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What is the IB Diploma Program?

Oct 16, 2020

Are you trying to determine which classes to choose for junior year? If your school offers both AP and IB classes, it’s important to understand the difference between them in order to make the right choice. Your school may offer the IB Diploma Program, which differs from taking a few IB classes. Here’s some basic information about the International Diploma Program to get you started.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is designed for students in their junior and senior years of high school. IB’s mission is to create a better world through education. The program focuses on a global cultural education, encouraging the development of skills for long term success. It aims to do so by cultivating emotional, ethical and physical development in addition to academic rigor. If you choose to challenge the diploma program, you will be required to take six classes, and complete a set of core requirements.

The core consists of:

  1. Theory of Knowledge (ToK) – Think of this class as a philosophy and ethics class. Your school may offer it over the course of two semesters, or over the two years you are in the program. Theory of Knowledge is a class only open to students who are enrolled in the full diploma program.
  2. The Extended Essay (EE) – The extended essay is a senior thesis of 4,000 words that you’ll write from the winter of junior year through the winter of senior year. The EE can be written on a topic of your choice, and will be supervised by a mentor, who is usually one of your IB teachers.
  3. Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) – IB requires students to partake in 18 months of engagement and experiential learning. This is IB’s way to ensure students are active outside of class, emphasizing the importance of being a well rounded student through volunteering, physical activity, etc. You’ll log the activities you complete online, accompanied by a written reflection on what you have learned or gained from the experience.

In addition to your core, the foundation of your studies will be completed in six classes, one from each of the following categories.The classes you can enroll in will vary depending on which are offered by the school you attend.

  1. Language and Literature, Performance and Literature or Literature
  2. Language acquisition: a required language study
  3. Individuals and Societies: Business Management, Economics, Geography, Global Politics, History, Information Technology in a Global Society, Philosophy, Psychology, Social and Cultural Anthropology, or World Religions.
  4. Sciences: Physics, Computer Science, Chemistry, Biology, Exercise and Health Science
  5. Mathematics
  6. Arts: Dance, Music, Film, Theatre, Visual Arts

Standard versus Higher Level Classes: What’s the Difference?

Classes can be taken at the standard level (SL) or higher level (HL). HL classes last two years, and have more challenging final exams than SL classes. In the diploma program, you will take three classes at the higher level, and three at the standard level.

What is the workload like?

In general, IB classes are challenging, and have many hours of homework. IB aims to teach time-management skills under stress, so you will be assigned large quantities of short and long term work. Though this is one of the most challenging aspects of the diploma, it has the long term benefit of preparing you for a heavy college workload. Many IB alumni cite the diploma as the best college prep they received; some even say that college was less of a challenge to balance than the diploma.

Internal Assessments and External Assessments

Every IB class has a series of internal and external assessments that are completed outside of school work. The difference between internal and external assessments is how work is graded. An internal assessment is graded within your school by your own teacher, while an external assessment is sent to a different country to be graded by a teacher or moderator who doesn’t know you personally. Student work is graded both internally and externally in order to ensure that work is of consistent quality across the globe. Internal Assessments or IAs, include: language orals, geography fieldwork, science laboratory work, mathematics investigations, and artistic performances. External Assessments include essays, problem sets, short response questions, data response questions, text response questions and case study questions.

All Internal Assessments (IAs) are home based projects assigned to students in addition to regular classwork, homework, quizzes, exams and practical work. Although IA’s cover topics that are related to classwork, no class time is devoted to them, and they are independently completed. IA’s ask students to apply classwork to a real world experience, providing difficult and open-ended prompts.

How do I receive my Diploma?

In order to be awarded an IB diploma, you must:

  • Satisfactorily complete the core – this means successfully completing all assignments in ToK, logging your CAS hours and submitting an Extended Essay
  • Complete all internal and external assessments and a final exam for each class

Like the European high school system, the diploma is only granted to students if they pass their exams at the end of senior year, as opposed to passing classes by earning good marks over the duration of each school year, like in the US system.

Exams take place in May, and are graded on a 7 point scale (7 being the top mark you could earn). In order to receive their diploma, students must earn a minimum of 24 of the 45 possible points. You can earn up to 42 points from exams (7 x 6 = 42)  and three additional points for exceptional work on your core.

Here’s a sample schedule for the IB Diploma:

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