Chapter 1 – What is the IB?

The IB is a qualification studied across the world. It takes 2 years to complete and is completely linear, with all exams at the end of Year 13. Students study 6 subjects: 3 to Higher Level (roughly equivalent to A2) and 3 to Standard Level (roughly equivalent to AS).

Students select 1 subject from 6 groups (any subject can be taken to Higher Level*):

Group 1: Native Language.

There are some variations on the type of course offered in this group (e.g. English Language and Literature, English and Drama), but most schools will just offer standard English Literature. The IB English Literature course is much more flexible than its A-Level counterpart, with a broader, more global syllabus.

Group 2: Foreign Language.

If you have not studied a foreign language before, it is possible to take a language ab initio (*this can only be taken to Standard Level), which will teach the language from scratch to a standard somewhere between GCSE and AS.

The languages offered will depend on the school. You’re likely to see some of French, German, Spanish and Italian. Classical languages like Latin and Greek may also be a possibility.

Group 3: Individuals and Societies.

Here you can pick from humanities subjects such as Economics, Business & Management, Geography, History, Philosophy or Psychology (though it’s unlikely that a school will offer all of these options, so if a student has a particular interest in one of these subjects it’s a good idea to check with the school).

Group 4: Experimental Sciences.

Usually just the standard Biology, Chemistry or Physics.

Group 5: Maths (and Maths Studies*, which can only be taken to Standard Level).

The option to take Maths Studies may make the IB more appealing to students who are put off by the prospect of studying maths. Maths Studies is only slightly above GCSE level, and is more applied and less theoretical than just Maths at Standard Level.

A quick note on Maths at Higher Level. The IB is international, and its curriculum is designed this way. As such, it has been found that many British students struggle with Maths Higher Level (which is closer in difficulty to the Further Maths A-Level), as their knowledge at 16 is often behind that of students from other countries. Students should be wary of committing to Higher Level unless they are considering a maths-heavy course at university afterwards, such as Maths, Physics etc.

The knowledge provided by Maths at Standard Level is often considered by teachers to be somewhere between AS and A2 level, and therefore may be a very good option for those considering somewhat numerical degrees such as Biology, Psychology etc.

Group 6: Arts or Elective.

Students can either study an Art (most schools do not offer much choice, but Visual Arts, Theatre Studies and Music are typical options) or select a second subject from the other groups. For students wishing to study a science at university after it is important to select a second science.

Breadth is an in-built part of the IB, and this is partly what makes it so appealing for employers and universities, but may be off-putting for students with specific interests.

There are three further compulsory components:

Theory of Knowledge (TOK):

This is a kind of philosophy course covering ways of know-ledge, routes of knowledge and value judgement. This is assessed with a presentation and an essay. This can be an incredibly valuable experience, encouraging students to reflect on what they are learning in the rest of the program and why.

Extended Essay:

Students complete a 4000 word essay on an independent topic within the subjects they are studying.

Creativity, Action, Service (CAS):

Students must complete 50 hours of extracurricular activities in each of these categories. This is not assessed, but compulsory, and should be facilitated by the school. The IB is marked out of 45 points. Each of the 6 subjects is marked out of 7 points, and an addi-tional 3 points are available for the combined marks of Theory of Knowledge and the Extended Es-say