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What is the International Baccalaureate (IB)?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is an internationally recognised qualification, originally introduced to meet the educational needs of diplomats’ children who had to travel around the world with their parents.

Having gained recognition in the UK it is now offered in around 190 schools.

It is studied over a two-year period by young people of 16-19 years, as an alternative to A’ levels. Designed to offer a broader education, the International Baccalaureate encourages independent learning and creative thinking.

What will I be studying?

There are three compulsory units:

Theory of Knowledge (TOK)

A class in which students are taught where knowledge comes from, how to debate and argue a point, and methods of analysis.

Extended Essay (EE)

This involves researching and studying a chosen topic of interest, and writing an essay of 4,000 words.

Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS)

There is a requirement to complete 50 hours within each of these elements. ‘Creativity’ involves taking part in theatre, music or art; ‘Action’ relates to sporting activities; and ‘Service’ means taking on voluntary work.

In addition to the above, you will take six subjects from the following groups:

Studies in Language and Literature

Language Acquisition

Individuals and societies 



The Arts (Visual, Theatre and Music)

Three of these subjects are studied at Standard Level and three at Higher Level.

How is the International Baccalaureate assessed?

Internal assessments are completed in school or college throughout the course, and externally-set and assessed written exams are taken at the end of the two years.

Each area of study is awarded a mark out of seven, with an additional three marks being available from the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge units. Therefore, the maximum number of points achievable is forty-five.

A total of 24 points is needed to be awarded the IB Diploma, and this score is the equivalent of a B and two C grades at A’ level.  The maximum score of 45 points is equivalent to 6 A levels at ‘A’ grade.

Getting into university with an IB Diploma

University admissions departments are generally very supportive of students with the International Baccalaureate.

They view the IB course as providing young people with transferable skills for life, some of which are particularly relevant to life at university.

The IB Diploma is accepted as an alternative to A’ levels by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and some universities actually prefer this qualification.

As with all university applications however, entry will be awarded based on wide-ranging criteria including overall marks achieved in specific subjects. 

Benefits of taking the IB Diploma

The following are just some of the benefits of taking the International Baccalaureate qualification:

  • Research and essay-writing skills are highly regarded at university
  • Analysis, debating and communication are all valuable life skills 
  • Universities welcome the breadth of learning offered by the Diploma
  • It is a useful qualification if you are thinking of studying abroad
  • It might be a good option if you are unsure about what you want to do with your life, and don’t want to narrow down your choice of subjects too much
  • It helps you to understand different cultures 
  • The IB course improves your communication skills

Are there any drawbacks?

Depending on the degree course you choose, it may be more beneficial to take the traditional A’ level route.

If you are thinking of working in science and engineering for example, more in-depth knowledge of your subject may be required, rather than the broad education offered by the International Baccalaureate.

Although designed as a wide-ranging course, some schools may only offer a limited curriculum without the full choice of subjects.

The number of hours required as part of the CAS aspect of the course can sometimes be difficult and time-consuming to log and track.  

Are there any other IB qualifications?

If you don’t want to take the full IB Diploma, you can still take Certificates in specific subjects. This would mean that you don’t need to take the three core modules of Theory of Knowledge, Extended Essay and Creativity, Action, Service. 

It is important to note, however, that you may not reach the minimum standards for entry onto a degree-level course at university if you choose not to take the full Diploma.

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