The IB: FAQs

The IB: All you need to know

What is the IB?

The IB is the International Baccalaureate Diploma, it is a two-year programme available to all Sixth Form students. It includes the study of six subjects: three at Higher Level and three at Standard Level. In addition, students write an Extended Essay and follow a critical thinking course entitled Theory of Knowledge. Participation in creative activities, sport and service is also required.

What is ToK?

It’s all about broadening your knowledge, ToK is Theory oKnowledge and it plays a leading role in the IB Diploma Programme. It provides you the opportunity to reflect on the nature of knowledge, and on how we know what we claim to know.

ToK is a thoughtful and purposeful inquiry into different ways of knowing, and into different kinds of knowledge, it is composed almost entirely of questions.

The most central of these is “How do we know?”, while other questions include:

  • What counts as evidence for X?
  • How do we judge which is the best model of Y?
  • What does theory Z mean in the real world?

Through discussions of these and other questions, you gain greater awareness of your personal assumptions, as well as develop an appreciation of the diversity and richness of cultural perspectives. The TOK course is assessed through an oral presentation and a 1,600 word essay.

What is CAS?

While not formally assessed CAS, (Creative, Activity, Service) is one of the three essential elements that you must complete as part of the IB Diploma Programme.

CAS is studied throughout the Programme, and involves you in a range of activities alongside academic studies. You are expected to reflect on your CAS experiences as part of the DP, and provide evidence of achieving learning outcomes.

What is the Extended Essay? 

All students complete an Extended Essay, where your are able to pick your own topic of interest and complete your own independent research, culminating with a 4,000-word paper. Participation in this process develops the capacity to analyse, synthesise and evaluate your knowledge.

What is the IB Learner Profile?

The IB Learner Profile describes a broad range of human capacities and responsibilities that go beyond academic success. They imply a commitment to help all members of the school community learn to respect themselves, others and the world around them. We promote this philosophy and aim to develop learners who are happy and caring as well as academically successful. We aim to develop the whole learner through our exciting programme of extra-curricular opportunities as the experiences of our students do not end in the classroom.

Does the IB include coursework? 

Yes, around 20 per cent of each subject is coursework based, however this varies between subject, with some courses entirely coursework based. 

Can I study more than three higher levels/more than six subjects?

All our Sixth Form students follow a six-subject Diploma with three higher level subjects. We think that the Diploma is a challenging course in its current form and suggest that if you do feel you have a little extra time or energy, maybe contribute further to the co-curricular programme or some other aspect of the Diploma.

How does the IB compare to A-levels?

You study six subjects on the IB, with a broad and balanced curriculum, whereas A-level students will usually study three.  An IB Diploma programme is holistic, encouraging you to develop as a person, whereas A-level courses stand alone.

IB subjects are graded using numbers 7-1, with the calculation of a total points score out of 45, whereas individual A levels are grades A*-E. As an international qualification, the IB is politically neutral, and therefore has stood the test of time without significant change, whereas A-levels have experienced significant change and upheaval in recent years.

While an IB student does study more subjects than A-level students, those courses are not harder. All universities recognise the IB as at least an equivalent qualification, and in many cases indicate a preference for the organised and well-rounded students who graduate from this engaging and holistic programme of study.

Is the IB accepted by universities?

The IB is accepted by universities in the UK, the US and across the world and is highly valued. In 2020 we had 62% of students go onto study at one of the UK’s Top 10 Universities, and 59% took a place at one of the prestigious Russell Group Universities – which have a reputation for academic achievement and a shared focus on research.

What subjects are available?

Here are more details of the wide range of subjects currently available.

How does HL Maths equate to Maths A-level courses?

Higher Level Maths is more rigorous than A-level Maths. We recommend that only students who intend to go into a field directly related to maths opt for Maths at Higher Level.

What does the grading look like?

The IB is graded by a points system, with each of the six subjects marked out of seven. The Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge are combined to give up to three core points. The total Diploma score is therefore a maximum 45 points.

What language course is right for me?

If you are opting for a language at Standard or Higher level you should be confident in your language ability, with a strong grade at GCSE, whereas ab initio courses presume no previous knowledge of the language and are only offered at Standard Level.

Do students need to be competent at a foreign language to pursue the IB?

Many of our students, including those who do not classify themselves as ‘linguists’, find the language component of the IB very accessible, we find that students choose to start a new language from scratch at the IB, taking an ab initio – which literally means ‘from the beginning’ – course builds abilities beyond GCSE level, in an accessible way.

This offers plenty of options to those who do not wish to specialise in a language but understand the importance of being able to engage with a foreign culture. They will still have plenty of time to focus on the other IB subjects that they do want to pursue to a higher

Can you take three sciences?

Due to the emphasis on breadth, the International Baccalaureate Diploma does not allow a student to take three sciences. UK medical schools do not require three sciences: Chemistry and one other Science (generally Biology) or Maths are standard subject requirements.

What is the difference between the Standard and Higher Levels?

In general, students following a Higher Level (HL) IB course will study the subject in greater depth and breadth. The requirements are subject specific. For instance, in English A: Language and Literature, students are asked to read an additional text or two, to submit an additional written task.

The International Baccalaureate indicates that students who are following a course at the Higher Level should spend more time on the course (the IBO recommends 150 hours at SL, and 240 hours at HL).