How to choose between the IB and A-Level
One of the most important decisions to make when considering an international school is choosing which program you will study. You have two options: the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (commonly known as A-Level), or the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (the IB). Both of these courses are what is popularly known as “high school” programs, which you take during your last two years, and can be taken by anyone who is above 16-years-old.
Which one is best for you depends entirely on your personal preferences, this is different for every student. Now, so that you can make up your own mind, it is important to know how the study programs are structured in the first place.
A-Levels are the official high school diploma in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Typically, students take three or four subjects at A-Level, but they can choose more if they want to.
This program of study is divided into two “phases”: AS-levels and A2-levels. AS-Levels are taken in your first year of study and serve as a “foundation” for your final year when you are expected to take on more advanced coursework. Students are allowed to opt-out of some subjects after their first year, so they will have AS-level qualifications for these areas as long as they complete at least three subjects at A2-level. These count towards the “final grade,” while the AS-levels can serve as an addition to your curriculum. Most A-level subjects consist of four modules each.
The grading system is letters instead of numbers, as is custom in the United Kingdom, they go from A-E in capital letters, while the AS-level grades are written as lowercase letters (a-e).
This international program consists of six subjects. You must take one subject from each of the following areas: first language (one in which you are already academically competent), second language, humanities, Science, and Mathematics. The last subject can either be taken in the humanities area, or you can use it to take an additional subject in one of the other areas. In addition, you must choose three of these subjects to take at the Higher Level (ideally subjects related to your personal interests and what you want to do in your future career) to allow you to deepen your knowledge. These are comparable to the German Leistungskurs in high school.
The IB program also includes an academic core consisting of a subject called Theory of Knowledge (TOK), an Extended Essay (EE), and CAS (which stands for Creativity, Action, and Service and encourages students to engage in extracurricular activities).
IB grades go from 1 to 7 in each subject. For the Extended Essay and TOK, a student can receive a maximum of 3 bonus points, so the highest total score that can be achieved is 45. The diploma is awarded to students with a minimum of 24 points, but there are also some other requirements to pass.
So which degree program should you choose?
If you don’t necessarily want to go to a university in the UK, the IB is probably a better choice. Since it is an international program, it is recognized in almost 90 countries and also strongly promotes a global perspective. However, if you are sure you want to study in the UK, it is better to do A-Levels, as this is the country’s traditional high school diploma.
A-Levels would also be better if you want to enroll in a university, such as Oxford or Cambridge, or in a course, such as medicine, that requires an interview as part of the admissions process, as the questions you will be asked are usually phrased with A-Levels in mind.
This is also because A-Levels allow for deeper knowledge in areas related to what you want to do at university because there are far fewer subjects and coursework, so students have more time for independent study.
On the other hand, if you’re not sure what course of study you want to pursue at which university, you should probably take the IB because it’s broader in scope and gives you exposure to a wide variety of knowledge areas. Also, the IB better prepares students for university work, as there is research throughout the two years that go into the final grade (the internal assessments and the Extended Essay), not just exams at the end.
Still, there’s no denying that the IB Diploma is really a lot of work and may not give you the freedom you might need.
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