A levels or IB

(52 Posts)
Socialaddict Sat 06-Aug-16 20:33:38

What do people think of the IB diploma and would you choose it over A levels? If anyone can give me more info on the IB diploma and any experience with doing it would be much appreciated. My DD15 is deliberating between the two and I really have no experience with it, so not sure what to advise her. Which are the best states schools in the London area to do this? Is IB well received with the good universities in UK and abroad?

boatashore Sat 06-Aug-16 20:55:41

I don't know if this is breaking MN protocol... there was a post on this a year ago (which you might want to look for), and I'm pasting in my reply as I'm too lazy to rewrite!

If your goal is to give your DD an excellent education, the IB is well worth considering. The three Higher Level subjects are at A level standard (some a bit lower, some a bit higher, but overall roughly equivalent), while the Standard Level subjects are a shade higher than AS Level, and result in a very well rounded education. Plus, there is the 5,000 word Extended Essay research paper and 2,000-word externally assessed research papers in every subject, which mean DC arrive at university very well prepared and well organized. My understanding is that IB students do better than average at university as a result.

IB is also a good choice for students who aren't ready to narrow down at age 15. My DD could have applied to study a range of humanities or biological sciences at university.

BUT... if your goal is to minimize stress and get your DC into the best possible UK university, I would steer clear of the IB. On the stress front, there are the CAS (Creativity, Activity and Service) hours that make for a well rounded, community-minded person but take up a lot of time. Then there is Theory of Knowledge; yet another course and yet more work. Plus the fact that students are carrying six subjects, often with at least one where they have little aptitude, plus that 5,000 word Extended Essay, 6x2,000 word pieces of submitted coursework, oral exams in a host of subjects (not just languages), plus..... It is a very heavy programme.

For universities: One mediocre grade in a Standard Level course that is not remotely related to your DC's future plans (in my DD's case, maths) can pull down the whole average, making it difficult to hit those conditional offers. And IB students are competing for places with A Level students, who are generally taking far fewer courses and only in areas of strength.

For medicine, IB students simply cannot take three sciences and this can be limiting. DD's friends had very limited options for medicine despite being top students. And in my humble opinion, many UK universities do not properly value IB and have requirements that do not equate to what they require for A Level (unlike Canadian and US).

Hope this helps.

TheOnlyLivingBoyInNewCross Sat 06-Aug-16 20:56:06

I teach IB at the school I work at. The students who opt for it over A Levels need to be very highly motivated and organised (although not all of them are...) Your DD will have to choose 3 Higher subjects, 3 Standard subjects, as well as submitting an Extended Essay, studying Theory of Knowledge, and fulfilling the CAS (creativity/action/service) hours in her spare time. Our IB students have very little free time in the week - one or two free periods at most and sometimes none.

UK universities are accustomed to making offers in terms of point score required (the IB is out of 45 points overall). Many courses will attach conditions to that - so you might have to get an overall number of points but 7 6 6 in your Higher subjects for example (the maximum number of points you can gain in a subject is 7).

The IB is obviously well-suited for applications to universities outside the UK.

I don't know anything about London state schools though, I'm afraid, but happy to answer questions about the IB if I can.

Socialaddict Sat 06-Aug-16 21:47:27

Thank you *Boat and TheOnly,* very helpful advice indeed! I shall consider it very carefully before deciding on it. She only just found out that IB is more interesting and generally more all rounded which she is attracted to. Your information and experience helps me enormously, thank you!

Coconutty Sat 06-Aug-16 21:55:01

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Socialaddict Sat 06-Aug-16 22:39:47

Having read a few more threads on MN, I feel that the amount of work required for IB is huge! Starting to get cold feet about it tbh.

sendsummer Sun 07-Aug-16 03:24:49

For medicine, IB students simply cannot take three sciences and this can be limiting. DD's friends had very limited options for medicine despite being top students
Actual IB is fine and not limiting for medicine options (and well within the capabilities of future medical students) as long as they choose chemistry and biology (they of course also do maths). It however, as has often been repeated here, not a good option for those aiming to do mathematical STEM subjects as higher level maths is harder to get a top grade for and does not cover all the material that FM maths A level allows.

Unfortunately there is no halfway house between early overspecialisation for some students from sixth forms restricting to 3 A levels and the time consuming prescriptive IB syllabus.

ShanghaiDiva Sun 07-Aug-16 03:54:21

My ds is about to start the IB diploma and I think it is more work than A levels, but the extended essays are excellent preparation for university. I think candidates who are 'all rounders' would perform better at IB as a foreign language and maths are compulsory.
It is possible to take the foreign language element early which can take the pressure off the final year.
I don't know much about the CAS element (meeting at school tomorrow) but as my son does a lot of sport outside school already am hoping that activity element is already covered.

PollyCoddle Sun 07-Aug-16 04:20:37

I did the IB many moons ago and can testify to it being considerably more work than A levels. How we laughed at the A level students in our year who only started working as hard as us when they got to their mocks. It was the sheer volume of subjects which we had to study.

Most people did their extended essay over the summer between lower and upper sixth. Most of us played an instrument which counted towards the CAS requirement.

TK was so interesting - I really enjoyed it. Back then at least we studied the philosophy of Maths, of science etc so it gave added interest to the other subjects.

I loved Maths at GCSE and took it early but struggled so much with maths at IB Subsidiary level. You could take an easier version, which some people did to boost thei overall total. I wasn't that savvy sadly.

My parents really valued the idea of a broad education and pushed me hard towards the IB rather than taking 4 A levels. 20 odd years ago the universities didn't really understand it and so I had very high conditional offers, which was a bit stressful. If a knowledgable PP says that has changed, then that's brilliant as that was really the main downside for me, after all my hard work.

I went to the Anglo-European which I don't think is that great, but I think that was one of the only state schools running it at the time.

PollyCoddle Sun 07-Aug-16 04:21:52

Oh yes and we had to write our essays on French/ German literature in the language, which wasn't even required in my modern languages degree. So first year of university was slightly cruisey after the sixth form.

ShanghaiDiva Sun 07-Aug-16 04:59:50

I do think the IB is valued now by universities and all the ones I have looked at state the IB points required next to the A levels required.
I think the IB was not so highly regarded in the past. Dsil was at an international school 27 years ago and opted for A levels rather than IB - IB was regarded as weird and foreign!

EndofSummerLooming Sun 07-Aug-16 06:25:36

My ds did IB. Hard work, fostered discipline, all round qualification but not for the faint hearted. He got low offers from excellent RG unis, including Bristol, Warwick, KCL, Durham. Oxford only wanted 42. He did it at a selective independent.

We thought he'd be happier doing A'Levels but he loved his school so much he didn't want to leave. DD who is the more natural all rounder is doing A'Levels plus grade 8 music and it's a breeze in comparison.

CAS was easy: Creativity, art and his love of music, Activity, rugby, football and cricket, Service, he delivered church service leaflets and helped me at the night shelter a couple of times.

It did mean he struggled with lack of structure in his first year.

TheOnlyLivingBoyInNewCross Sun 07-Aug-16 09:27:30

sendsummer - I'm a bit confused by what you say about Maths as the IB offers Further Maths as an elective alongside Maths at Higher level.

EndofSummerLooming Sun 07-Aug-16 09:32:36

The further maths might be quite new. I do recall issues with IB over maths/engineering but only at Cambridge and only anecdotally. Ours are liberal arts inclined.

ShhhhNow Sun 07-Aug-16 09:36:40

DS did the IB and is doing medicine. He didn't have any other qualifications at all so needed to do IB to get qualifications in English. He couldn't apply to all medical schools as he wasn't studying physics and had no exsisting physics qualification but as you can only apply to 4 universities it didn't matter.
i think one of the biggest factors in deciding whether to do the IB is the school. DSs school. has stopped teaching it as their results were very patchy and there was a lack of interest. However, some schools (private?) get incredible results. I think there are a couple who have average marks of 42? DSs schools average was much, much lower. hmm. DS had to self teach two subjects including higher maths.

I'm not sure I agree with the good preparation for university argument. If that were true you would be better off sending your DC to your local sixth form college where they get minimal supervision/feedback etc and really have to work things out for themselves. wink

marcopront Sun 07-Aug-16 09:44:12

There is some incorrect information here.

Further Maths has always been available. It used to be an SL but has been an HL for three years now.

The Extended Essay is 4000 words not 5000.

The Internal Assessment varies from subject to subject it is not a 2000 word essay in each subject.

It is possible to take any SL subject a year early not just languages.

It is possible to do all three sciences with special permission.

In Maths there is a level called Maths Studies for students who do not need Maths again, which means non mathematicians should not be disadvantaged.

I believe the IB Diploma is the best preparation for university. It is tough but the evidence shows it makes the first year at university easier.

TheOnlyLivingBoyInNewCross Sun 07-Aug-16 10:12:44

Yes: what marcopront says. For a start, the coursework in my subject is only 1,500 words - which is nothing at sixth form level.

And the universities seem to have a fairly good understanding of the IB. None of our students appear to have been disadvantaged by studying it in terms of offers from top universities, including Oxbridge and Harvard.

Chikara Sun 07-Aug-16 11:10:19

Agree with most of what has been said. IB more work, requires more organization but better prep for uni.

Offers from good universities are much more likely now with the IB than they used to be - they have cottoned on to the fact that the students are good and are less likely to struggle with the first year of a degree course.

A low grade in a weak subject can pull an overall grade down but the general all roundedness makes up for it.

I have a child who did IB and got a place at a top university. It was huge amount of work though

sendsummer Sun 07-Aug-16 11:31:46

sendsummer - I'm a bit confused by what you say about Maths as the IB offers Further Maths as an elective alongside Maths at Higher level.. As an elective that increases the work load even more and is normally for very able students who have taken higher maths early, a much lower percentage take it than those doing FM A level. My understanding is that very few UK schools doing IB offer that as an option.
It is also significantly harder (very low percentage) to achieve a 7 in higher maths than A* in A level FM.

HugItOut Sun 07-Aug-16 12:14:01

DD says doing her medical degree (5th year) is easier and less stressful than doing the IB.

BTW the number of students doing IB further maths is extremely small HERE are the worldwide stats for 2015. Less than 40 students got a 7 in further maths in the whole world in 2015. shock

Ohlalala Sun 07-Aug-16 13:15:59

Here are a few points that come to mind:

There are gradually more and more students with the IB although A Level students remain the majority. These tend to come from public school backgrounds and there is more and more of a divide between the two groups.(I work at a Russell Group University. )

I generally find IB students stand out from the crowd. They have acquired good learning techniques, have developed an inquisitive mind and tend to have a solid general knowledge. Whether it is simply down to the IB or whether the IB tends to attract highly academic, hard working pupils in the first place, I don't know. Of course there are also many outstanding A level students but sometimes I have a feeling they are outstanding thanks to the efforts they put in in their own time or thanks to their home environment rather than from what they went through for A level. I must say these high performing A level students are very well prepared to uni life though since they already know how to organise themselves, set goals for themselves and work independently.

Having done the French Baccalaureate (very different from the IB, and much worse), I must say I liked that having kept all subjects, I was in a position at 18 to study whatever I wanted. 16 would have been too early for me to make such a big decision for my future.

If my children turn out to be academically bright, I will encourage them to do the IB. If they aren't, I won't as I'd be afraid for their mental health as it is such a hard course.

boatashore Sun 07-Aug-16 13:42:29

It is worth checking out the worldwide stats. For English Literature Higher, only 3% of IB students received 7 (A*), and 18% received 6 (A), compared with 6% of A Level literature candidates receiving A* and 19.4% receiving As.

But the bigger issue is that a DC can get the equivalent of A* in all three of their higher level subjects, and still miss their university offer if they mess up just one standard level subject that is not remotely related to their degree. Whereas their A Level peers will have safely dropped their weakest subjects years earlier.

Yes, there is the maths studies option, but that's not much comfort for a DC who is truly terrible at maths but brilliant in languages, humanities and arts -- nor is there much comfort for a maths and physics genius who can't write essays but is stuck having to continue with English, a humanities subject and a foreign language.

And yes, an essay of 1,500 to 2,000 words is not outrageous at this age, but multiply it by 6 for IB, not 3 for A level, and add in the fact that some students will be writing essays in at least one subject for which they have little aptitude...

All of that said, DD2 is likely to be doing IB!

marcopront Sun 07-Aug-16 14:08:42

Boatashore I am not sure where you have got the idea of the 1500 to 2000 word essay in every subject from. As two of us have said the Internal Assessment component, which I assume you are referring to, varies from subject to subject.

In Maths it is either a project, for Studies, which is generally Statistical analysis or an exploration, for HL and SL, which is a study into a real life application of Maths. I don't off the top of my head know the requirements for other subject but I have never heard a student talk about writing essays in their other subjects.

Socialaddict Sun 07-Aug-16 14:11:40

Very valuable and wise advice from all, thank you very much! I think we have made our mind having read all of the above. The likelihood is DD will continue the A level route, as this will not require a school move and avoid too many other complications. The IB sounds fantastic, though. Good luck to all your DC who choose to take this path!

ShanghaiDiva Sun 07-Aug-16 14:23:38

There is no 2000 word essay for language B at standard level either.

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