What is IB and why is it important?
The IB is a globally recognized high school curriculum run by the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO), an independent not-for-profit based in Switzerland.
There are four programs catering to students from ages three to 19, but the one that you can use to apply to university is the IB Diploma Program (DP), which is a two-year course you take in your last two years of high school.
Whether you’re already considering the IB or just interested in knowing more about it, you’ve come to the right place.
The IB is unlike any other high school curriculum, as it requires you to take subjects across a range of disciplines, where most curriculums allow you the freedom to specialize. It also requires that you partake in activities outside the classroom, such as community service and sport.
Like any curriculum, there are "hard" subjects and "easier" subjects, but because of the range of subjects you take, you are consistently being challenged.
The IB Diploma Program consists of six subjects and three core components.
Subjects, or courses, are chosen from the following six groups:
- Studies in Language and Literature
- Language Acquisition
- Individuals and Societies
- Experimental Sciences
- Mathematics and Computer Science
- The Arts
You take six courses from six different groups: a first and second language, a humanities, a science, math, and an arts subject.
You then have the option to switch the arts subject for either a humanities, a science, or another math subject.
Of these, you must choose a minimum of three (maximum four) higher level (HL) subjects, and a minimum of three standard level (SL) subjects.
The main difference is that HL subjects are broader in scope, which means you’re required to demonstrate wider knowledge and understanding.
There are also three core compulsory components of the IB, which are completed independently by students but are monitored by trained supervisors.
Creative, Action, Service (CAS):
Here you complete a range of activities outside the classroom that are designed to help you develop on a personal level, as well as give you a break from studying!
Creativity: This might be learning an instrument, acting in a play, or writing a short story; as long as you can argue that it’s creative (since you have to write a report), you’re good!
Action: This is generally a sports related activity, and can include less mainstream sports activities such as rock climbing.
Service: Think of this as traditional community service – you can volunteer, host a fundraiser, or get involved with a charity.
You then show off all the “life skills” you acquired doing these activities in your CAS project.
While this component isn’t formally assessed, you’ll need to draw on your CAS experiences in other areas of the Diploma Program.
Theory of Knowledge (TOK):
This is a philosophical class in which you critically examine knowledge and how it can be applied to different real life situations. This sounds like a weird concept, and it is! You’ll investigate some pretty broad questions such as “How do we know what we know?” and “What are the different ways of knowing?”.
Questions like these don’t have concrete answers, so this forces you to dig deep and think critically, as well as identify any assumptions you make and biases you hold that could be clouding the way you view the world.
The assessed elements are a presentation and a 1,600-word essay.
Extended Essay (EE):
As the name suggests, at 4,000 words, the EE is basically a long essay. While this may seem excessive, just you wait till you get to uni when this length of essay become the norm.
So that’s what the IB curriculum looks like… hope you’ve got the hang of all those acronyms!
There are around 4,500 IB accredited schools around the world.
In order to deliver the IB program, schools must complete an authorization process, which requires teacher training, an assessment the school’s resources, and evidence of its commitment to the IBO’s mission and philosophy. Once your school completes this, it’s known as an IB World School.
- More information on the best IB schools in your region
As mentioned earlier, the Diploma isn’t the only program the IBO has to offer. There’s also a Primary School program, Middle School program, and Career-related Program, and not all IB schools offer all of them.
When searching for a school, make sure you check that it offers the IB Diploma Program, which starts in your penultimate year of high school.
However, the IB Diploma isn’t the only option when it comes to gaining university entry. You can also pursue the IB Certificate by taking individual IB subjects, which you would complete in addition to, not in place of, your school’s curriculum.
If you want to take the IB Diploma (or Certificate) and your school doesn’t offer it, your only option is to transfer to a school that does.
However, it might be worth trying to start a program at your high school. Who knows, maybe your teachers have already expressed interest in it. Regardless, it’s a good idea to get a group of students together who are also interested in doing the IB to add weight to your proposal.
Take this information about the IB World School authorisation process to a faculty member or school administrator who has influence over the school curriculum.
IB Schools in the US
The IB is most popular in the US, where it’s offered in about 900 schools (wayyy too many to list here!). It’s an alternative to another college level program, called the Advanced Placement (AP).
Whether you take the IB or AP depends on your learning style and what’s available to you. The AP is much more common than the IB; the amount of students who take AP exams each year is in the millions, compared to around 150,000 IB students.
IB Schools in the UK
The IB Diploma Program is offered in 115 schools across England, Scotland, and Wales as an alternative to the CIE (A levels), which is another (much more common) international curriculum run by the University of Cambridge.
141 UK universities recognise the IB qualification, including all the big names like Oxford, Cambridge, University College London, and Imperial College London.
IB Schools in Australia
While the IB is pretty well known around the world, this is not the case in the land down under.
Many Aussies students would be surprised to learn that there’s an alternative to state-based leaving certificates such as the HSC in New South Wales and the VCE in Victoria.
However, it’s growing in popularity. In 2016, 2,160 Australian students finished the IB, which is triple the figure of a decade ago.
Currently, the Diploma Program is offered in 69 schools, but there’s a catch: almost all of them are private. Because of this, the IB has earned itself a reputation for being a bit “elitist”.
But this is only the case in Australia (and New Zealand as you’ll see below) – around the world over 50% of public schools offer the IB program.
It seems to be changing, though, as recently the IB Diploma Program was introduced in a few state schools in Queensland and Victoria. And in New South Wales, pressure is building on the State Government to allow public schools to offer the IB program.
In the meantime, the only option for Aussie students in some states is to move to a private school to take the course.
While the Diploma Program’s costs are covered by IB accredited schools, moving to a private school means a huge investment in tuition fees, making it unfeasible for many students.
IB Schools in New Zealand
The IB Diploma Program is offered in 13 schools in New Zealand. In 2016, 370 candidates sat IB exams in New Zealand.
Like Australia, the IB Diploma is almost exclusively offered in private schools, with just two state schools teaching the curriculum.
The schools are:
- ACG Senior College, Auckland: Private school
- Auckland International College, Auckland: Private school, co-ed
- Diocesan School for Girls, Auckland: Private school, female only
- John McGlashan College, Dunedin: Private school, female only
- Kristin School, Auckland: Private school
- Queen Margaret College, Wellington: Private school, female only, offers dual pathway with the NCEA qualification
- Rangitoto College, Auckland: State school, co-ed
- Saint Kentigern College, Auckland: Private school, co-ed
- Scots College, Wellington: Private school, male only
- St Cuthbert’s College, Auckland: Private school, co-ed
- St Margaret’s College, Christchurch: Private school, female only
- St Peter’s School, Cambridge, Waikato: Private school, co-ed
- Takapuna Grammar School, Auckland: State school, co-ed
Interpreting your IB results
Your IB grades are determined by a combination of internal and external assessments. Internal assessments are administered and marked by IB teachers at your school. The IB teachers’ marking is then moderated by the IBO.
- More information on IB results
External assessments are standardized throughout the world with all students sitting for their written examinations over a three-week period in either May or November.
Most subjects have at least three or four separate assessment components, including both internal and external assessments.
Each of your six subjects is marked out of 100 and then scaled down to a number between one and seven, adding up to a score out of 42 points.
You can then earn three extra points from the other core components, Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge, making 45 the best possible score in the IB Diploma. The third core component, CAS, is not graded and is simply a pass or a fail.
Your score out of three is worked out on the points matrix, and is a cross between the grades scored for EE and TOK.
IB Preparation: Study tips and tutoring
There are no shortcuts in the IB. No study hacks. Nada.
You can’t just memorize facts to then regurgitate onto an exam paper like you can in other curriculums.
- More information on Crimson's IB Preparation programs
The IB Diploma has a more practical approach to understanding concepts rather than rote learning, so you’re going to be putting in a lot of good old-fashioned hard work.
Not only this, but it is a much heavier workload than your school’s standard curriculum, which means you need to be able to manage your time really well to keep your grades up consistently with all the different tests and assessments going on. Basically, it’s all about putting in the long hours.
There are, however, some ways to get ahead in the IB game, and one of them is by paying a lot of attention to the Diploma Program subject briefs, which are available on the IBO website.
They explain all the assessments in detail, including the marking criteria. Understanding these inside and out can help you direct your study and identify any skill gaps.
It’s no secret that the IB DP is tough and promotes independent study, and because it’s not your school’s standard curriculum (unless you’re at an international school), you won’t have access to as much support as non-IB students.
This is why it can be a a great idea to hire an IB tutor, and we can help you with that! Crimson offers IB tutoring and support services, personally matched to suit your learning style and study goals. We can even help you choose your subjects!
All IB Crimson tutors have aced the Diploma Program – we only hire the best of the best! Our IB subject tutors have all scored seven (out of seven) in the subjects that they teach, and an overall score of 38 or above.
Since it’s an international qualification that opens doors around the world, many of the best performing IB students go on to attend top universities in the US and UK. But this isn’t a problem because all of our tutoring services are delivered online, so as long as you have an internet connection, we can connect you with an amazing IB tutor!
Aside from being top IB students, our tutors are passionate about sharing their experiences and helping others succeed. They know first-hand how a score can open pathways to follow their dreams, and they want the same for you!
What to do with your IB Diploma?
You can use your IB Diploma to apply to almost any university around the world. Since the IB is a globally recognised qualification, it’s especially useful if you’re applying to universities overseas because it’s familiar to them.
- More information on the IB diploma
This applies to the US in particular because there’s a huge concentration of IB schools there. American universities consider the IB Diploma a “college standard” curriculum, because the coursework is just as difficult and demanding as it is in university.
Many universities think this makes IB students more qualified to succeed in college, so they might consider you a stronger candidate if you’ve scored well.
Most US universities will grant you degree credits for your IB subjects if you get a good mark. Depending on the institution and how many credits you get, you might even be able to start university as a second year student, meaning your undergraduate education will be three years instead of four!
As long as you do well in any of the three HL subjects, you should be able to accelerate your studies if you wish to do so in college.
But while the IB Diploma can be an advantage if you perform well, you won’t be at a disadvantage if you take your school’s standard course.