Chapter 2 – How does it differ from A-Levels?

As you can see, it is quite a different qualification. Here are some of the most important differences to take into consideration.

Greater breadth:

This is certainly an advantage for students struggling to narrow down their subject choices for A-Level and wanting to keep doors open.

However, this may be off-putting for students with distinct skills and interests, for example, maths driven students who struggle with essays.

It is important to think ahead to the kinds of university courses the student will be interested in after, as most courses have requirements for which subjects the student has taken to Higher Level. For example, most science subjects (including Medicine) require two sciences to Higher Level.

I knew I was going to specialise in medicine early on, so I wanted to continue with subjects that I loved, like French, for as long as possible. That scope is helpful. When it comes to writing essays, students who haven’t done arts subjects find it more difficult. And the presentations that were part of the IB programme have also helped when I’ve had to introduce topics to large groups at university.

– IB Student now studying Medicine

Certain subjects not available:

There are various subjects available at A-Level which are not available as a subject in IB.

As well as this, most IB schools do not offer all of the possible subjects available in the qualification.

They will generally publish a list of available subjects, but subjects may not run if there is not enough demand (which is a realistic possibility as IB students are often in the minority).

Additional elements:

TOK, the Extended Essay and CAS are all compulsory elements unique to the IB, which make it very attractive to universities.

The concepts studied in TOK would equip a student well for an Oxbridge interview, as this is the kind of critical thinking professors expect to see at university level.

The extended essay is also good practice for university, as students develop their writing ability, independent research and referencing skills.

The main appeal of CAS for universities is a demonstration of good time management.

For all of these reasons, IB students are often considered to have less of a gap between sixth form of university. So, while the gap between GCSEs and IB may be offputting, it could be worth it down the road.

“The extended essay was good practice for university essays because I had to produce a long piece of researched writing. But the advantages didn’t last long; after writing a few university essays, you begin to get the hang of it, so I only got a very slight head-start.”
– IB Student now studying Spanish and Russian

Linear exams:

As A-Levels become less modular, this could become less of a discriminating factor when comparing them with the IB. But as it stands, having to sit all of the exams at the end of 2 years is an important consideration when looking at IB.

On the one hand, it may be nice for students to have a break from exams in year 12. However, students who struggle with time management will have a hard time revising for 6 subjects in their entirety all at once in year 13.
While many report that this system makes it difficult to resit the IB exams, it is certainly possible. They are usually taken in May, and it is possible to resit either in November or the following May (and it is not a requirement to resit all subjects).

“You don’t have to be brainy to do the IB, but you do have to be diligent and organised. What you discover, though, is that you become organised by being diligent.”
– Head of Kings College, Wimbledon

Consideration by universities:

In general, IB is considered harder than A-Levels, and for this reason it is far more generously evaluated in UCAS points compared to A-Level. However, the UCAS tariff is largely ignored by universities.

Some top tier universities, such as Kings College London have significantly reduced their offers to favour IB.
However, the University of Cambridge has actually raised their offers for IB compared to A-Level, to account for the fact that they do not have modular exam marks. Nevertheless, this is generally the exception.

The University of Oxford (which, unlike Cambridge, relies on additional admissions test rather than modular exam marks) have kept offers for IB roughly equivalent to A-Level.

In general, universities tend to view the IB as harder and reward this. However, this of course means that the student will need to work harder.

“We find that because the IB is intellectually and personally demanding, it provides a very good springboard for study at university level.”
– Jan Stockdale, Dean of Undergraduate Studies, LSE