IB Vs A Levels: University And Beyond | Halcyon



IB vs A Levels: University and Beyond

Choosing between embarking on an International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) education and taking three A-Levels (IB vs A Levels) in the 21st century is simple.

While both curriculums have strengths, it is becoming ever clearer that the IBDP provides a better university preparation, building an innate readiness to learn, and preparation for future employment. 

In this blog post, we outline the key features of the IBDP to make clear that this is the choice that will open more doors, cultivate a broader range of skills and prepare its students to be citizens in a global world.

What makes the IBDP special? The key facts

Imagine that you’re preparing to enter the job market of the 21st century - a constantly shifting world where employers demand a checklist of flexible skills as well as experience in applying them. In this situation, would you like your toolkit to consist of three areas of subject knowledge, or would you like to have critical thinking, organisation, and language skills at your disposal? Most people, given the choice, would probably decide on the latter. 

Here’s how the IDBP has an edge over A-Levels in building these crucial skills.

Number of subjects: IB vs A Levels

Students who take A-Levels usually study three disparate subjects, marked separately from each other and taken as separate grades by universities. 

IBDP students study six subjects - three at Higher Level and three at Standard Level - a broad and varied programme. 

Breadth and depth: IB vs A Levels

As a student’s chosen A-Levels are judged separately, students are not necessarily encouraged to balance their studies between a variety of science and arts subjects. The A-Level curriculum also lacks a compulsory long-form research essay and a project management task. 

Any student enrolled in the IBDP is guaranteed to participate in a programme of breadth and depth. The IBDP curriculum ensures that students take a first language, a second language, a social science, a science programme, and mathematics; this ensures a continued cultivation of a variety of academic skills while still leaving space in the six subject options for choice

They must also complete their CORE programme comprising of:

  • an Extended Essay: a 4000-word academic report aimed at answering student’s chosen research question.
  • Theory of Knowledge: or ToK - this component brings students to engage critically with how power affects the production of knowledge; an important question for all subject areas. 
  • Creativity, Action, Service (CAS): this component requires students to plan and execute a community volunteering or fundraising project.

Grading system: IB. vs A Levels

A-levels are graded from A*-E, with A*-D counting as a pass and E and U (ungraded) counting as a fail. 

IBDP subjects are graded on a points system from 1-7, with a maximum of 45 (with up to 3 points awarded for the Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge and Creativity, Activity, Service) and a global average of 29.63. The rigour of the IBDP means that it is extremely rare for students to achieve a full score of 45. A score of 40-42 out of 45 is valued extremely highly: this is the University of Cambridge’s average offer for conditional entry.

University preparation: ready to succeed with the rigorous IBDP

Although British and International universities accept both the IB and A-Level students, schools and universities increasingly understand that the requirements of the Diploma Programme better prepare individuals to succeed in higher education

As the Extended Essay is a mandatory requirement of the IBDP, university professors can expect that their students have experience in autonomous, in-depth research - a key skill for university. This is not a certainty with students who have taken A-Levels. More broadly, IBDP students are intellectually ready for ‘independent inquiry’: 94% of Admissions officers have reported that Diploma students are better prepared to challenge and investigate what they read and learn, another vital skill that university-level work requires. The ‘Theory of Knowledge’ component and general well-roundedness of the IBDP doubtlessly have a key role in developing this capability. 

I cannot tell you how many times I am thankful that I did the IB. Having to write university essays on abstract political thought definitely creates a similar sense that I felt in tackling my IBDP TOK essay. Thanks to my experience of referencing at Halcyon, I have gained a reputation as a serial citation writer among my peers!” - Halcyon Alumni (Class of 2017), now studying at Cambridge University. 

The unchanging value of the IBDP vs constant change with A-Levels

Every week, we’re bombarded with updates on an ever-changing British education system. In the space of five years, the GCSE grading system has changed, AS-Levels have been removed, and now we’re hearing about T-Levels. Employers are already struggling with how to value and support these different qualifications - this is not helped by the inconsistency in grading.

The IBDP has maintained its core structure for decades; its flexible framework-based curriculum means that its developments run parallel to developments in the world of work. Its continued resilience and relevance has led to its ever-increasing adoption by schools worldwide. In 1971, there were approximately 749 IBDP students - and in 2016, there were over 1.2 million! While the content of IBDP subjects is adaptable and can change, TOK, CAS, and the Extended Essay have all been a part of the Diploma Programme since 1974. This a key advantage of a skills-based programme above a subject-based curriculum like A-Levels.

Ready for a global society: a well-rounded education

The IB’s mission is to “develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”

While the requirements of the IBDP are excellent for preparing students for university, they are chiefly targeted at creating ‘well-rounded’ citizens of the world. This means that beyond being prepared for further study, Diploma students are ready to think about a variety of ways to be a part of a global society. Volunteering as part of CAS, for example, could inspire IBDP students to join or start a charity. Becoming internationally-minded through a flexible curriculum and TOK prepares students for an increasingly skills-based international job market.

student presenting work in the open space ib vs a levels

Why study the IB at Halcyon?

Whether your child starts at Halcyon at Grade 6 or Grade 11, we ensure that our students are prepared for an academically demanding programme and the Extended Essay.

We teach students research and referencing skills from their very first year at Halcyon. We dedicate time to Personal Learning: even before the Personal Project in Grade 10, our students take on 'Passion Projects', for which they undertake research and produce a design or a report based on their personal interests. We ensure our students become politically and informationally literate even prior to their TOK classes - for example, Climate Action Day this year included a 'Fake News' workshop to encourage our young learners to identify why organisations might launch misleading news campaign. Our Grade 7 students have been individually tasked with researching and designing a product to act as a solution to a designated staff member's daily conundrums. 

The choice in subjects that our students access via their Passion Projects and our Explorations Programme means that they become familiarised with being accountable for their learning journey; an absolute must for the Extended Essay. 

As we grow, we will always maintain our commitment to preparing our students for the IB Diploma Programme both within and outside of the academic curriculum - read more about our curriculum here.

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