, but the more subjects you take on, the less time and attention you’ll have for each of them. By taking a 7th subject, you may be sacrificing good grades that you’d easily achieve otherwise. It is better to be narrowly focused and perform well on a few subjects than perform poorly on all of them.
- Your 7th subject does not count towards your final IB diploma. The diploma is always calculated out of 45. Any extra subject you take will be given to you as a separate course certificate.
- Universities are not necessarily impressed by an extra subject. They will typically consider your diploma grade out of 45 and any extracurricular activities you do. This is especially true for American and Canadian universities, which value creative pursuits, personal development, service work, and participation in sports. A 7th subject may make you stand out as unusual, but not necessarily more academic. Doing well in 6-subject IB is proof enough of academic strength and capability. Why not pursue some extracurricular interests instead of a 7th subject?
- If you want to challenge yourself, consider doing 4 HLs and 2 SLs instead. This is also allowed by the IBO, and provides the benefit of an academically challenging program without vastly increasing the workload. In addition, these grades will actually count towards your diploma and may earn you some favour with college applications.
Moreover, students who want to take seven IB subjects must get explicit permission from school. The school would then inform the IBO which subjects are your primary six, and which is your 7th extra certificate course. Keep in mind that some schools may not even allow their students to take an extra subject, so please check with your own. It’s also advised for you to tell all your subject teachers that you are taking a 7th subject - they can potentially give you extra support or some leniency if they know about your increased workload.
Not convinced or discouraged by the above reasons and restrictions? You clearly have a strong will to commit to seven subjects, which is exactly what you’ll need in order to manage the workload! Here are some of CANA’s recommendations for 7-subject IB students:
Be smart with your workload.
If you’re determined to take 7 subjects, make sure that you are taking 4 SL and 3 HL. Since your extra subject does not count towards the diploma, there’s no real point in taking 4 HLs - and you would make your life harder. We also recommend that you choose your HLs strategically. Research which subjects have heavy workloads and consider taking one or two of those at standard level. For example, subjects like Chemistry, Biology, History, Music, Art, etc. either require you to memorise a high volume of information, conduct many IAs, or produce multiple creative works under high pressure. Choose your seventh subject wisely, too.
Be organised with time management.
If you are a serial procrastinator, now is the time to improve your time management! You cannot afford to put off work if you have seven subjects to juggle. Plan for assignments and tests far in advance to ensure that you aren’t cramming for multiple subjects during peak periods. A diary or day planner is a good way to organise your revision schedule. You may also benefit from the following apps: Self Control allows you to restrict the websites (like Instagram, Youtube, etc.) your computer has access to for a set period of time, and Notability is a note-taking and daily agenda application that has won multiple awards for its streamlined and user-friendly interface.
Be kind to yourself.
Your physical and mental health are your most important priorities. It is crucial to take ample breaks and rest time in between school and studying. Remember to eat, sleep, exercise, and socialise - students who overtax themselves at IB may risk getting to college and already experiencing burnout. Don’t do this!
If you feel too stressed to handle your workload, remember that you can always ask sympathetic teachers or your course organiser for help. It is also important to prioritize well and focus on your core six subjects. Accept that your 7th subject is just there to fulfil your interest or passion, and that it’s okay not to get top grades in it. Again, your 7th subject isn’t counted in the diploma.
At the end of the day, if you elect to take a 7th subject, you’re doing it for you. Make sure that you are certain and committed to your workload, but accept that you’re going above and beyond and your high expectations might not be fulfilled. It’s also perfectly okay to change your mind, as long as you inform your school by their deadlines. Learning is a life-long pursuit, and you have plenty of time to learn all you want later in life.
The IBDP is an incredibly challenging program. As a result, each year, many students worldwide are unable to receive a passing grade.
Passing students must successfully complete three Higher Level (HL) courses and three Standard Level (SL) courses in the six IB curriculum groups over two years of high school. The most common scenario for retakes is when a student fails one or more of their DP exams and does not receive a full IB diploma as a result. Students who fail to qualify for the IB diploma may receive an IB certificate for each course they passed successfully. In such a scenario, a student may wish to retake single exams for the subjects they failed to raise their score and qualify for the full diploma.
- Their total core points (excluding EE, TOK, CAS) are less than 24.
- They have not fulfilled the extracurricular requirements of Creativity, Action, Service (CAS).
- They received a score of 1 in any subject
- They received a score of 2 in three or more subjects
- They received a score of 3 in four or more subjects
- They have fewer than 12 points for their HL subjects
- They have fewer than 9 points for their SL subjects
- They received a failing grade in Theory of Knowledge or the Extended Essay
- They engaged in “academic malpractice”, which includes cheating and plagiarism. The IBO takes malpractice seriously, and in most cases will withhold a student’s IB diploma and/or exclude them from sitting exams, even if the student passed all other components.
If you have failed the IBDP or are afraid that you might fail, try not to worry. You can retake your exams. Retaking is likely to be effective if you had extenuating circumstances resulting in low marks. For example, if you had issues with accommodation, family emergencies or physical health issues, retaking can help improve your score. However, if you failed because of inattentive school teachers, mental health issues, or your personal weakness in the subject, you should put such an issue right before trying again.
Below are the steps to follow if you wish to redo one or more elements of the IBDP:
- Identify whether you need to resit or retake. A resit means you redo one item of assessment in the next examination period. A retake means you redo all elements of the assessment.
- Identify how many exams you need to resit. The IB allows you to resit an examination three times in total, with a space of 6 months between each attempt. If you exceed this number, you are required to retake the whole, two year diploma.
- Identify if you need to retake any Internal Assessments (IAs).
- Communicate with your school. Most schools want their students to pass and are happy to take you back to resit the necessary exams or redo the IAs. However, this can be difficult if you just relocated to a different country or if you failed for malpractice reasons; in such a case, the school may refuse your request.
- Find out what requirements you need to fulfil, make a plan, and stick to it. Depending on your situation, you might need to attend some classes with another year group. You may also have to think about delaying your start to higher education.
We always recommend that students receive private tuition if they want to retake or redo their assessments. If you failed your first exam because you found the subject too challenging, it is unlikely that you will improve sufficiently to get adequate grades the second time around. Tutors can provide much-needed guidance, indicating where you might have failed the previous time you took the assessment, teaching you how to revise more effectively, and helping you build confidence in your weakest areas. If you do not want to attend regular tutoring, short-term courses in the Easter, summer, and Christmas holidays may provide you with enough of a booster to pass the IBDP.
If your reasons for failing were because of non-academic reasons, for example mental health, accommodation issues, or anxiety, we recommend that you speak to your parents or teachers and try to ensure you are in a better place for the retake.
CANA also offers academic coaching that may be able to help.
Will retakes affect your university applications?
Whether or not your university applications will be impacted if you have to retake or redo elements of the IBDP depends on your circumstances. Retaking an exam makes sense if your university offer is conditional and you need certain grades to qualify. However, if you are simply hoping for a slightly higher grade and have no real need to retake (for example, if you would get into your university anyway), consider going for a remark instead. A remark means a different examiner for the IB will take another look at a certain assessment you feel was initially incorrectly graded. However, there are certain parameters before you can consider sending your work to be remarked. Find out more about remarking here.
Contrary to what you might think, plenty of university admissions teams are happy to accept applications from candidates who have retaken or redone their assessments. Such students show perseverance, determination, and a willingness to try again even after failure, which are valued traits in many higher educational institutions . Make sure to contact the respective universities you are applying to and inquire about their policies and requirements before you submit another application.
Generally, schools will only offer students the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) or General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE A-Level), leaving students with little room for choice for these 16-19 years courses within their current institution. However, if students are planning to switch schools or move to a different country, this choice may be available.
A-Level (or International A-Level) is a longstanding and well-respected upper-secondary program that originated in the UK and is widely used there. The IBDP is a similar program, known for being rigorous and academically challenging. It is popular among international schools outside of the UK. Although both programs are equally recognised and beneficial for university admissions, IBDP has gained a reputation for being more difficult. Below are some key differences between IBDP and A-level.
|Preparation for university||
|Personal growth and school-life balance||
*If you are interested in the differences between A-Level and International A-Level, click here.
Overall, whether a student is more suited to IBDP or A-level depends on personal preference. IBDP is preferential if a student does not know what subjects to specialise in, if they wish for a well-rounded education, or are confident in organising their time and juggling multiple subjects. A student should consider A-levels if a lower-stress environment is more helpful for their learning, if they value specialisation a, or if they are determined to do further education in the UK.
If you or a friend or family member is considering making a change in academic institution or even moving to a school overseas, please feel free to contact CANA Elite for advice from one of our many academic experts. Likewise, whether A-Level or IBDP, CANA Elite’s skilled tutors can help students achieve their educational goals.
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Here at CANA Elite, we truly believe that every student is unique and has the potential to reach their goals with the right guidance. Academic excellence is derived from both passionate teachers and eager students. That is why we provide a unique learning experience tailored to each individual student. Named after the location of the first miracle in the Bible, we hope CANA elite can be the place of miracles for all our students, allowing them to achieve their dreams.