From the Times Online:

The past few weeks have been crammed full of exams. Now the results of those exams have been received and hundreds of thousands of students are taking the next steps towards further study. However, it’s not always as simple as that.

In recent years, more and more qualifications have been introduced into the system. One of the most talked about has been the IB or International Baccalaureate. But what is it and is it a good alternative to A levels?

Here guest blogger Anthea Rowan, author of Living Around the Blues, a brilliant blog at Psychology Today explains all…

I am studying the IB and while I understand that it is better than A levels, no one else does. The degree course I want to do means I must gain at least 36 points at  IB or 3 A’s at A level. The quality and amount of work you have to do to get 36 points is huge compared to what you have to do to get 3 A’s at A level. I’m starting to think that I should have taken the easy option and gone for A levels because IB certainly doesn’t get the recognition it needs.

I came across this comment (posted by Katie) on a students’ forum debating the relative merits, or not, of the International Baccalaureate (IB) versus Advance Levels (A’levels).

I wish I’d found it before. A year ago, when my son was juggling the decision about whether to stay put and do the IB, or (scarier option) move schools and do A’levels. He stayed put. Somebody suggested he was wimping out of an opportunity to extend himself (new school, foreign environment), somebody else said they didn’t know why we’d ever considered moving him in the first place: not when he had access to an IB place.

The IB is a big buzz word today. Sort of the educational equivalent to the New Black. If a school offers the IB alongside A’levels, it’s gained a new kind of cool. And if you’re being sold an IB place this is what the experts will tell you: it’s broader, it’s more challenging and it’s regarded favourably by universities.

This, though, is what they won’t tell you. It’s more time consuming. Much, much more time consuming. Two integral parts of the IB, and role players in the final points collection, are the Theory of Knowledge course and the extended (4,000 word) essay.  These in addition to taking six subjects and doing your point collecting CAS activities …

And the six subjects (three taken at Higher level, three at Standard) must include two languages, a science and maths. Had my son done A’levels, he’d have opted for Physics, Chemistry, Biology and possibly Maths. He is not a stupid child, which is just as well: as another IB taking commentator on the forum I found observed, you have to be able to work hard, pick stuff up quickly, and be naturally clever, if u ain’t these three things u r wasting ur time…

But he isn’t a words whizz either. Literature isn’t his thing and nor are foreign languages.  Whilst he is gaining respectable grades in Physics (fives and 6’s out of a possible 7), languages drop to 2’s, 3’s and occasionally, if he’s lucky, 4’s.   And whilst A’levels are marked and delivered as separate grades (so that you might demonstrate your shining A-grade light in Physics, say), the IB lumps the whole lot together – the fives and sixes are let down by, but not separated from, the less impressive 2’s and 3’s – so prospective universities (the ones where you’re applying to do a science degree) mightn’t recognise that even though you’re not that hot at Kiswahili, you are a brilliant physicist.

Nor was I made aware (indeed I was led to believe the opposite) that many universities in the UK are biased towards A-levels (probably simply because they understand them better; they’ve been around for longer and there are still only a relative handful of schools in Britain offering the IB) and demand an unfair tariff when it comes to points as compared to A-level offers for the same course.  Consider Katie’s indignant comment at the top: 35 IB points are equivalent to 4 ½ A grades at A’level. No wonder she’s unhappy.  A number of students who sat the IB last summer and came out with a full 45 point quota (equivalent to more than six A grades at A’level) were declined places at Cambridge. Happily they were accepted at Ivy League schools in the States.  Hardly a brain drain but a worrying little trickle …

So. For kids who might still be deliberating whether to do the IB or A’levels, let me leave you with this, from the same forum where I discovered Katie.

It’s time for me to make a choice between IB and A-levels. The thing is, I have two sisters who did IB and are currently in university. As they did IB, I watched them CRY, literally, have sleepless nights, and cry more…Now that they’re finally in university, they tell me that it really paid of, and they watch the people who did A-Levels suffer.
I, however, am still very keen on doing A-Levels because, as mentioned above, IB doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, especially in the UK, which is where I intend on going! But… If you are planning on going anywhere else in the world, consider the IB and ask yourself, “Why beat yourself with a hammer?”

Why? Because it feels really good when you stop!”

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