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IB vs. A-Level: Which is right for you?

IB vs. A-Level: Which is right for you?

One of the most important decisions to make when coming to the United Kingdom is choosing which program you will study. Here, at EF Academy Oxford, you have two options: the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (commonly known as A-Level), or the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (the IB). Both of these courses are what is popularly known as “high school” programs, which you take during your last two years, and can be taken by anyone who is above 16-years-old.

But, in terms of taking you to university, which one is best? Well, I would say that depends on what type of student you are and what goals you have. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then, read on and I will explain to you which one of these courses is right for you.

How do A-Levels work?

A-Level is the official high school qualification in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Students usually take three or four subjects at A-Level, but there is no limit to the number of subjects allowed.

The A-Level program is split into two “phases”: AS level, and A2 level. AS-Levels are taken during the first year of your studies and serve as a “base” for your last year, when you are expected to complete more advanced coursework. Students are allowed to drop some subjects after the first year, so that they have AS-Level qualifications for these areas, as long as they complete a minimum of three subjects at A2-Level. A2-Level subjects are what count towards your “final grade”, but AS-Levels can serve as an extra in your curriculum. Most A-Level subjects are composed of four modules each.

A-Level grades go from E to A* . AS levels grades are written as lower case letters (a-e).

How does the IB work?

This international program consists of six subjects. You must take one subject in each of the following fields: first language (one in which you are already academically competent), second language, Humanities, Sciences and Mathematics. The last subject can either be taken in the field of Arts, or be used to take one extra subject in one of the other areas. You also have to choose three of these subjects to be taken at Higher Level (ideally subjects that have to do with your personal interests and what you want to do with your future career) in order to allow some more in-depth knowledge.

The IB program also includes an academic core, which consists of a subject called Theory of Knowledge (TOK), an Extended Essay (EE) and CAS (which stands for Creativity, Action and Service, and stimulates students to take extracurriculars).

IB grades go from 1 to 7 in each subject. Together, the Extended Essay and TOK can award a student a maximum of 3 bonus points, so the highest total points that you can achieve is 45. The diploma is awarded to students with a minimum of 24 points, but some other passing conditions must also be met.

Which one should you choose?

If you don’t necessarily want to go to a university in the United Kingdom, the IB is probably a better choice. Because it is an international program, it is recognized in nearly 90 countries and also strongly encourages global outlook in study-cases, for example. But if you are sure you want to study in the UK it might be preferable to take A-Levels, as it is the country’s traditional high school qualification.

A-Levels would also be better if you want to apply to a university/course that requires an interview as part of the admissions process, such as medicine or the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as the questions you will be asked tend to be formulated with A-Levels in mind. This is also because A-Levels allow more in-depth knowledge in areas that have to do with what you want to do at university, because there are way less subjects and coursework, so students have more time for independent study (let’s be honest: although IB Higher Level subjects aim at in-depth knowledge, students still have to dedicate their time to their Standard Level subjects as well).

On the other hand, if you are unsure about what course you want to study at university, you should probably take the IB, as it is broader and will allow you to have contact with different areas of knowledge. Moreover, the IB also tends to prepare students for university-level work more effectively, as there are research-papers that count towards your final grade (the internal assessments and the extended essay) throughout the two years, and not only exams by the end.

Still, as an IB student, I can’t deny that it does get a bit overwhelming at times, so if you don’t consider yourself to be a super “academic” person and would rather have more free time, then the IB might not be the right program for you.


Written by Ana Luiza Loio, current IB student at EF Academy Oxford



Whether it’s A-Level or IB, our teachers at EF Academy know just how to get the best out of every student.