The difference between the International Baccalaureate (IB) and A Levels

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An education expert from ACS International Schools, which has campuses in Cobham, Egham and Hillingdon, answers your questions

What’s the difference between the International Baccalaureate (IB) and A Levels?

The IB and A Levels are both post-16 qualifications leading to university and the world of work. With A Levels, students often pick three subjects whilst IB students select six courses, three at higher level and three at standard level which cover languages, social studies, science and maths. It’s suggested that while A Level students may emerge with in-depth knowledge of their chosen subjects, they are potentially narrowing their university options. The IB, with its broader span of subjects, keeps higher education options open.

As well as six IB subjects, students also undertake extra components which count towards their final grades, including a mandatory 4000-word extended essay. A Level students can achieve extra UCAS points by taking the voluntary Extended Project Qualification. Both projects help develop the research skills needed at university. Another component to the IB is ‘Theory of Knowledge’ which is designed to teach students how to apply knowledge to real-life situations. A fundamental part of the IB is also ‘Creativity, Action, Service’ or CAS which shows students the importance of extra-curricular activities as an integral part of life. ACS students have built school facilities in Nepal, fundraised for Great Ormond Street Hospital and supported local charities.

Over the last decade, ACS research amongst university admissions officers has consistently cited the IB as the best preparation for university, outscoring A Levels on attributes such as encouraging independent inquiry, developing workplace skills, nurturing an open mind, and creativity. However, it’s important that students choose the right qualification and study programme for them as individuals, so it is always worthwhile discussing with teachers who also know your child and will advise on the right study programme for them.

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