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International Curriculum: IB or A-Level?

4 Min Read
November 07, 2022

Oxbridge Vs. Ivy Leagues, Oxford Vs. Cambridge, UCs Vs. Ivy Leagues are some of the notable rivalries in the education realm. But before deciding which university to enter, first you need to pick which high school international curriculum is the right one for you. In this case, it's the IB Diploma Programme Vs. A-Level. So, which team are you?

International Baccalaureate (IB)

Just like the name suggests - IB - International Baccalaureate is an international qualification that is almost universally accepted across the world. 

IB students typically take six subjects, three at a higher level and three at a standard level. Subjects that you need to take include first language, second language, Humanities, Sciences and Mathematics. The last subject can either be taken in the field of Arts, or be used to take one more subject in one of the categories. 

The IB Diploma Programme also includes core components, which consists of Theory of Knowledge (TOK), an extended essay (EE) and Creativity, Action, Service (CAS). The Theory of Knowledge (TOK) asks students to reflect on the nature of knowledge; the Extended Essay (EE) is a 4,000-word independent piece of research on a topic related to one of the IB subjects being studied; and Community, Action, Service (CAS) requires students to participate in a range of activities and projects that involves artistic, sporting and voluntary work. 

For each of the subjects, IB grades range from 1 to 7, with 1 being the lowest and 7 being the highest. A student can get up to 3 bonus points if they complete the DP Core requirements which include the Extended Essay and TOK. These scores are all added together to give an overall score, with 45 being the highest possible grade. You need to reach at least 24 points to get the IB Diploma. 


The GCE Advanced Level, or A-Level, is a secondary school-leaving qualification in the United Kingdom that is also recognized internationally. Although there is no limit to the number of subjects taken, most A-Level students focus on three or four academic areas studied in depth that reflect the direction they are likely to take at university level.

The A-Level program is divided into two 'stages' - AS Level, and A2 Level. AS-Levels are taken during the first year of studies that serves as a 'foundation' before moving on to the A2-Level, which offers more advanced coursework. 

Pass grades of A-Level are A* (the highest grade), followed by A, B, C, D and E. The overall A-Level score is taken from the average of the AS Level score and the A2 Level score. 

It's important to note that AS and A2 Level exams must be taken within 12 months of one another. Otherwise, the AS mark 'expires', and it can no longer be paired with the A2 mark to achieve an A-Level qualification. Furthermore, in AS and A2 courses, coursework or classroom participation grades have no impact on the final grade. Instead, the final examination scores determine the final score.

Key differences

These are the distinct differences for both IB and A-Level that you should check out. Find out which international curriculum suits you the best!

IB Diploma Programme A-Level
Breadth-focus  Depth-focus
Graded using a points system Graded with letters
6 subjects taken (3 HL and 3 SL) Typically 3-4 subjects
Can't really choose any combination  Flexibility in choosing the combination of subjects
Coursework heavy  Theory based


Which one is for me?

The decision is definitely up to you, because both international curriculum have their own approach on education. A-Level is probably for you if you have a clear focus on a particular subject area and wish to explore a smaller range of fields in more depth. On the other hand, if you're still unsure about what major you want to study at university, the IB Diploma Programme is probably better as it provides variety in your subjects and allows you to have contact with different areas of knowledge.

Furthermore, if you are set to study in the UK, the A-Level is preferred as it is the 'home' high school qualification. If you don't necessarily intend to attend a university in the United Kingdom, the IB Diploma Programme is a better option as it is an international program that is recognized in nearly 90 countries and actively encourages a global perspective in study cases.


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