Facts and FAQs

What is the IB Diploma?

The International Baccalaureate Diploma is a two-year programme for Sixth Form pupils. Pupils study six subjects and complete three additional requirements which come under the IB Diploma ‘core’.  These three ‘core’ elements are the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course, the Extended Essay (EE) and at least 150 hours of creativity, activity and service (CAS) tasks outside of the classroom.

What subjects do Diploma pupils study?

The IB Diploma is split into six different subject areas: language acquisition; sciences; the arts; mathematics; individuals and societies (humanities); and studies in language and literature. The arts course can be replaced by a second humanities subject, a second science, or a third language. Pupils are able to decide which three subjects to take at higher level (HL) and which three to take at standard level (SL); choosing three of each is a requirement of the IB.

The three elements of the IB Diploma core are covered within the six subjects as well as in stand-alone sessions and independent study. These core elements help pupils to develop key skills which will help them to succeed in Higher Education and in the world of work. The TOK course spans several subjects, and is designed to encourage pupils to question how they learn. The CAS element enables pupils to complete a wide variety of extra-curricular community service. The EE introduces pupils to the demands and rewards of independent and in depth study – emphasis is placed on undertaking personal research and communicating ideas effectively in order to write a 4,000 word essay on an area of personal interest.

How many exams are there?

A Diploma pupil will sit six exams, one for each subject. Three will be taken at HL, and three at SL (depending on the level chosen). Pupils do not take exams for the ‘core’ section of the Diploma, however, they will be assessed on coursework.

How is the Diploma marked?

Each of the six Diploma subjects is awarded a points score between one and seven. The EE and TOK courses are combined to give a further three points. Pupils must earn a minimum of 24 points (out of a possible 45 points) on the final assessment (externally marked), in order to receive the full Diploma certificate.

How does the IB compare to A levels?

Unlike A Levels, the Diploma does not limit pupils to studying three (or four) subjects, and the IB also provides a coherent programme of study incorporating the pupils’ six chosen subjects alongside all of the core elements outlined above. To find out more, take a look at our Sixth Form curriculum comparison table.

Do universities recognise the IB?

All UK and US universities recognise the value of the IB Diploma as preparation for Higher Education, and details of universities’ standard entry requirements can be found on their individual websites or on UCAS Course Search. Universities have extensive experience of welcoming Diploma pupils onto their courses and appreciate the breadth of skills IB students bring to Higher Education institutions, and the success they have in transitioning from school to university.

How does the Diploma prepare pupils for university

The IB Diploma prepares pupils for successful transition to Higher Education through the breadth of its curriculum, which develops key skills needed to thrive in Higher Education, such as research, inquiry, independent study, analysis and critical thinking. In 2016, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) published a report comparing the outcomes of IB Diploma and A Level pupils in higher education, and demonstrated that IB pupils make excellent progress at university. In particular, the report shows:

  • Between 2012 and 2013, 46 percent of Diploma pupils achieved places to study at a top 20 UK university, compared to only 33 percent of A Level pupils
  • IB Diploma pupils have a greater likelihood of earning a first class honours degree compared to their A Level peers (23 percent versus 19 percent respectively).

Do you have to be good at mathematics to study the IB?

The IB mathematics curriculum caters for all abilities. There are three options available for pupils to choose from: mathematics studies, mathematics SL, and mathematics HL. Mathematics studies provides practical skills to help pupils deal with the type of mathematics needed in everyday life and business, at a similar standard to GCSE mathematics, whereas the SL and HL options provide a more rigorous option for pupils wishing to pursue mathematics beyond Sixth Form.

What kind of pupil makes a good IB candidate?

The Diploma is a rigorous but rewarding course of study for motivated pupils. A pupil’s dedication to study, willingness to be organised in order to complete the required work, and strong commitment to learning in and beyond the classroom, while managing to lead a balanced life, is a success indicator for prospective IB pupils.