What Is the IB Program?

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  • The IB program teaches high school students to be engaged, thoughtful global citizens.
  • Participants take different IB courses and are assessed on a scale of 1-7.
  • An IB diploma is awarded after students earn 24 points across six content areas.
  • Students must also complete three core requirements to earn their IB diploma.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program, founded in 1968, has continued to grow in popularity. The International Baccalaureate Organization now offers four programs, including the Diploma Programme (DP).

The IB DP prepares students aged 16-19 to become global citizens by emphasizing the importance of international understanding. Learners in the IB DP complete three core requirements and study six specific areas.

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How Does the International Baccalaureate Program Work?

As of June 2021, over 5,500 schools in almost 160 countries offer an IB program, with more than half of those schools offering the IB DP. Students aged 16-19 are eligible for the IB DP, but the best IB students have a deep curiosity for learning. The IB DP exposes students to an international standard of college-level coursework while they're still in high school.

Each course ends with an IB assessment, and students earn a total IB course score of 1-7. Assessments include tests, portfolios, and projects. Students must take at least three higher-level courses and earn at least 24 points to graduate with an IB diploma.

Schools may award college credit for IB scores. For example, some universities waive general education course requirements for incoming students who have earned an IB diploma.

What Are IB Courses?

IB DP students complete a two-year program. Learners may enroll in standard-level or higher-level classes. Standard-level courses are typically one-year courses that end with an IB exam, whereas higher-level courses involve two years of study.

Students may take individual IB courses and still earn college credit without completing the entire IB DP.

The IB Diploma Core

Learners must work through three core elements unique to the IB program: the theory of knowledge, the extended essay, and the creativity, activity, or service project.

  • Theory of Knowledge: To complete this core requirement, students submit a 1,600-word essay and give an oral presentation. Learners reflect on how people understand knowledge.
  • Extended Essay: This is a 4,000-word research paper that prepares IB students for undergraduate-level research. Learners independently research, analyze, and synthesize information related to a topic of interest.
  • Creativity, Activity, or Service Project: These real-world projects are completely student-driven. IB learners must complete at least one creativity, activity, or service project. Students can also choose to complete all three projects.

The 6 Subject Groups

The IB DP focuses on six areas of study: language and literature, science, math, art, language acquisition, and individuals and societies. Different classes are available in each area of study.

  1. Studies in Language and Literature: Students must take one or more courses within this subject group. These courses deepen learners' appreciation for written and stylistic expression. Students also learn to comprehend and analyze text.
  2. Language Acquisition: Students must take courses in a modern language (like French or Mandarin) or a classic language (like Greek or Latin).
  3. Individuals and Societies: In these courses, students learn about theories, analyze arguments, and look at the history of social institutions. Subjects vary but include philosophy, psychology, and business management.
  4. Sciences: Learners must study at least one subject within the sciences to understand how science can help solve global problems. Possible subjects include biology, physics, and chemistry.
  5. Mathematics: Only one mathematics course is required. Learners enrolled in a standard-level mathematics course study for one year, while those taking a higher-level class study their subject for two years.
  6. The Arts: Subjects in the arts include dance, film, music, theatre, and visual arts. Students may choose to take an extra sciences, individuals and societies, or language acquisition course instead of taking an arts course.

Can You Take IB Courses Online?

Although you cannot earn an IB diploma entirely online, you can complete certain IB DP courses online. Participating IB schools offer online IB DP courses that you can sign up for. Otherwise, you can take IB courses online through Pamoja Online Courses. All of these classes are two-year courses.

Online course offerings cover topics like film, Mandarin, and information technology in a global society. Online students still prepare to take their final IB examinations.

What Are IB Exams?

Much like AP tests, IB exams assess what students have learned in each IB DP course. Students are evaluated on their knowledge and understanding of important concepts, as well as their ability to present information. These exams often test a student's problem-solving skills and their ability to evaluate arguments.

IB tests employ objective short-answer questions, essays, and structured problems. The tests typically take place over the course of a day or several days in a row and are scored by independent reviewers. IB teachers also assess students through oral exams, lab work, and artistic performances.

Students in both standard-level and higher-level course are assessed on a scale of 1-7. To earn 24 credits and graduate with an IB diploma, students need an average score of 3 across all six content areas.

Universities may award college credit based on IB course scores. Although students need to take an exam from each of the six content areas to earn an IB diploma, they can also take an exam in any subject to try and earn college credit — even if they don't earn an IB diploma.

Is the IB Program Worth It?

The IB DP offers rigorous, college-level coursework with many independent components. For inquisitive students who are able to manage their time well and motivate themselves, the IB DP offers many benefits.

Students who complete IB coursework and earn qualifying assessment grades can receive college credit. As such, the IB DP can save students both time and money. Learners interested in pursuing degrees in international studies or studying abroad can also benefit from immersing themselves in global perspectives before entering college.

Feature Image: kali9 / E+ / Getty Images

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