Should I be taking the IB or A Levels in Sixth Form?
Both these programmes offer a superb pre-university formation. What follows offers general information about the respective merits of the two programmes. We recommend that you liaise closely with the school or college where you will be doing Sixth Form for specific guidance on programme and choices of subjects.
What is the IB Diploma Programme?
The IBDP an international programme, created in 1968, in Geneva, and is renowned as an excellent preparation for university.
It is a holistic education that offers breadth as well as depth.
Students take 6 subjects in total, three at Higher Level, three at Standard Level, encompassing: first language, foreign language, a humanity, mathematics, a science and an arts subject/ one other.
TOK (Theory of Knowledge, i.e. epistemology) and (EE) Extended Essay (research essay) establish inter-disciplinary links between disciplines.
CAS (Creativity, Action and Service), non-examined but mandatory, allows students to develop extra-curricular skills and to become good citizens.
An international mind-set/ awareness is built into every aspect of the IBDP.
Examinations take place in the May of Year 13, so most of the course is covered early.
A significant amount of the assessment, depending on the subject, is through Internal/ Oral Assessments that will be spread out through the course.
How is the IB scored?
Out of a total of 45 points:
Each of the six subjects is scored out of a maximum of 6 points.
TOK and EE together can score a maximum of 3 bonus points
World-wide very few students achieve the maximum 45 points.
How should you put together your IBDP course?
Look at the entry requirements of the courses and universities to which you will apply to make sure that you have the right combination.
Within the expected breadth of subjects, you do have some freedom to choose HL and SL subjects in accordance with your interests. So, someone wanting to study History at university, could take HL History, HL English A, HL Biology, SL Spanish, SL Mathematics, SL Visual Arts/ Economics. A prospective medic could (will) take: HL Chemistry (essential), HL Biology, HL Mathematics, SL English A, SL French, SL Physics.
NB Please look carefully at the different Mathematics courses on offer and make sure you have chosen the right one for your intended career path.
You should aim to write your EE in a subject area (from the list issued by the IBO) that interests you and is relevant to your chosen course.
Liaise with staff at your school or college to get advice that is tailored to your requirements.
What qualities does the IB student need?
This is a challenging, interesting and exciting programme that will expose you to an international outlook and give you a taste of independent study.
You need to decide if you want to maintain the breadth of studying a science, mathematics, humanities, languages and possibly an art subject, or if you want to specialise with A Levels/ other programmes.
You need to have a genuine interest in all three of your HL subjects as well as a willingness to engage fully with your SL subjects and the other components of the IBDP.
It is very helpful to be highly organised and able to manage various commitments as they arise.
Don’t take your foot off the gas in your first year of IBDP, as this is when the bulk of the course and assessments gets covered.
A Level Focus:
What are A Levels?
A Levels are a British qualification that the vast majority of UK students will take at the end of Year 13. They offer a chance to specialise and studying your chosen subjects in depth and detail. Most students elect to take three A Levels, the choices of which are motivated by a need to meet the entry requirements for specific courses. High flying students will be able to take four A Levels (or more) if the school is in a position to offer the extra subject(s) and if this is deemed to be in the best interests of the student.
How are A Levels scored?
Grades from A* – E are awarded as pass grades for each subject. The A* was introduced some years ago to combat grade inflation.
How should you put together your A Level course?
Look at the entry requirements of the courses and universities to which you will apply to make sure that you have the right combination for your chosen course/ profession. A prospective medic will need to take Chemistry A Level (essential) plus two other subjects that complement (Biology/ Physics/ Mathematics) or extend (English Literature/ History/ Economics) the your profile as a prospective student of Medicine.
You may encounter the idea of ‘facilitating subjects’, a classification issued then dropped by the Russell Group universities. ‘Facilitating subjects’ were those deemed to be rigorous and academic (Economics, Geography, English Literature, Mathematics, etc.) as opposed to other A Levels (Business Studies, Media Studies, Design Technology, etc,) Make sure that you are choosing A Levels that will allow you to keep your options open.
You may well wish to extend your horizons by taking an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification), which will give you an AS qualification. This is a research essay that focuses on developing research strategies and effective writing in an area that is completely of your own choice.
What qualities does the A Level student need?
An A Level student needs to be interested in their chosen subjects, willing to work hard and to read around the courses.
IB versus A Levels:
Which programme is more work?
Sixth Form studies should be challenging to extend your knowledge and your learning skills.
The IBDP will have more contact lessons during the course of a week as you will be taking six subjects plus timetabled TOK lessons and time for CAS. You will need to plan your work around your lessons and make sure that you can juggle your various commitments.
A Levels may well have fewer scheduled lessons and more non-contact study periods. You will have time to develop your own areas of expertise and passion, outside the lessons, through wider reading and research.
Essentially, Sixth Form studies represent a significant step up from I/GCSE and equivalent courses at the age of 16. To do Sixth Form well, you need to work hard, whichever programme you choose.
Liaise with your school/ college.
How do universities in the UK see the IB and A Levels?
Universities in the UK love A Levels, seeing them as the gold standard for university entry. They also love the IBDP, seeing IB students as resilient and well-prepared for independent study.
UK universities issue information about entry requirements in terms of A Level grades and IB results. For instance, a Russell Group university will state that a student needs A Level grades ranging from A*AA or AAA or 36-38 points for a particular course. Furthermore, depending on the course, a university may well specify grades required in HL subjects – for instance: 35 points, including 766 at HL.
How do universities elsewhere see the IB and A Levels?
This is a massive question. Much will depend on how familiar the universities are with the two programmes.
European universities appear to be au fait with the IBDP and, to some extent, familial with A Levels. Universities in the Netherlands, for instance, seem very comfortable with both IBDP and A Levels as entry requirements. For entry to university in Germany, make sure that you are doing the right combinations and levels of subjects.
Universities in the US know the IBDP better than they know A Levels. The more prestigious universities which are accustomed to taking overseas students, will understand how the IBDP. Less well-known universities will need to have the A Levels explained to their Admissions tutors. Your school will be able to mediate your application and make sure that
Is one programme better than another for some degree courses?
No. You just need to make sure that you are constructing your IBDP or A Level programme together in such a way that you are meeting the entrance requirements. Again, we recommend that you consult the Head of Sixth Form/ University Guidance Counsellor at your school before you commit yourself to one programme or the other.
Where can I find more information?
IB: Diploma Programme (DP) – International Baccalaureate® (ibo.org)
A Levels: Understand what A-levels are & what you can do with them (ucas.com)