The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme Explained

18/05/202320 minute read
The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme Explained

More than 5,600 schools in 160 countries around the world offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. With so much information about the various IB programmes, it’s easy to get confused. This blog will clear up some of the confusion so you can decide if this programme for you.

What is the International Baccalaureate (IB)?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) programme is an internationally recognised school curriculum that aims to foster open-minded and well-rounded students.

First proposed in the 1960s, the IB helped establish internationally standardised courses for school leavers. Since then, it has grown into a K-12 programme dedicated to its students’ academic and personal growth.

The IB offers four programs catered to students ages 3 to 19. The IB Diploma Programme (DP), a two-year “pre-university” course that students start in their second-to-last year of high school, is the most popular. Completing this program rewards students with the world-renowned IB Diploma, opening pathways to some of the best universities in the world!

You can take the DP as an alternative to your high school qualification, which might be GCSE, A LevelsAP, HSC, VCE, or NCEA, depending on your location.

To participate in the program, you must attend an IB accredited school. These schools have specially-trained teachers who deliver the IB Diploma Programme. There are about 5,600 IB accredited schools in 159 countries.

While this post primarily focuses on the Diploma Programme, the IB also has programs for primary and middle-year students.

Primary Years Programme (PYP)

The PYP aims to foster academic, social and emotional wellbeing in children ages 3-12 years. It focuses on international-mindedness and strong personal values. Centred on six transdisciplinary themes, the academics in the PYP include students recognising:

  • Who they are
  • Where they are in place and time
  • How they express ourselves
  • How the world works
  • How they organise themselves
  • How to share the planet

Middle Years Programme (MYP)

The MYP is a 5-year program that prepares middle and high school students aged 11 to 16 years old for the IB Diploma Programme. Students study a broad curriculum across eight subject areas: Language & Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics, Arts, Physical & Health Education, and Design. At the end of the programme, students participate in a Personal Project. This self-driven research or practical project encourages students to situate their academic interests within the context of global issues.

Diploma Programme (DP)

The IB Diploma Programme is a two-year high school curriculum for students aged 16 to 19 composed of six academic subject groups and the Diploma Program (DP) Core. The DP Core requires students to reflect on the nature of knowledge in a course called Theory of Knowledge (ToK), participate in an independent research project to produce an Extended Essay (EE), and engage in extracurricular activities related to Creativity, Action and Service (CAS).

***In March 2022 the IB launched an ***online Diploma Programme pilot. This delivers a fully online Diploma Programme together with a small number of selected partners. The programme is not available everywhere yet.

Did you know Crimson offers support in all IB subjects, including English, mathematics, the sciences, economics, history and more? More Crimson IB students score 44+ than any other tutoring company. Learn more about our online tutoring services.

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What Are IB Courses? IB Subject Groups Explained

Of the six academic subject groups offered in the IB Diploma, students must take one class from groups 1-5. They can either take a subject from group six or a second subject from groups 2-5. Additionally, students must take three or four courses (subjects) at Higher Level (HL), with the remainder taken at Standard Level (SL). We recommend you take a maximum of three higher level subjects.

Group 1: Studies in Language and Literature

Courses in this group help students develop an appreciation of language and literature, skills in literary criticism, an understanding of texts from diverse cultures and eras, and strong written and oral communication skills.

Courses available in this group include literature (available in 55 languages), Language and Literature (available in 17 languages), and Literature and Performance (available in English, Spanish, and French).

If students take a second language as an elective for their 6th subject, those who attain a grade three or higher receive a Bilingual Diploma.

Learn more about Studies in Language and Literature.

Group 2: Language Acquisition

This group encourages proficiency in a second language and promotes understanding of other cultures by studying their language.

Students can study languages at two different levels: Ab initio courses are for beginners with little to no background in their chosen language. Language B courses are for students with some prior exposure to the language. Language B courses are available at a standard level or higher level.

Language selection depends on what your school offers.

Learn more about Language Acquisition

Group 3: Individuals and Societies

Subjects in this area encourage students to appreciate the physical, economic and social environments in our world. They also allow students to develop an understanding of the history of social and cultural institutions.

Subjects commonly offered in Group three include Business Management, Economics, Geography, History, Global Politics, Philosophy, Psychology, Information Technology in a Global Society, Anthropology and World Religions. However, not all IB schools offer every Group 3 course.

Learn more about Individuals and Societies.

Group 4: Sciences

Students in natural sciences courses learn the scientific method through studying key concepts, models, theories, and techniques in each subject area.

Students must choose Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science, Design Technology or Sports, Exercise and Health Science.

Learn more about Sciences.

Group 5: Mathematics

IB Mathematics caters to the full range of abilities and interests. Subjects available include Mathematics SL, Mathematics HL, Mathematics Studies SL, and Further Mathematics HL. There is a mathematics course suitable for the background and needs of each student.

In 2019, the IB announced two new mathematics courses: Mathematics: Analysis & Approaches and Mathematics: Applications & Interpretation, both available at SL and HL.

The Analysis and Approaches course is for students interested in exploring maths at a deeper level, enabling them to solve complex problems in relevant and real-world contexts. This course is perfect for students interested in pursuing a degree or career in Mathematics.

The Applications and Interpretation course is for students who want to understand the relationship between maths and the real world. Students learn how to use real-world data to create mathematical models to uncover insights and aid decision making. Unlike the Analysis and Approaches course, this course dives into practical math application.

Learn more about Mathematics.

Group 6: The Arts

Designed to provide a balance of creativity and disciplined research in the genres of choice, Arts include Dance, Music, Film, Theatre, and Visual Art.

In place of an arts subject, students can also enrol in a second subject from groups 2, 3, or 4.

Learn more about The Arts.

Diploma Programme (DP) Core

In addition to the six academic subject groups, students also engage in the three components of the DP Core:

Extracurricular Profile

The IB Grading Scale

Seven is the highest possible score for all IB courses. The assessed components of the DP Core (ToK and Extended Essay) are scored on an A-E scale. Creativity, Action, and Service have a Pass/Fail requirement. Depending on the combination of your scores for ToK and EE, you receive between 1-3 points, bringing the total possible score to 45. At the end of the IB Diploma Programme, you receive a final score of up to 45 possible points. Your 6 IB classes attribute to 42 of those points.

The minimum score required for an IB Diploma is 24, and you must score at least 12 points total in your HL subjects (no score below 3) and obtain a minimum of nine points for all your SL subjects.

While the IB does not provide a GPA or equivalent, use the following table as a guide to understanding how the IB grading scale works.

IB Grades and GPA Calculator
IB GradeDescriptionGPA EquivalentLetter Grade
6Very Good4A
1Very Poor0F

Points are allocated for ToK and EE as follows:


IB Exams and Assessments

The IB Programme is unique in that final scores are a combination of internal and external assessments.

Internal assessments

IB Internal Assessments takes the form of long-term projects such as papers, reports and presentations. For example, in Group 5 (Sciences), you complete lab reports, and in Group 1 (Studies in Language and Literature), you write papers.

These internal assessments usually comprise 15-25% of your final IB score for that subject and are graded by your teachers. Your school later sends a small, randomly selected sample of student work to the IB for “moderation”, a process that ensures your school is grading fairly.

External assessments

The rest of the IB is externally assessed, mainly in the form of final examinations. IB exams are cumulative, with assessments in all topics taken in one exam at the end of your second year of study.

IB Courses Assessment Breakdowns

Below are common examples of assessment breakdowns for IB subjects.

IB English Literature HL External assessment (70%) 20% - Paper 1 (Written commentary) 25% - Paper 2 (Essay) 25% - Written Assignment

Internal assessment (30%) 15% - Oral presentation 15% - Oral commentary

IB Chemistry HL

External assessment (80%) 20% - Paper 1 (Multiple choice exam) 36% - Paper 2 (Extended response exam) 24% - Paper 3 (Higher Level topics)

Internal assessment (20%) 20% - Scientific reports

IB Business Management SL

External assessment (75%) 30% - Paper 1 (Exam based on pre-released case study) 45% - Paper 2 (Exam based on remaining course content)

Internal assessment 25% - Written commentary on a real-life business problem

Are IB Classes worth taking?

The IB is a rigorous academic program available to high school students. An IB Diploma indicates to your future university that you can manage the demands of undergraduate studies.

The IB Diploma is recognised worldwide, and universities around the world will understand your IB score.

The IB fosters a highly balanced intellectual experience - academically and beyond. You can take IB classes from a wide range of subject areas, allowing you the freedom to create independent research projects using gathered knowledge. The CAS program also ensures you have a balanced lifestyle beyond academics. Other high school programs do not have this level of intellectual and personal development.

Additionally, in recognising the rigour of the IB program, many universities accept IB course credit as a replacement for first-year courses, allowing you to bypass early requirements and accelerate your studies.

Next Steps

While challenging, the IB diploma programme offers a holistic and high-quality curriculum that prepares you for university studies and life beyond high school. Tools like Crimson’s Revision Village offer a comprehensive collection of study materials designed explicitly for IB exams. This includes:

By utilizing resources like Revision Village and adopting effective study strategies, students can enhance their preparation, gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter, and excel in the exams. With dedication, perseverance, and the right approach, students can overcome this demanding course's challenges and succeed in their academic journey.

To further boost your chances of success in IB exams, consider Crimson Education's online tutoring services. Crimson's expert tutors can provide personalized guidance, tailored strategies, and invaluable support throughout your IB journey. Don't miss the opportunity to maximize your potential—book a free consultation with Crimson Education today and get started on your path to academic success.

If you’d like to learn more about the IB Program or other high school curriculums, check out the following blogs.