1. What is IB (International Baccalaureate)?

The IB is an international standard educational program offered by a non-profit organization founded in 1968 headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Initially, it was established to give an internationally accepted university entrance qualification for students studying away from their home countries due to their parents’ work. Upon returning to their home country, these students will not have trouble going to university due to differences in educational systems. More than 1.95 million students in over 5,500 schools across 159 countries have graduated from this program.

The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) explains that their programs “focus on fostering critical thinking and building problem-solving skills, while encouraging diversity, international mindedness, curiosity, and a healthy appetite for learning and excellence.”

The IB curriculum is available in 3 different stages of education- primary school, middle school, or high school, but in this website we refer to the two-year IB Diploma Program (DP) from grade 11 to grade 12.

2. Benefits of taking IB Diploma

2.1 You can apply to any school in the world

IB is a program that prepares you for your university entrance, and one of biggest advantages of the IB is that by completing the diploma, you will be eligible to apply to universities in various countries around the world. As mentioned before, it is a globally recognized university entrance qualification, and some universities even give you college credit for taking IB courses.

2.2 You can choose which subjects to study

Students will select one subject from each of the six subject groups with subjects available in Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL). Students should choose to take three (or up to four) subjects at higher level (HL), and the remaining at standard level (SL). HL courses are required to have a deeper knowledge, understanding and skills of the subject.

Subjects offered for the IB Diploma*

1. Studies in language and literature

  • Language A Literature: available in 55 languages (SL only)
  • Language A Literature and Language: available 17 languages
  • Literature and Performance: available only in English

2. Language acquisition

  • Language Ab initio: for beginners of the language
  • Language B: for students who have had some previous experience of learning the language.
  • Classical Language: Latin or Classical Greek

3. Individuals and Societies

  • Business and Management
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • Global Politics
  • History
  • Information Technology in a Global Society
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Social and Cultural Anthropoligy
  • World Religion (SL only)
  • Environmental Systems and Societies (SL only)

4. Sciences

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Computer Science
  • Design Technology
  • Sports, Exercise, and Health Science
  • Environmental Systems and Societies (SL only) 

5. Mathematics

  • Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches 
  • Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation 

6. Art

  • Dance
  • Music
  • Film
  • Theatre
  • Visual Arts
  • ( can be replaced with an extra subject from the previous groups)

*The available subjects may be different in each school.

The IB program covers a well balanced range of subject categories, but allows students to select specific subjects within the categories that suits their interests. Therefore, you will not only be able to learn meaningfully and enjoyably, but will also have a chance to consider which subject you would like to pursue in university at an early stage.

2.3 IB cultivates the ability to think analytically and study independently

Through the IB curriculum, students are not only expected to focus on their academics, but also to acquire a set of 10 characteristics called the “IB Learner Profile”.

The IBO defines the “IB Learner Profile” as the following:
“…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.”

Among the 10 attributes of IB students, there are two that we will highlight- “Inquirers” and “Thinkers”.

The curriculum emphasizes the importance of practical and proactive learning that can be done through group work, writing essays and making presentations where students are expected to to put together their own opinions based on the research. The Final Exam also tests this ability, where many questions require students to identify the issue, gather evidence, and propose a solution.

In addition to the above, the IB curriculum includes the Extended Essay (EE), Theory of Knowledge (TOK) essays, as well as the Internal Assessment (IA) in all subjects. Students are required to come up with a theme by him/herself, explore, analyze, and articulate their opinions in the essays. The EE is about 4000 words and the IA can be 10 pages or more depending on the subject, so it requires extensive research and deep understanding of the subject.

Such skills will be very important in university and your career in the future. In university, you will have many opportunities to write reports, give presentations, and write a thesis in the topic of your choice. This kind of individual work can not easily be done without a good study ethic. Therefore, it is a valuable experience to be able to train this kind of ability from high school in the IB.

2.4 Personal development through the “CAS” requirements

“CAS” is one of the compulsory requirements in the IB. It is an acronym for Creativity, Action, and Service for the purpose of learning experientially through extracurricular activities and gaining personal growth and interpersonal skills.

CAS examples

1. Creativity

  • Activities such as creative art

2. Action

  • Physical activities such as participation in sports and projects

3. Service

  • Volunteer activities such as visiting elderly homes

Therefore, all IB students must balance their academic work and extracurricular activities throughout the 2 years. All though it is a requirement, the IBO will not evaluate your skill of each category, so you don’t need to worry too much about that. IB teachers will help you keep a record of the amount of hours and the type of activities you took part in, just as evidence that will be sent to the IBO. 

Many former IB students say that it was a good experience to engage in activities that they may not normally have challenged themselves to do. Also because you will submit a report of the activity every week, it gives you a chance to take part in your activities with purpose, reflect, and spend a meaningful time to learn something new.

3. Difficulties of the IB Diploma

3.1 The IB requires a good level of English

One thing to consider is that most schools will conduct the IB course in English. For “English as a second language” students, it may be challenging especially with the Full Diploma as it is a demanding curriculum with many subjects and requirements, even for English native speakers.

If it is difficult for you to understand the content of the class, you will need to take time on your own to re-read your notes and textbooks. It may also be frustrating when you can’t express your opinion in group work during class.

However, most people will agree that it really depends on your effort whether you will succeed or not. Even if you are not confident with English when you start the IB, there is no doubt that you will improve your English through the 2 years of studying. Since language skills are not so easy to acquire on your own, perhaps it will be a chance of a lifetime!

One former IB student had only been abroad for a year and decided to do the IB. He made sure to ask his teacher and friends anything he didn’t understand, and took the time to review it himself, and finally graduated with an IB score of 40!

So we can say that it’s not all about the English skills but about how willing you are to stay disciplined and work hard to achieve your goal. Which leads to the next point…

3.2 You need a good work ethic & time management skills

One major difference from general classes is that there are assessments throughout the course in different styles (critique, discussions, oral exams and written exams) which are all incorporated into your final score. It means that you need a good work ethic to consistently give your best in the assessments.

Another point is that the IB is not 1 year but a 2 year curriculum, therefore the final exam will cover all materials from the past 2 years. If you start studying for the exam only a few weeks prior, it will be very difficult to review all of the topics you have learned. Instead, you will need to manage your time wisely, and study little by little throughout the 2 years.

Apart from the 6 main subjects, you will also have requirements such as the TOK Essay and CAS which we mentioned earlier. This also means that you will need to identify your tasks and plan out your year carefully.

The IB program is a rigorous and demanding course that requires a lot of dedication from the students. However, it doesn’t mean that there is no time to enjoy your high school life outside of your studies. By learning to have a good work ethic and good management of time, IB students learn to make time to enjoy their hobbies, and learn when to switch on and off between their studies and their free time.

4. So is the IB program really worth it?

We have covered the advantages and disadvantages of studying the IB, but what you really want to know is, is it really worth it? Let’s see what IB graduates who have now become tutors at MakeSense have to say about their experiences.

From my experience, I recommend students to take the IB. I think that it’s not only a valuable experience, but it will also be very useful in the future. As a non-native English speaker, I now have confidence to work in English in the future. Of course it was a lot of work, but it was worth it.

IB graduate from an International School in Germany

The difficult part about IB is that since it requires a balanced study of 6 different subject groups, I had to spend a lot of effort on subjects that I didn’t like very much. On the other hand, it was very enjoyable because the IB also allows you to study the subjects you like in great depth.

IB graduate who went on to study at Oxford University

The best thing about studying IB was the academic skill that I developed naturally. I noticed that the IB essays are expected to be at the same level as ones in university so it was great training. Also through IB History and Theory of Knowledge, I learned to see things from various perspectives, and I am very grateful that I’m not tied to one view.

IB graduate who went on to study at University of British Columbia

Has this information helped you in deciding whether it’s the right course for you? The IB is a very interesting course but it may not be for everyone. It depends on what you want to study, how much you are planning to commit to it, and where you want to go after high school as well! If you would like to get any personal advice about the IB, please don’t hesitate to contact us!