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The Complete Guide in Choosing IB Subjects

10 Min Read
November 03, 2022

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) is an intellectually challenging program of study meant to prepare students aged 16 to 19 for success at university and in life. Students must fulfill the prerequisites for an IB Diploma, which include taking lessons in the six IB subject areas, passing the final IB exams, and completing three additional core requirements. Choosing your IB subjects is a pivotal moment for you as a student because some of these subjects are the prerequisite for some university major.

So, What are the six IB subject groups?

Students pursuing an International Baccalaureate (IB) credential must select a subject from one of six categories: language and literary studies, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, and the arts.

Students enrolled in the IB must take six subjects from six groups. They also have to choose at least three subjects at the higher level (HL), with the rest of their studies at the standard level (SL).

Here are the subject groups that you need to know:


Group 1: Studies in Language and Literature

The first group subject is focused on language and literature. With these subjects, you are expected to develop a personal appreciation of language and literature and an understanding of how language challenges and sustains ways of thinking. Also, group 1 focuses more on literature and media analysis.

Subject Description Level(s)
Language A: Literature The course is built on the assumption that literature is concerned with our conceptions, interpretations, and experiences of the world. The study of literature can therefore be seen as an exploration of the way it represents the complex pursuits, anxieties, joys, and fears to which human beings are exposed in the daily business of living. HL and SL
Language A: Language and Literature The study of the texts produced in a language is central to an active engagement with language and culture and, by extension, to how we see and understand the world in which we live. A key aim of the Language and Literature course is to encourage students to question the meaning generated by language and texts, which, it can be argued, is rarely straightforward and unambiguous. HL and SL
Literature Performance The literature and performance course aims to explore the relationship between literature and theater. The main focus of the course is the interaction between the literary skills of close reading, critical writing, and discussion and the practical, aesthetic, and symbolic elements of a performance. SL

Group 2: Language Acquisition

The main focus of modern language courses is on the acquisition and use of language in a variety of circumstances and for various reasons, while also encouraging an awareness of another culture through language studies.

Subject Description Level(s)
Language ab initio The courses are for beginners (that is, students who have little or no previous experience of learning the language they have chosen). SL
Language B The courses are intended for students who have had some previous experience of learning the language. HL and SL
Latin or Classical Greek The coursework provides opportunities for students to study the language, literature, and culture of ancient Rome or Greece.  HL and SL

Group 3: Individuals and Societies

The third group is designed so that students develop a critical appreciation of human experience and behavior. More importantly, for them to understand the varieties of physical, economic, and social environments that people inhabit.

Subject Description Level(s)
Business Management The course is designed to develop students' knowledge and grasp of business management theories, as well as their ability to apply a variety of tools and approaches. HL and SL
Economics This dynamic subject is designed to allow students to develop an understanding of the complexities and interdependence of economic activities in a rapidly changing world. HL and SL
Geography The course integrates both physical and human geography and ensures that students acquire elements of both scientific and socio-economic methodologies.  HL and SL
Global Politics The course explores fundamental political concepts such as power, equality, sustainability, and peace in a range of contexts and at a variety of levels. HL and SL
History The course is designed to develop an understanding of the past, which leads to a deeper understanding of the nature of humans and of the world today. HL and SL
Information Technology in Global Society The course uses an integrated approach that encourages students to make informed judgments and decisions about the role of information and communication technologies in contemporary society. HL and SL
Philosophy The course is focused on stimulating students' intellectual curiosity and encouraging them to examine both their own perspectives and those of others. HL and SL
Psychology The course is designed to develop an understanding of how psychological knowledge is generated, developed, and applied. HL and SL
Social and Cultural Anthropology The course offers an opportunity for students to explore and understand humankind in all its diversity through the comparative study of culture and human societies. HL and SL
World Religions The course is a systematic, analytical yet empathetic study of the variety of beliefs and practices encountered in nine main religions of the world. SL

Group 4: Sciences

The purpose of this subject group is for students to explore the concepts, theories, models, and techniques that underpin each subject area and through this, develop their understanding of the scientific method.

Subject Description Level(s)
Biology The course is designed to enable students to investigate the living world at all levels using many different approaches and techniques.  HL and SL
Computer Science A problem-solving discipline that is both rigorous and practical. The course is built around computational thinking, which is integrated with other topics. This course will also be supported by practical activities such as programming. HL and SL
Chemistry The course is an experimental science that combines academic study with the acquisition of practical and investigational skills. HL and SL
Design Technology The course is designed to develop an enhanced understanding of design and the technological world that can facilitate our shared guardianship of the planet and create a better world. HL and SL
Physics The course seeks to explain the universe itself from the very smallest particles to the vast distances between galaxies. HL and SL
Sports, Exercise and Health Science The SEHS course incorporates the disciplines of anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, psychology, and nutrition, which are studied in the context of sport, exercise, and health. HL and SL
Interdisciplinary Subject: Environmental Systems and Societies The course is designed to adopt an informed personal response to the wide range of pressing environmental issues that they will inevitably come to face.  SL

Group 5: Mathematics

The aims of these courses are to enable students to develop mathematical knowledge, concepts, and principles, as well as to develop logical, critical, and creative thinking.

Subject Description Level(s)
Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches (AA) IB Math Analysis and Approaches (AA) is all about theoretical math. The module keeps analyzing abstract math theories at its foundation. IB Math AA covers topics like advanced calculus and integration as a foundation for STEM fields. HL and SL
Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation (AI) The module has kept statistics and distribution as its core. IB Math AI talks about the practical implementation of mathematical concepts. Therefore, it focuses as a foundation for human sciences. HL and SL

Group 6: The Arts

This group focuses on creativity within the context of dedicated, practical genre research.

Each subject is also designed to encourage critical, thoughtful, and informed practice, as well as to assist students to comprehend the dynamic and evolving character of the arts, explore the diversity of arts across time, location, and cultures, and express themselves with confidence and competence.

Subject Description Level(s)
Dance The course focuses on the composition, performance, and analysis of dance, or “expressive movement,” which is practiced amongst peoples of various backgrounds, and for a variety of purposes, throughout the world. HL and SL
Music The course exposes students to forms, styles, and functions of music from a wide range of historical and socio-cultural contexts. HL and SL
Film Film is a powerful and stimulating art form and practice. The course aims to develop students as proficient interpreters and makers of film texts. HL and SL
Theater The course gives students the opportunity to make theater as creators, designers, directors, and performers. HL and SL
Visual Arts The course offers study into visual arts that are dynamic and ever-changing and connect many areas of knowledge and human experience through individual and collaborative exploration, creative production, and critical interpretation. HL and SL

Then, How Do I Know Which to Choose?

You've probably heard suggestions like “take what you like” or “go with your gut”, but that can't be right. How do you know that you will like the subjects before even taking them? The best strategy to choose IB subjects is to adjust them to suit your target university major. Take a look at the example below:

  Courses Required Subjects Preferred Subjects Useful Subjects
1 Architecture Math AA SL A mix of Sciences and Arts A portfolio of recent work for interviews
2 Anthropology No particular Subjects Biology- for Biology Anthropology

History- for Social Anthropology

Geography – for Archeology
A mix of sciences and arts
3 Chemistry Chemistry HL Math AA HL / Physics Biology
4 Biology Biology HL Math AI SL / Math AA HL (Premed) / Physics Chemistry
5 Theater Theater English Portfolio
6 English English HL History Theater
7 Economics Math AA HL Economics English
8 Psychology No subject Math
9 Engineering Math AA HL
Physics HL
Sciences Chemistry (Chemical Engineering) / Physics (Civil Engineering)
10 Math Math AA HL Physics Sciences
11 Geography No subject Geography Economics
Foreign Languages
12 History No Subject English HL History HL Geography
13 Dentistry Chemistry HL
Biology HL
Other Sciences
14 Medicine/Veterinary Medicine Chemistry HL
Biology HL
Math HL
Physics Other Sciences
15 Law No subjects English
16 Media No subjects Theater
English HL
Creative Courses

Even though it may seem easy to choose based on the table, you still need further optimization in choosing IB Subjects. Therefore, there are a lot of things that you need to reconsider when it comes to choosing your IB subjects. First, does the major suit your passion or interest? If so, aside from the required subjects, what other subjects suit your profile? Which one should you choose, a subject that you like or a subject that you need?

We recommend you to set your career goal and choose your preferred major or university, and also discuss this with your school counselor or mentors here at ALL-in!

Tips & Tricks from Chiara, ALL-in Mentor.

Hey! It's Chiara, one of the mentors at ALL-in. I'm here to give you a few tips about choosing the right subjects for your DP. I took IB in high school too, so I know very well the amount of pressure you might be under. It can be stressful having to choose your subjects before you even know what you want to major in for university, but I hope these tips will help.

  • Cover your bases. If you're not sure what major you want to do yet, that's fine! But try to choose one or two faculties you might be interested in and see what subjects and HLs they require. These will be the first subjects that you need to take.
  • Balance your interest with capacity. If you've already chosen two difficult, required HLs and are considering another one for your own interest, look at the subject syllabus and skim through some of the content. Do you think you might be able to handle it as an HL, considering your other subjects? You want to make sure that you're not spending all your time in DP studying; you want to have time to build your profile and of course, have fun!
  • Consider your destination! Different countries have vastly different requirements and focus for university application. If you're going to the US, where your profile and CV are extremely important, make sure you have time to work on your personal projects and build your profile. On the other hand, if you're planning on going to Australia, where your grades are the most important factor and there isn't usually a required IB subject as a prerequisite, focus on choosing subjects that you're best at and will help you achieve a high IB score.

That's really it. I know each one of you will be considering different things, but at the end of the day, you want a balance of subjects you like and subjects you're good at. 

Good luck!

Need more help navigating the IB DP? ALL-in will help you! Contact us at +62 818 0808 1363, +62 878-6081-1413.

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