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To IB or not to Be

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This article was written by Jonathan W.


That is the question that increasingly more and more Yr 11s have to face. I shall list the pros and cons of the International Baccalaureate and leave that up to you to answer. I believe that ultimately you have to choose a course that suits you and your goals. However, I will then end this blog by giving my personal opinion on whether I prefer the A Levels or the IB Diploma using my 5 years experience as both a A level and IB Biology teacher and tutor.

The pros:

If you are not yet sure what you want to do yet, you get to choose 6 subjects. 3 at Higher Level which is just a tiny bit harder than A levels in some parts, and, 3 at Standard level which is approximately the same level of toughness as a GCSE. You choose from 6 groups: English, another language, a humanities subject, a science, a maths course and a creative arts subject.

If you are the type of student that likes to know how we actually know everything that you are being taught and always questions the source of information, you will enjoy the IB which requires that you take a module on the Theory of Knowledge (ToK) and write an essay on it. ToK is also referred to throughout all the subjects, for example, how do we know that all cells originated from other cells?

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If you want to have the opportunity to go off and run your own independent research and do a write up at the same standard as that done by university undergraduates and researchers, you get the chance to do it by completing the compulsory Extended Essay (EE). Some students have even produced such novel work that they have been worthy of publishing in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

If you plan to study a science subject at university, the Internal Assessment ensures that you are fully capable of running a rigorous and well evaluated scientific investigation independently.

If you want proper acknowledgment of the extracurricular activities that you have done which develops you as a more well-rounded person, the IB has a module called Creativity, Action, Service (CAS).

Universities also find that the IB results are more helpful in differentiating between weaker students and the most able students and so offers can be more favourable.

Universities are beginning to realise that IB students are more well-prepared for studies at undergraduate level.

American universities appear to be very favourable towards the IB since it is very much like the content of the freshmen and sophomore years.

The cons:

If you already know what course you want to study at university and there are specific prerequisite subjects required to study that subject at university or perhaps you are a gifted sportsperson, musician or artist, it may be much more suitable to go for 3 subjects at A level and spend more time producing your portfolio, practising your cello for auditions to the Juilliard or hitting the diving boards in preparation for the Olympics.

If you find it very hard to organise your notes and have poor time management, you will have an extremely hard time managing 6 subjects, ToK, EE and CAS.

A few universities are not yet aware of the greater cognitive and higher order thinking skills required to gain a 6 or 7 (1= lowest grade, 7= highest grade) in the IB, so they sometimes set too high an offer for entry.

My personal opinion as a teacher is that I think IB students end up being more able to cope academically at university, better prepared for conducting scientific investigations independently which helps them perform better if they are studying a science course and they go out into life more resilient, independent and lifelong learners. And, this has been backed up by recent research. If I was a university admissions tutor and I had to decide between an A level student with 4 A*s and an IB student with 40 out of 45 points, or even 38 points, I would probably go for the IB student as I know he or she has a higher chance of succeeding at university and will need less of my colleaguess time and effort.

Nevertheless, think about your goals, your strengths and weaknesses to help you decide whether the A levels or the IB is more suitable for you. Do not choose it simply because most of your mates are doing it or that your parents want you to do it.

If you would like help with IB or A level Biology, do not hesitate to contact Tavistock Tutors and ask to book me.

Contact Jonathan W for more information.