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FAQs: The International Baccalaureate

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Our Complete Guide to The International Baccalaureate


What is an International Baccalaureate?

The International Baccalaureate is an analytical model of learning with children as active participants in the educational process.  It is administered by a non-profit educational foundation started in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968.  According to the foundation, the International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peacefulworld through inter-cultural understanding and respect.”   Initially, offering the pre-university diploma for internationally mobile students, the International Baccalaureate has expanded to a three stage educational program that spans students from 3 – 19 years:

  • Primary Years Program    3 – 12 years
  • Middle Years Program     11 – 16 years
  • IB Diploma                        16 – 19 years

The IB Diploma is one of the most challenging school-leaving qualifications in the world. The IB Diploma is offered in English, French or Spanish.  Students study six subjects, three at a higher level and three at a standard level.  The subjects are chosen from six categories:

  • Language (Literature in native language)
  • Individuals and Societies (History, Geography, Philosophy etc)
  • Mathematics and Computer Science
  • The Arts (Drama, Music, Art)
  • Experimental Sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology etc)
  • Second Language

In addition students have to fulfill three other core requirements:

  • Extended Essay – to be written on a topic of the student’s choice following tightly defined guidelines and to be submitted in the final year.
  • Theory of Knowledge – which asks students to reflect on how they know what they know.
  • Creativity, Action and Service – which requires a certain number of hours are committed to the arts, sporting activities and community service.


How are students assessed through the IB?

Each subject is scored out of 7 and the Extended Essay in combination with the TOK (Theory of Knowledge) is marked out of  a maximum of 3.  The final IB Diploma is then scored out of a total of 45 points with a grade of 24 and above required for an actual IB Diploma.

IB Diplomas are criterion-based not norm-referenced, which means that results are determined by performance against set standards not by each student’s position in the overall rank order. Therefore, the number of students gaining the top mark of 7 in a particular subject does not fluctuate dramatically from year to year and the results are not subject to political interference.


What are the advantages of the International Baccalaureate?

  • IB Programs are internationally recognized and smooth the educational transitions of globally mobile students so that their education is not adversely effected by relocation.
  • IB World Schools are subject to a strict accreditation process monitored by the International Baccalaureate Organization so you can be sure the school is offering a quality education.
  • IB teachers participate in many professional development opportunities to continually promote their awareness of current educational practices and new thinking.
  • IB teaching methods and curricula are research based and draw on the best practices from educational systems around the world.
  • IB students graduating with the IB Diploma are able to study at universities all around the world, often with advanced credit.


What are the disadvantages of the International Baccalaureate?

  • The IB Organization dictates the educational framework but not the curriculum so what is taught still varies from school to school.  This means that despite the global approach, students transferring from one International Baccalaureate school to another still may repeat or miss subjects, and some subjects may not be offered by the new school.
  • Although all IB schools are centrally accredited, not all IB schools are the same.  Some are definitely more academic than others.  To find out where a school stands academically, check whether they publish their IB Diploma results online (a score of 36 and above is necessary for entry to the top universities) and if they list the universities their students ultimately attend.  The more academic schools are happy to publish their success in this way, the less academic will use a different set of criteria to define success.
  • The standard of the IB Diploma is extremely high and the most competitive universities demand students achieve high scores across all six subjects.  If a student is weak or struggles in any one subject it will pull down their ultimate score.  For students who excel only in the sciences or the arts or the humanities, more specialized exam systems may allow them to achieve better results.


How do you find out more?

The International Baccalaureate Organization has a very comprehensive website including listings of IB schools worldwide:

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