What is the International Baccalaureate and How Do I Pass?


What is the International Baccalaureate?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland that offers four educational programmes: Primary Years (ages 3-12), Middle Years (ages 11-16), Career-related (ages 16-19) and the most famous; their Diploma Programme (ages 16-19).

The most commonly taken of these programmes is the Diploma, which prepares students for higher education, typically a university. The popularity of this course means that is often referred to as simply, the International Baccalaureate (or IB).

What Is the Programme Made Up of?

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is a two-year educational programme for 16-19 year olds which provides an internationally accepted qualification for entry into higher education and it is recognised by universities worldwide. It is taught in over 140 countries, in one of three languages: English, French or Spanish. In order to participate, students must attend an IB school and complete assessments in six subjects, one from each subject group, as well as three core requirements.

The three core elements are:

  • Theory of knowledge. Students reflect on the nature of knowledge and on how we know what we claim to know. The course ends with a 1,600-word essay and a presentation.
  • The extended essay. An independent, self-directed piece of research, on a topic from a list of approved subjects, ending in a 4,000-word paper.
  • Creativity, activity, service. A project completed by the student based on these three concepts. Students typically participate within their communities through social or community work, athletics or other physical activity, or other creative pursuits.

IB has been praised for the way it challenges students in a variety of different subjects. The state equivalent for the course in the UK are A-levels, of which a student typically takes three or four. IB students take 6 courses, in addition to those above, across a wide variety of topics.

For the IB diploma, students take courses in the following:

  • Studies in language and literature. Typically focused on the student’s native language, with a choice of over 80 available.
  • Language acquisition. An additional language, with Latin and Classical Greek also available.
  • Individuals and societies. A choice of a humanities or social sciences course, including: Business, Economics, Geography, History, Information Technology, Philosophy, Psychology and Anthropology.
  • Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Design Technology and Computer Science are available.
  • There are four courses in Maths available to accommodate a range of needs, interests and abilities.
  • The arts. Students are offered a choice of Dance, foreign language, Music, Theatre, Visual Arts and Film. There is also the option to forgo this group and take an additional course from the previous subject groups.

Students will take some subjects at higher level (HL) and some at standard level (SL). The courses differ in scope but are measured similarly; the expectation is that students taking HL courses will demonstrate a greater body of knowledge, understanding and skill.

Each student takes 3-4 subjects at HL, with the remaining at SL. SL subjects typically take up to 150 teaching hours, HL: 240 hours.

Assessment and Awards

Each subject (with the exception of Creativity, activity, service) is evaluated using both internal and external assessors. External exams are given worldwide in May (for those in the Northern Hemisphere) and November (for Southern Hemisphere). Each exam is made up of two or three papers, focusing on different parts of the syllabus, or in different forms (multiple choice, extended answers, etc.).

Internal assessment varies by subject. There may be presentations, practical work or written work. Internal assessment accounts for 20-50 percent of each subject and is marked by the teacher at the school.

Points are awarded from 1 to 7, with 7 being equal to an A*/A+, 6 equal to an A and so on. Up to three points are awarded based on the extended essay and theory of knowledge, making the maximum total 45. Achieving a perfect score is rare. Of the 150,000 IB students this year, only 146 received 45. The average score was 30.07.

In order to pass, candidates must receive a minimum of 24 points, or an average of 4 (C) points across the six subjects. The global pass rate is around 80%.

What are the benefits to studying the IB?

The IB is particularly noted for the unique and deep education it provides its students.

Students will be encouraged to think independently, become more culturally aware and be able to engage with people in an increasingly globalised world. IB students are typically high performers and are rewarded with an excellent education.

It is not essential, if you wish to study overseas, that you take the IB diploma. Universities are typically very accepting of local government education, and local private education. However, the international nature of the course, as well as the emphasis on learning a new language and thinking independently of government and national systems, mean that it is perfect for students considering moving abroad for their university life.

The IB diploma is currently accepted in 75 countries at over 2,000 universities. The International Baccalaureate has a list of statements made by countries explicating the acceptance of the course. It is, in short, accepted in most universities, particularly across Europe, Asia, North America and other English speaking countries, such as Australia.

Where can I study the IB?

If you have decided to take the IB, there is a search directory on the IB website, helping you get started on your way to an excellent education! There are also further resources on their website, www.ibo.org, if you wish to find out more!


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