Summary: The IB is made up of six subjects from different categories, a philosophy element called Theory of Knowledge (“ToK”), Creativity, Action and Service (“CAS”) and an Extended Essay (“EE”) which is a dissertation style essay. To be awarded the IB Diploma, three of the six subjects must be higher level (“HL”) with the other three being taken at Standard Level (“SL”). HL subjects are extremely rigorous subjects, especially Economics, Physics and Maths which are notoriously difficult.
The IB is considered the most rigorous of school qualifications. Pupils leave with a wide range of subject knowledge as the following subjects are compulsory: a foreign language, maths, an experimental science and a social science.
Strengths: Due to the numbers of subjects taken, pupils can keep their options open and have many paths they could follow at university. On top of the breadth of knowledge, HL subjects are studied to a high level of detail meaning that pupils are prepared for university courses. Content required in the IB is far beyond A-levels and Advanced Placements, additionally the IB isn’t just about subject knowledge. The CAS, ToK and EE elements are required in order to develop pupils into more rounded individuals. On top of this, the IB diploma is an international qualification and so is autonomous from any one government’s agenda.
Weaknesses: The weaknesses are actually similar to the strengths. The breadth and depth of subjects means that the qualification is an extremely difficult one. Universities often undervalue it which means pupils can need to exceed what they would need in A-levels and APs.
Summary: The Advanced Levels (“A-levels”) are two year qualifications. In the first year, students typically take 4 subjects at AS-Level where they are assessed at the end of the year and given a grade from A*-E. It is common for pupils to drop one subject and continue with three in their second year. The first year and second year grades are combined to give an overall A-Level grade for those three subjects. Pupils do not have any requirements of the subjects they must take. However, universities can offer out grade requirements to pupils specifying that they do not count certain subjects, such as General Studies and other vocational subjects.
One strength over IB is that pupils can drop subjects they have had little success or enjoyment in. They are not forced to take any subjects. Given that students take only three subjects, this can be an advantage to a pupil who knows what they want to study at university and so can take the three A-Levels that best suit that course. A-Levels are split into two examination periods, one at the end of year 1 and one at the end of year 2. This takes the pressure off pupils slightly, especially compared to pupils studying the IB who are required to recall 6 subjects and are only assessed at the end of the course.
Pupils can take more than 3 subjects, however it is uncommon for pupils to take more than 4 into their final year. This forces pupils to specialise at the age of 16, which may be before they are ready to make that choice.
The AP programme offers subjects at a college-level to allow American High School Diploma students to develop higher level curriculum knowledge. American Colleges count these APs as credits and so pupils who have taken APs have a possibility of graduating earlier. Not only are they useful in American colleges for credits, but students will also be more prepared for courses they have completed an AP in.
APs are not a requirement to get into college but are an advantage, however they are only really considered by American colleges. UK universities in general count three APs as the equivalent to one A-Level. That is not to say that pupils going to UK universities would not benefit from APs. If a student of the American High School Diploma had plans to go to a UK university, APs would be beneficial as subjects in the High School Diploma are generally not as rigorous as A-Levels. Taking an AP would prepare them for that subject at university and the student would be on par with pupils with A-levels.