IB Diploma vs A-Levels: An Analysis of the Key Differences

In A-Level, General by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

It can be easy to assume that equivalent qualifications follow the same structure or even that they have similar content. However, is this really true?

To put this into context, both A-Levels and the IB Diploma are considered level 3 qualifications in the UK. Due to this, you might be wondering how different these qualifications really can be and what (if any) these differences even are.

  IB Diploma A-Levels
Number of subjects 6 (+ 3 “core” components) Normally 3
Subject options Out of 6 categories.

1.      Studies in language and literature.

2.      Language acquisition.

3.      Individual and societies.

4.      Science.

5.      Mathematics.

6.      Arts.

Depending on sixth form/ college’s availability and entry requirements. (Full list below)
Forms of assessment Exams and coursework. Depends on the subject.
Grading Uses a point system each subject is worth up to 7 points and core components are worth 1 point each.

Students need 24 to pass.

A*-E grading system for each individual qualification.

Students need a grade E to pass.

This article will take you through the key differences between the IB Diploma and A-Levels. Continue reading for a comparison on the structure, subjects and exams between these 2 qualifications.

What is the IB Diploma?

To start of comparing the IB Diploma and A-Levels, let’s look at what each of these are. As you’ll probably be less familiar with it, we’ll start with the IB Diploma.

The IB Diploma is an academic programme that is taught to students between the ages of 16 and 19 years old. It stands for International Baccalaureate Diploma.

Living up to its name, this qualification is taught internationally. Due to this, there are about 159 different countries, where the IB is taught, across around 5,600 schools.

This also means that it is internationally recognised and is widely recognised to meet entry requirements for higher education or for work.

In the UK, the IB Diploma is a level 3 qualification, which would roughly be a level 6 qualification in the Scottish SCQF levels. This means that it is at an equivalent level to A-Level qualifications and other forms of further education in the UK.

You can learn more about the International Baccalaureate Diploma by checking out this Think Student article.

What are A-Levels?

If you’re from the UK, you’ll probably be familiar with A-Levels. However, we’ll still go through exactly what these qualifications are for people who don’t know and to make it easier to compare them to the IB Diploma.

A-Levels are once again a type of level 3 qualification that students can take in the UK. These qualifications are studied in specific subjects, these come in quite a wide range with some subjects including Japanese, film studies, psychology, economics and many more.

A-Levels are a form of further education as they are one of the options that can be taken by students after completing their GCSEs or equivalent qualifications. Due to this, they are studied in sixth form, colleges or sixth form colleges.

While primarily aimed at students between the ages of 16 and 19, who would be at sixth form, A-Levels can be taken privately and can be done at a later age.

You can learn more about A-Level qualifications by checking out this Think Student article.

What are the differences between the IB Diploma and A-Levels?

Now that we’ve looked at the qualifications on their own, we can finally delve into comparing them and analysing their main differences. However, before we can do this, we need to know what these main differences actually are.

Look at the following list to get an overview of the main differences between the IB Diploma and A-Levels.

  • The number of subjects you study
  • The subject options to study
  • How the courses are assessed
  • How the courses are graded

In the following sections we’ll break down these points so you can see why these are the main differences and more on the important details of these.

IB Diploma vs A-Levels: How many subjects can you study?

As you could see from the outline, the main differences between A-Levels and the IB Diploma is how the courses are structured. One of the most notable of these structural differences between the IB Diploma and A-Levels is the number of different subjects that you can study.

For the IB Diploma, students are expected to study 6 subjects. These 6 subjects are separate to each other, so it’s not like students in the UK taking the same subject in AS-Levels/ Highers and A-Levels/ Advanced Highers.

On top of these subjects, students doing the IB Diploma programme will also need to complete the DP Core. This is the foundation of the IB Diploma programme and comes in 3 parts.

The 3 parts of the IB Diploma core are as follows.

  • Theory of knowledge.
  • An extended essay.
  • Creation, service, action.

For A-Level qualifications, students are only really expected to take 3 A-Levels. In some cases, students may take more or less. However, this will generally be up to their sixth form or college to allow them to or not.

Therefore, the IB Diploma appears to be more varied than A-Levels and go beyond just subjects, whereas A-Levels appear to be more focused on fewer specific areas. This also shows that the IB Diploma is a single interconnected programme, unlike A-Levels which are each separate qualifications.

IB Diploma vs A-Levels: Which subjects can you study?

As we’ve already looked at, IB Diploma students will study 6 different subjects and A-Level students will study around 3. However, you might be wondering if there are any rules or restriction regarding which of these qualifications.

For A-Levels, the main restriction is your sixth form or college. Primarily, this will be down to the courses that they actually offer out of all the A-Levels subjects.

Although sixth forms and colleges may also restrict students from taking certain courses together or may stop certain students from takin certain courses.

For example, the sixth form or college may have a graded entry requirement, such as with GCSE grade requirements. If you don’t meet these requirements, you won’t be able to take the A-Level course.

The full list of subjects that you can do for A-Levels in the UK are as follows:

  • A-Level Art and Design
  • A-Level Business
  • A-Level Computer Science
  • A-Level Economics
  • A-Level English Literature
  • A-Level English Language
  • A-Level English Language and Literature
  • A-Level History
  • A-Level science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics)
  • A-Level Sociology
  • A-Level Ancient Languages
  • A-Level Dance
  • A-Level Drama and Theatre
  • A-Level Geography
  • A-Level Modern Foreign Languages
  • A-Level Music
  • A-Level Physical Education
  • A-Level Religious Studies
  • A-Level Accounting
  • A-Level Archaeology
  • A-Level Archaeology
  • A-Level Classical Civilisation
  • A-Level Design and Technology
  • A-Level Electronics
  • A-Level Environmental Science
  • A-Level Film Studies
  • A-Level Further Maths
  • A-Level Geology
  • A-Level History of Art
  • A-Level Law
  • A-Level Media Studies
  • A-Level Media Technology
  • A-Level Philosophy
  • A-Level Politics
  • A-Level Statistics

You can learn more about these by checking out this page on the government website. You can also see which A-Levels are the most popular in the UK in this Think Student article.

Which subjects can you take for the IB Diploma programme?

As previously mentioned, there are no real restrictions to the A-Levels you can take, aside from the number. However, this is not still the same with the IB Diploma.

For the 6 subjects you can take for the IB Diploma programme, there are certain categories from which you have to choose your subjects.

These 6 categories with their subject options are as follows.

  • Studies in language and literature- Language A: literature, Language A: language and literature, and literature and performance.
  • Language acquisition– Classical languages, Language Ab Initio, and Language B.
  • Individuals and societies- Business management, digital society, economics, geography, global politics, history, language and culture, philosophy, psychology, social and cultural anthropology, and world religions.
  • Science– Biology, chemistry, computer science, design technology, environmental systems and societies, physics, and sports, exercise and health science.
  • Mathematics– Analysis and approaches, applications and interpretation.
  • Arts– Dance, film, music, theatre and visual arts.

As previously mentioned, due to the “DP Core” students will also have to complete an essay, an extended essay, an exhibition and to carry out at least one project that relates to creativity, activity or service.

Therefore, we can see that the IB Diploma is a lot more intense and has a higher workload than students would face with the standard set of 3 A-Levels. You can learn more about its workload by checking out this Think Student article.

IB Diploma vs A-Levels: How are they assessed?

For A-Levels, how the assessment works can vary depending on the subject. Some courses will be purely written exams, some will be a mixture of written exams and coursework and others may also include controlled assessment exams or speaking exams.

As linear qualifications, A-Levels are generally formally assessed at the end of the 2-year course with the summer exam season. You can find out more about it in this Think Student article.

IB Diplomas are also linear qualifications so their exams will also come at the end of the course. However, the coursework involved in the IB Diploma is always mandatory to achieve the qualification.

As previously mentioned, the coursework involved in this programme are for the DP Core components. These include an essay and an extended essay, an exhibition and at least one project relating to creativity, activity or service.

You can learn more about this by checking out this page of the International Baccalaureate Organization website.

IB Diploma vs A-Levels: How are they graded?

Now that we’ve looked at how both the IB Diploma and A-Level qualifications are assessed, we can finally shed some light onto their grading systems.

A-Levels are graded using the familiar lettered grading system. For A-Levels, this ranges from grades A* as the highest grade that students can get, to a grade E, which is the lowest passing score. Below this, students will receive a grade U.

For A-Levels, students will get an entirely separate grade from on qualification to the next. You can learn more about this and other things about A-Levels in the Think Student article linked above.

However, as the IB Diploma is an interconnected programme, it rating is too.

For the IB Diploma, students will be assessed in their chosen subjects. This makes up the majority of their overall grade as students are given between 1 and 7 points depending on how well they did. The passing grade out of these is 3 or more.

The DP Core section makes up 3 points with each for one component. All of these components need to be passed and students need to get a minimum overall score of 24 to be able to pass.

Therefore, this shows that students doing the IB have a much more complicated assessment and grading process, which is a lot more intense. You can learn more about it by checking out this page from the International Baccalaureate Organization.

*Please note that the above information is partially sourced from this page of the International Baccalaureate Organization’s website.

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