Unlike A-Levels and GCSEs, the IB requires a deeper understanding of a wider range of subjects demonstrated through coursework, exams and even oral presentations or experiments depending on the chosen subject.
How is the IB assessed?
The IB is assessed both internally and externally. External assessment takes place in the form of exams. Each subject normally requires more than one exam to be sat, and each exam generally has a different focus. For example, in science subjects one exam may be multiple choice and the second exam may be more essay based. Internal assessment takes the form of coursework, oral presentations for language subject or experiments and lab work for science subjects. Between 1 and 7 points are awarded for each exam, with 7 corresponding with an A*, 6 with an A and so on.
IB exams have a reputation for being more difficult than A level exams, students often have to retake exams. More material is covered and there tends to be a greater range of marks. There are also a lot fewer students who achieve the very top grades in the IB versus the A level. Universities appreciate this because it allows for clear differentiation between candidates. The Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge and Creative and Active schemes all contribute to the student's final grade, although they are worth less than the other exams.
What are the pros and cons?
An IB diploma is not for everyone. The qualification is recognised in 75 countries, and has earned a reputation for rigour and depth. However, the IB is a more general diploma than specialist A-Levels, and may carry less weight with a specific institution.
- As a truly international qualification, the IB is recognised in 75 countries worldwide
- It is a more rigorous qualification, often containing content that is not typically taught until university
- It encourages a greater depth and breadth of learning compared with A levels
- Both the extended essay and the rigour of the programme as a whole prepare the student extremely well for university education.
- The higher difficulty of the content allows for greater differentiation between students, something universities prefer.
- It is unaffiliated with any national government, meaning that examiners are not pressured to achieve particular grade quotas, leading to fairer and more representative assessment.
- Universities have a mixed relationship with the IB. Most admissions tours are extremely knowledgeable but there is a perception that universities still favour the qualification taken by the majority in their country, over the minority IB.
- There is a greater focus placed on independent learning in the IB. Some students, especially coming from the relatively easy schedule of GCSEs, are unprepared for the rigours of the IB
- For some degrees, typically science based, admissions tutors prefer students who have taken three science based A levels, IB does not give this option.
- Some students do not enjoy the requirement to continue with mathematics and a language after GCSE. not everyone is a generalist, some students enjoy the opportunity to specialise in what they really like that A levels offer.
How can parents help?
It’s important to recognise that during study for an IB, your child will be under more academic pressure than ever before, and support them accordingly. That support can be providing access to resources, emotional support, or enlisting outside help and specialist tuition.
There are plenty of study books and revision aids available specifically for the IB. OSC's IB revision guides are amongst the most popular. We also really like Alex McInnes-Ostruch’s IB Survival Handbook, which you can download here. Beyond providing your children with the resources that they need to succeed, it is important for parents to recognise that their child is probably under more academic stress or pressure than they have ever been before. For this reason it is helpful to have a structured working day and to understand the pressure your child is under.
To this end, before enrolling in an IB programme it is important to consider whether it is the direction for which your child is best suited. There are helpful guides on this on our blog and the Telegraph website. This can be a hard decision to make and it is one of the reasons for which Simply Learning Tuition Consultancy offers educational consultancy. Our consultants are all experts in the field and will quickly ascertain what is best for your child. We can even help your child with their time management to make sure that they are working as effectively as possible.
How can Simply Learning help?
SLT will introduce an experienced private tutor with a history of providing effective IB tuition. They will support your child with tailored tuition for each subject as well as help with the Extended Essay, and Theory of Knowledge. They will also provide your child with the skills and information needed to produce an outstanding UCAS application.
Simply Learning Tuition introduces tutors with experience in the particulars of the IB system. Every assessment system is different and the tutors' expertise will ensures that your child is fully prepared. This preparation is not limited to exams. The IB also requires an Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge qualification as well as Creative and Active work. At Simply Learning Tuition we also understand the stresses of the IB, introducing IB tutors who act not only as tutors but as mentors and role models to help you child through.
Importantly, we understand that an IB tutor requires different qualifications to an A level tutor. The IB demands more depth of knowledge and our impeccably qualified tutors, all with at least an undergraduate degree in their subject, are able to provide the extra knowledge which really makes a difference in the IB. Top universities, including Oxbridge, look kindly on the IB qualification and we can help your child maximise this advantage to ensure they achieve the best university place possible.
The International Baccalaureate or A Level's - which is better?
As second year GCSE and IGCSE students are working hard towards their final exams, many will be faced by the difficult choice between taking traditional A Levels or the International Baccalaureate. Here we discuss the pros and cons of both.
The IB has gone from strength to strength in recent years. It is now available at 190 schools and is well respected by Oxbridge and other leading universities. Many see it is a more academically rigorous alternative to A Levels; whilst A Levels are have frequently been criticised for grade inflation (though the introduction of the A* has gone some way to counteract this), the percentage of IB candidates achieving the top score of 45 has remained roughly the same for 20 years.
Furthermore, Katy Ricks, Headmaster of Sevenoaks School, argues that the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge better prepare IB students for university by providing them with the independent learning and critical thinking skills they will need for studying at degree-level. The Institute of Education found that IB students with good scores of 37 or higher are 5.4% more likely to get a 2:1 or first than their A Level equivalents.
However, the IB isn’t for everyone. There are a number of important points you should bear in mind whilst helping your son or daughter to decide between A Levels and the IB.
Is your child an ‘all-rounder’?
IB students take six main subjects, which must include English, Maths, a Science and a language. This means that, to excel in the diploma, a student will need to be an ‘all-rounder’. The breadth of the IB is well suited to students who have achieved similar results across all academic areas. The IB will allow them not only to continue developing this broad range of skills, but also help them to better demonstrate their abilities to universities.
A student with patchier GCSE results, who excels in some areas but less in others, would be better suited to A Levels. A poor result in one IB subject will pull down the overall score, potentially jeopardising university entrance. As Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College, points out, only 69% of IB students get into their first-choice university, compared to 81% of A Level students. As A Level candidates will typically only need to carry three subjects through to their A2 year, they can drop subjects they find more difficult to increase chances of securing a place at their first-choice university.
Does your child know what they want to do at university and beyond?
If your child isn’t yet sure of their future plans, the IB is a good way to keep doors open. Because of the balance between the arts, sciences and humanities built into the IB, students do not need to make difficult decisions about subjects that may close off opportunities for them in the future.
A Levels, on the other hand, allow students to specialise, which is very good for students who have a firm idea of what they want to do at university and beyond. Dedicated scientists in particular are better catered for by this specialisation, as are only able to study two sciences as part of the IB, as opposed to the three science A Levels they would otherwise be able to take.
Can your child commit the extra time needed for the IB?
With the six subjects, the extended essay and Theory of Knowledge, as well as 150 hours of ‘Creativity, Action, Service’ (CAS), the IB is generally a more time consuming course than the A Levels. Hugh Carson, former Headmaster of Malvern College, estimates that there is 15% more teaching and study time involved with the IB. As well as additional hours in the classroom, IB students will need to be very organised and diligent in completing homework, coursework and revision.
It is worth bearing in mind that the IB may take time away from your child’s co-curricular pursuits. If they are a dedicated sportsperson or musician, taking A Levels may leave them with some more free time to develop their interests.
Is your child considering studying or working abroad?
According to Katy Ricks, Headmaster of Sevenoaks, the IB has an “international spirit” – it is recognised across the globe, students are required to take a foreign language, and it, “provides serious an valuable opportunities for teachers to look outwards.” If you are hoping to prepare your child for a global future, the IB provides a strong foundation for today’s international education and jobs market.
The IB is particularly well suited for entrance to American universities. Dr. Donald Billingsley, former Dean of Davenport College, Yale, says that whilst “A Levels are well respected in the US, they are geared towards to UK university system of specialisation.” The IB, with its broad spectrum of subjects that cross the arts, sciences and humanities, better prepares a British student for the American university system, where they will need to study a range of subjects alongside their major.
Both the IB and A Levels are good options
This decision may appear to be daunting, affecting not just two years of your child’s life, but also their university admissions beyond that. However, it is best to remember that both options are extremely good, respected by universities and employers in Britain and worldwide.
(IB) Results Day Advice
Everything you need to know about IB Results Day - how the process works, what to do if you have exceeded your required grades, or if your grades fall short.
It is a good idea to have your PIN and Personal Code to hand. You will have been provided with these by your course co ordinator earlier in the year. It is also sensible to have your admissions number ready for your first choice and insurance university, just in case things don’t go to plan.
You will also need to find out what time the results are released in your time zone. In the UK this usually falls around 2 PM. It can also be a good idea to log into the website half an hour early and keep refreshing the page rather than attempt to login when the results are released. The volume of traffic at the release of the results can sometimes crash the website and it is not worth risking this stress.
If, upon logging in, you find out that you have achieved your required grades, congratulations! There is nothing further for you to do, your place at your first choice university is secure and UCAS Track should automatically update within two to five days.
If you have exceeded your predicted grades by a long way and you now wish to apply for a different university than your original first choice, you have two options. Firstly you can telephone admissions tutors from your targeted universities and explain your situation. They have the ability to offer you a place on the spot if they so wish. The IB puts you in an advantageous position as you have plenty of time to research universities and get in contact with tutors before the A Level results are released on the 13th August. Or if you do not wish to pursue this option, then you can apply again through UCAS in the following academic year, you will receive unconditional offers so you will find out early whether you have got into your chosen universities.
How to Deal With Disappointment
Sometimes things don’t go quite to plan, but do not be disheartened. If you have not achieved the grades required for your first choice but you have succeeded in securing the grades that your insurance choice requested, you will be automatically accepted into your insurance university. In these circumstances, if you have only narrowly missed your first choice offer, it is usually worth phoning their admissions tutor on Monday to see if they are still willing to accept you. It is unlikely that they will, but it does happen, and more so with IB students than A Level students. They may then ask you to call back on A Level results day when they will know better whether they have places available.
If you have confirmed with your course co ordinator that you have only narrowly missed your grades then a remark can be a good idea. Although it is sensible to bear in mind that your result could stay the same or even go down, as well as improve. Also, your university are under no obligation to hold your place while you wait for a remark, so do explain your circumstances to them.
Tips for Clearing
If you have missed your first choice and insurance offers, or do not wish to attend your insurance choice, you can enter clearing. Clearing does not officially open until A Level results day, but a complete list of the clearing places available is released in July, by the Telegraph amongst other sources. There is actually nothing to stop you from calling admissions tutors prior to the official start of clearing and trying to secure a place, admissions tutors have been known to make offers to IB candidates well before A Level results day. Even if tutors tell you to call back on the 13th August, you should make use of this time to prepare yourself for the stresses of clearing. One of the advantages of the IB programme is that you have a long time to consider your clearing options. It is a good idea to make use of this time to thoroughly research potential universities, decide what your updated priorities are and get in contact with as many as possible.
You will have to persuade tutors as to why they should accept you. It is important to play to your strengths. Stress the high grades that you have achieved and never apologise for the lower ones, though do be prepared to articulate what you think went wrong. Also make use of the unique nature of the IB as a qualification, talk about Theory of Knowledge and the Extended Essay and the discipline and analytical methods that these have taught you. You never know what will appeal to a particular admissions tutor. It can be a gruelling process and don’t be put off by a few rejections, if you are willing to be a little bit flexible about location and course choice most students will be offered an university place through the clearing system.
Gap Years and Resits
If you do not want to go through the process of clearing, it can be a good idea to take a gap year and apply to universities again in the next academic year. Most universities will allow you to reapply the following year, with the exception of some Oxbridge courses. There are two opportunities to resit your IB exams, one in November and one in May. Gaps years are now so frequent that there is no stigma attached to students who have had to take a year out to resit exams. You should talk to your course co ordinator about whether this is the right option for you. The deadline for resit applications for the November session was 29th July last year and it is expected to be around the same time this year, so you have a while to consider your options.