One of the biggest challenges IB students face in the beginning is choosing the subject from each subject group. But, once the decision is made, you can’t change the subject throughout the course unless you change the course from IBDP to IB certificate or non-IB course. So here are some tips and useful information for those who are struggling to decide which IB subject to take!

1. Subject Groups

There are six subject groups and IB students are required to choose and take at least one subject from each group. Students need to take at least three subjects in HL. More information is available in IBO website.

Subject Group Contents Available Subjects*
1. Studies in Language and Literature

There are three courses available and students choose one subject from a course.

  • Language A: Literature: 55 languages
  • Language A: Literature and Language: 17 languages
  • Literature and Performance: only in English
2. Language Acquisition There are three courses available and students choose one subject from a course. In this subject group, students are expected to acquire the use of another language in various contexts while appreciating another culture through its language.
  • Language ab initio: for beginners, only in SL 
  • Language B: for those with some previous experience of learning the language 
  • Classical languages: Latin or Classical Greek
3. Individuals and Societies Students are expected to learn human behaviour in economic, physical, and social environments. 
  • Business and Management
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • Global Politics
  • History
  • Information Technology in a Global Society
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • World Religion (SL only)
  • Environmental Systems and Societies (SL only)
4. Sciences Students learn theories, concepts, and models through specific scientific method.
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Computer Science
  • Design Technology
  • Sports, Exercise, and Health Science
  • Environmental Systems and Societies (SL only) 
5. Mathematics There are two courses available and students choose between them.
  • Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches
  • Mathematics: Application and Interpretation
6. The Arts In this group, students may take art subjects or another subject from the other subject groups.
  • Dance
  • Music
  • Film
  • Theater
  • Visual Arts

*The available subjects may be different in each school.

2. Things to Think About Before Making Decisions

There are certain things that need to be considered when choosing IB subjects. You might want to check if those subjects you are taking meet most of the criteria below.

2.1 Reputation Among IB Students

Asking people who have been taking the subject you want to take is one way to know if the course is suitable for you. If they go to the same school, then you can ask them the content of the subject, how the teacher delivers them, and how much effort is required in the subject. They will probably give you the most realistic opinions from IB students’ point of view. If you don’t know many people who take the same IB subject, you can always ask the teacher to give some ideas of how the class schedule is going to be. That way, you might be able to know whether you and your teacher can get along in class.

2.2 Your Future

Your decision here is not only going to affect your IB life but also your future opportunities after graduation. Many universities specify the IB subject and its level for each major in application. So if you have some ideas of which major/course you want to go for in university, you should check the application requirements for reference and try to take the subject that is required for the application. Even if schools of your choice don’t specify the subjects, you should take the subject which is related to the major you are interested in. And this is especially the case for those who want to go for a specialized field. For example, if you are thinking about majoring medicine, you should definitely take biology and chemistry. You are not sure about what you want to do after graduation? Then try to choose subjects that might interest you later.

2.3 HL and SL

We all know it’s already hard choosing the IB subjects but it’s even harder to choose the level for each subject. Remember you need to take at least three subjects at HL. While some subjects have significant differences between HL and SL, some don’t. So once you know which subjects to take, check the syllabus for each and see if there’s a big difference in difficulty and/or contents. You should also take the subjects you can enjoy from the heart at HL because there’s no way you can get 7 in a subject you have no interests in and you will end up spending a lot of time on studying for the subject.

3. Key Features of Major Subjects in Group 3/4

A lot of IB students struggle to pick a subject especially from group 3 (Individuals and Societies) and 4 (Sciences). So here we summarized features of popular subjects in group 3 and 4. You can use this as a reference to select the subjects. You can check the data from average grade for each subject here.

3.1 Group 3 Subjects: Individuals and Societies

Subjects Pros Cons Average Grade in May 2021
Business and Managment
  • Familiar case studies may be used in class
  • Knowledges are directly linked to real-life business world
  • Math used in BM is easy
  • Primary research is mandatory for IA in HL.
  • You’ll need to fully understand a pages-long case study prior to the exam

HL: 5.53 / SL: 5.65

  • relatively easy to get a score once you understand the theories and how to analyze the data
  • might give you a hard time mastering terminology and thories at first

HL: 5.62 / SL: 5.35

  • no math
  • relatively easy if you’re fluent in English
  • broad topics (and much more so in HL)
  • Additional knowledge about politics and economics is needed in HL

HL: 5.79 / SL: 5.38

  • gives you a good quality of time to do research on each event in history
  • consindered as the hardest subject in group 3 
  • not recommended for those who are not fluent in English

HL: 4.69 / SL: 5.01

  • gives you an opportunity to learn about something you can rarely get to explore
  • Students need to process a lot of information 
  • might give you a hard time if you’re not fluent in English

HL: 5.29 / SL: 5.03

3.2 Group 4 Subjects: Sciences

Subjects Pros Cons Average Grade in May 2021
  • relatively easy to get a score in SL even if you’re not a science person
  • little difference in topic coverage between HL and SL
  • lots of things to be memorized

HL: 5.04 / SL: 4.69

  • easier to understand the topic if you take another science subject (e.g. biology)
  • many experiments
  • might give you a hard time with math
  • might get confused about interdiciplinary topics

HL: 5.38 / SL: 5.00

  • might be easy to get a score once you understand the formulas
  • HL has twice as much content as SL
  • Math is complicated

HL: 5.34 / SL: 4.92

Computer Science
  • gives you an opportunity to learn programming at early stage of educatoin
  • Students need to be familiar with digital devices and algorithmic thinking

HL: 5.62 / SL: 5.36