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What is the International Baccalaureate (IB)?

Some sixth forms offer the IB or International Baccalaureate as well as traditional ‘A’ levels, but what is it and who should think about taking it?

The IB is a two year course, taken instead of ‘A’ levels.  It includes 6 subjects:

  • Language (your first language)
  • 2nd language
  • individuals and society (history, psychology & geography)
  • maths and computer science
  • experimental sciences (biology, chemistry, physics & design technology)
  • the arts (visual, theatre & music)

All of these must be taken and three of these subjects will be taught at higher level.

As part of the course you will also have to do:

  • an extended essay (a 4000 word essay on a subject of your choice)
  • Theory of Knowledge Course (TOK) – the study of knowledge, analysing evidence and arguing a point
  • CAS Programme (Creativity, Action, Service, Programme) to include sports and / or art and / or community work.

IB Versus A Levels

You really need to consider whether you are a specialist or an all-rounder.  If you have a leaning for the arts, for example, and know that you can do well at 3 or 4 specific subjects, you may be better off doing traditional ‘A’ levels.  Especially if you have already decided what you want to do at university.  Some sixth forms can offer you the chance to do an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) alongside your ‘A’ levels, which gives you the opportunity to write an essay on a subject of your choice in return for extra UCAS points.  With the IB all 6 groups of subjects have to be completed, so weaker subjects can drag down the overall grade.

If you haven’t decided where your strengths lie and are a good all-rounder the IB will give you a much broader subject base than ‘A’ levels and will keep your options for University courses wide open. It is said that the IB prepares students better for university as it has more emphasis on personal research and individual creativity.  It develops analytical skills and gives students a broad knowledge of their community and the world in general.  The IB and ‘A’ Levels appear to be equally well respected by universities but the IB could possibly have the edge if you are planning to study or work overseas.

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