Facts and FAQs

What is the IB Diploma?

The International Baccalaureate Diploma is a two-year programme for Sixth Form students. All students study six subjects: three at Higher Level and three at Standard Levels. In addition, students write an Extended Essay and follow a critical thinking course entitled Theory of Knowledge. Participation in creative activities, sports and Service are also required.

How many exams are there?

A student will take six exams, including one literature course, one foreign language, one social science, one experimental science, one maths, and one arts course. The arts course can be replaced by a second social science, a second experimental science, or a third language. Of the six exams, three are taken at the standard level (SL), and three taken at the higher level (HL).

What is the “Extended Essay”?

The Extended Essay is a 4,000 word piece of original research conducted by each IB Diploma candidate. The student researches and writes on a topic of his/her choosing, and has a tutor to help with the essay.

What is “Theory of Knowledge”?

Theory of Knowledge, or TOK, is a seminar-type course that explores the linkages between subject areas (courses). It is part existential, philosophical, psychological and metaphysical. Students submit a presentation-tape and reflective paper, in order to successfully complete the course.

What is “CAS”?

CAS stands for Creativity-Action-Service. In order to successfully complete the IB Diploma, each student must have documented 150 hours of after-school activities that are evenly split among creative, action, and service oriented endeavours.

How does the points system work?

Each of the six subjects is graded out of 7. The Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge are combined to give up to 3 core points. The total diploma score is therefore a maximum 45 points.

How does the IB compare to A levels?

The International Baccalaureate Diploma is a complete programme of study. To find out more take a look at our Sixthform Curriculum A Level IB comparison table. The IB has not suffered from grade inflation and therefore is able to distinguish between good and excellent students. All universities recognise the IB as at least an equivalent qualification, and in some cases indicate a preference for it.

Do universities recognise the IB?

The IB Diploma is recognised by all UK and US universities, and in surveys Admissions Tutors regularly support the claim that the IB provides an excellent – and better – preparation for university and the world of work. Leading universities like the fact that the IB results allow them to discriminate at the top end and that, unlike other qualifications, there has been no grade inflation over the last twenty years.

In 2011 the Higher Education Statistics Agency* conducted research on the relative success rates of IB Students and concluded:

  • 19% of IB entrants achieved a first-class honours degree, compared to 14.5% with A level or equivalent.
  • IB students are almost twice as likely to study medicine and dentistry: 5.1% compared to 2.9% of A level.

* Research published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) in 2011

View the full HESA report

What subjects are available?

For details of the wide range of subjects currently available, please our Course Descriptors leaflet.

You have to be good at Maths to study for the IB

The Maths curriculum at IB caters for all abilities.  There are three options to choose from – Maths Studies (SL), Maths (SL) and Maths (HL). Maths Studies is the easiest and it is similar to GCSE standard. It provides practical skills to help you deal with the type of maths needed in everyday life and business.

The IB sounds like a lot of extra work. What are the advantages of enrolling in the IB Programme?

Students with IB Diplomas, who now attend universities, report that their involvement with IB has given them the tools needed to succeed at university and to make the most of their post-secondary education. In particular, students comment on their sense of preparedness, their self-confidence, their research skills, their ability to manage their time, and their willingness to be actively engaged in their own learning. Even more importantly, they have developed a sense of the world around them, their responsibility to it, and the skills with which to embrace the complexities of life.

Does the IB provide breadth but no real depth in its subjects?

The higher level subjects provide good depth. The Internal Assessments and in particular the Extended Essay allow you to explore your subjects deeper. Even the standard level subjects stand up very well when compared with other courses.

Is the IB a new qualification?

The IB was set up in 1968 and is studied by over 200 schools in the UK and over 2,300 worldwide. Around 52,000 students take the IB Diploma exams every May. The last major A level reform was in 2000 and A-levels are once again about to undergo some major changes.