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Understanding the International Baccalaureate Programme

FEB 14, 2018

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The International Baccalaureate (IB) Program is an internationally recognized curriculum that aims to foster internationally-minded and well-rounded students.

Around 5,000 schools around the world offer the International Baccalaureate Programme.

With so much information out there about the various IB programs and what they involve, it’s easy to get confused and wonder whether it’s the right curriculum for you.

This blog puts an end to the confusion. It’s all explained here, plain and simple.

What is the International Baccalaureate Programme?

The IB was first proposed in the 1960s with the goal of establishing internationally standardized courses for school leavers. Since then it has grown into a K-12 program dedicated to both to the academic and personal growth of its students.

The focus of this post is on the Diploma Programme, however, the IB does have programs for Primary and Middle Years students. Before we get into it, I’ll talk a little bit about those.

International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP)

The Middle Years Programme is a 5-year program that prepares middle and high school students for the IB Diploma Programme. Students study a broad curriculum across 8 subject areas. At the end of the Programme, students participate in a Personal Project, a self-driven research or practical project that encourages students to situate their academic interests within the context of global issues.

International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP)

The PYP aims to foster academic, social, and emotional wellbeing in its youngest learners, with a focus on international-mindedness and strong personal values. Academics in the PYP are centered on six transdisciplinary themes: who we are, where we are in place and time, how we express ourselves, how the world works, how we organize ourselves, and sharing the planet.

How is the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Structured?

The IB Programme is 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).

Of the six academic subject groups, students must take one class from groups 1-5. They can opt to either take a subject from group 6, or a second subject from groups 2-5. Additionally, either 3 or 4 of a student’s chosen courses (subjects) must be taken at Higher Level (HL), with the remainder taken at Standard Level (SL).

Group 1: Studies in Language and Literature Courses in this group will help students develop an appreciation of language and literature, skills in literary criticism, an understanding of texts from diverse cultures and eras, and strong skills in written and oral communication.

Courses available in this group include Literature, Language and Literature, and Literature and Performance.

Group 2: Language Acquisition This group encourages students to develop proficiency in a second language while also promoting understanding of other cultures through the study of their language.

Languages can be studied at two different levels: Ab initio courses are for beginners - those 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 can be studied either at a standard level or higher level.

The selection of languages to choose from will depend on what your school offers.

Group 3: Individuals and Societies Subjects in this area allow students to develop an appreciation for the variety of physical, economic, and social environments that exist in our world. It should also allow students to develop an understanding of the history of social and cultural institutions.

Subjects commonly offered in Group 3 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 will be able to offer every Group 3 course.

Group 4: Sciences Studies in the natural sciences are designed to give students an understanding of the scientific method through the study of the key concepts, models, theories, and techniques in each subject area.

Students must choose one of Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science, or Design Technology.

Group 5: Mathematics IB Mathematics is designed to cater to the full range of abilities and interests of students. 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.

Group 6: The Arts
Subjects in the Arts are designed to provide a balance of creativity as well as disciplined research into the genres of choice. Subjects offered include Dance, Music, Film, Theatre, and Visual Art.

In lieu of an Arts subject, students can also enroll in a second subject from groups 2, 3, or 4.

Diploma Programme (DP) Core In addition to the six academic subject groups, students will also engage in the three components of the DP Core: Theory of Knowledge, a course which encourages students to reflect on the nature of knowledge and what it means to say “I know” Extended Essay, an independent research project culminating in a 4,000-word paper Creativity, Action and Service, in which students participate in projects and extracurricular activities related to these themes.

Detailed information about the content of the courses mentioned above can be found on the International Baccalaureate Organisation’s website under “DP Briefs”.

International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme Assessment

Each academic subject is scored out of 7, with 7 being the highest possible score. The assessed components of the DP Core are scored on an A-E scale. Creativity, Action, and Service is a Pass/Fail requirement of the IB Diploma. Thus at the end of the IB Diploma Programme you will receive a score out of 45, with 6x7=42 of those attributed to academic subjects. Depending on the combination of your scores for ToK and EE, you will receive between 1-3 points, bringing the total possible score to 45.

Points are allocated for ToK and EE as follows:

TOK matrix

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

Internal assessment often takes the form of long-term projects such as papers, reports, and presentations. For example, in Group 5 (Sciences) you will complete lab reports, and in Group 1 (Studies in Language and Literature) you will write papers. These internal assessments usually comprise between 15 and 25% of your final IB score for that subject, and are graded by your teachers. Your school will later send a small, randomly selected sample of student work to the IB for “moderation”, a process that ensures that your school is grading fairly.

The rest of the IB is externally assessed, mostly in the form of final examinations. IB exams are cumulative, which means that all topics are assessed in one exam at the end of your second year of study.

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

Why study the IB?

The IB is one of, if not the most rigorous academic program available to high school students. An IB Diploma indicates to your future university that you are capable of managing the demands of undergraduate studies.

A key advantage of the IB Diploma is its recognition worldwide. Your IB score and what it means will be understood by universities you apply to, whether they be in the US, UK, Australia, Singapore - you name it.

The IB fosters a highly balanced intellectual experience - academically and beyond. You take classes from a wide range of subject areas, making you more adept to try your own independent research project using the knowledge you have gathered, and Theory of Knowledge encourages you to reflect on the philosophical natures of this knowledge. The CAS program also ensures you have a balanced lifestyle beyond academics. This level of intellectual and personal development is not seen in other high school programs.

Additionally, in recognizing the rigor 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.

Final Thoughts

While challenging, the IB offers a holistic and high-quality curriculum that will prepare you well for university studies and life beyond high school.

Are you up for the challenge?

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