IB VS A-Levels

IB VS A-Levels: Which is the Better Option for You?

International Baccalaureate (IB) and A-Levels are two popular educational programs for students in the UK and worldwide. Both programs are designed to prepare students for higher education but have fundamental differences.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is a well-rounded educational system to boost students’ academic, personal, and social skills. Lasting two years, it’s recognized by universities worldwide.

The IB course includes six key areas: language and literature, social studies, science, math, and arts, and a core section on knowledge theory, creativity, action, and service.

A standout feature of the IB is its grading system. It ranks students on a scale of 1 to 7, with seven being the best. Those who meet all requirements earn an IB diploma.


On the other hand, A-Levels are a more traditional approach to education. They are subject-specific qualifications that are studied in depth over two years. Students usually take three or four A-level subjects and are graded on a scale from A* to E, with A* being the highest achievement.

A-levels are often preferred by students who know what they want to study at university, as they allow them to focus on specific subjects in greater depth.

Key Differences

The table below summarizes some of the key differences between the IB program and A-Levels:

International Baccalaureate A-Levels
Holistic approach to education Subject-specific qualifications
Six subject groups, including a core Three or four subjects studied in depth
Graded on a 1-7 scale Graded on an A* to E scale
Awarded an IB diploma No formal diploma awarded

Comparison of Curriculum

IB Curriculum

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program offers a holistic education on critical thinking, creativity, and a global viewpoint. 

It includes six main subjects: literature, second language learning, social studies, science, math, and arts. Students pick one subject from each category, ensuring a well-rounded learning experience.

Besides these subjects, there are three core elements in the IB program: Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS), Theory of Knowledge (TOK), and Extended Essay (EE).

CAS involves engaging in creative projects, physical activities, and community service. The EE lets students dive deep into a topic they’re passionate about through a research paper. Meanwhile, TOK is a course that pushes students to think critically about different knowledge concepts.

A-Level Curriculum

The A-Level curriculum is a subject-based program that allows students to specialize in specific areas of study. Students typically take three or four A-level subjects, although some may take more. 

The program is designed to provide a deep understanding of specific subjects and to prepare students for higher education in those areas.

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A-Level subjects are divided into Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and Advanced (A2). AS-levels are typically taken in the first year of study, while A2-levels are taken in the second year. Students must pass both levels to receive an A-level qualification.

The A-Level curriculum does not have any core components like the IB program. However, students may participate in extracurricular activities or pursue independent research projects to enhance their knowledge and skills.

Assessment and Grading

IB Assessment

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is known for its rigorous and comprehensive assessment methods. The IB assessment is designed to test a student’s understanding and application of knowledge across a range of subjects.

The IB program evaluates students in different ways, such as tests, assignments, and spoken presentations. Every subject is graded from 1 to 7, with 7 being the best score. 

Besides, students in the IB program must write a detailed essay, take a theory of knowledge class, and do a project involving creativity, activity, and service (CAS).

The extended essay is a research-based essay of up to 4,000 words, which allows students to explore a topic of their choice in-depth. 

The theory of knowledge course encourages students to think critically about how knowledge is acquired. The CAS project requires students to engage in creative, physical, and service-based activities outside of the classroom.

A-Level Assessment

A-level assessment is primarily exam-based, with students required to study and complete their AS Level before taking their A Level. The A-Level program comprises specific, separate subjects and extracurricular activities.

A-Levels are graded on a scale from A* to E, with A* representing the highest achievement. A student’s overall A-Level score is based on the average of their two scores (50/50). Students usually complete the AS Level in their second to last year of high school and the A2 Level in their final year.

In contrast to the IB program, the A-Level program does not require students to complete an extended essay, theory of knowledge course, or CAS project.

Subjects and Specialisation

IB Subjects

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program asks students to study six subjects. Three are advanced (HL) and three are basic (SL). These subjects cover language, literature, a second language, social studies, science, math, and arts. This mix helps students learn about many areas.

Besides these subjects, IB students have three main tasks. They study the Theory of Knowledge (ToK) to improve their thinking skills. They do Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS) projects to help their community and join in other activities. They also write an Extended Essay, which is a detailed study of a topic they choose.

A-Level Subjects

On the other hand, A-levels require students to focus on three or four subjects in depth. Students can choose from various subjects, including science, mathematics, language and literature, history, and more. A-level students can also take a General Paper or Knowledge and Inquiry course to develop their critical thinking skills.

A-levels don’t have a central curriculum like the IB. However, students are urged to join extracurriculars and do community service. A-levels let students focus on a specific subject, which is great for those aiming for a career in that area.

Both the IB and A-levels offer a range of subject options for students to choose from. The IB program provides a more holistic education, while A-levels allow for greater specialization. 

Choosing between the two programs depends on students’ academic goals and interests.

Extended Research and Projects

The International Baccalaureate (IB) and A-Levels allow students to do their own research and finish projects. In the IB, students have to write an Extended Essay. This is a 4,000-word paper on a subject they pick themselves.

The Extended Essay is an opportunity for students to explore a topic they are passionate about and develop research and writing skills that will be useful in college and beyond.

On the other hand, A-Levels offer the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). This independent research project involves producing a dissertation of around 5,000 words or creating a product and writing a shorter essay. 

The EPQ allows students to explore a topic in-depth and develop research and presentation skills that will be useful in college and beyond.

While both the Extended Essay and EPQ are opportunities for students to conduct independent research, there are some critical differences between the two. For example, the Extended Essay is a requirement for all IB students, while the EPQ is optional for A-level students. 

Additionally, the Extended Essay is focused solely on research and writing, while the EPQ can involve the creation of a product in addition to research and writing.

Another critical difference between the two is the grading system. The Extended Essay is graded on a scale of 0-36, with a score of 24 or higher required to pass the IB program. The EPQ, on the other hand, is graded on a scale of A*-E, with a grade of C or higher required to pass.

University Admissions and Recognition

Regarding university admissions and recognition, universities in the UK and worldwide recognize both the International Baccalaureate (IB) and A-Levels. However, there are some differences in how universities view these qualifications.

IB Recognition

The IB is recognized by universities worldwide and is often considered a rigorous and challenging qualification. According to the University Admissions Officers Report 2017, the IB is seen as better at encouraging a “global outlook” in students. 

The IB requires students to study various subjects, including languages, social sciences, and natural sciences, and complete a creativity, activity, and service (CAS) project.

In addition, the IB is often seen as a good preparation for university because it emphasizes critical thinking, research skills, and independent learning. Universities may also give credit or advanced standing to students who have completed an IB diploma.

A-Level Recognition

A-Levels are also recognized by universities in the UK and around the world. However, A-Levels are often seen as providing more in-depth expertise in specific subjects. A-Levels are subject-based, and students typically study three or four subjects in-depth.

According to the University Admissions Officers Report 2017, A-Levels provide suitable preparation for university because they develop subject-specific knowledge and skills. Universities may also give credit or advanced standing to students who have completed A-Levels.


Overall, universities in the UK and worldwide recognize both the IB and A-Levels. The choice between the qualifications may depend on the student’s interests, strengths, and career goals. 

Students who enjoy exploring various subjects and aim to have a global perspective might lean towards the IB. On the other hand, those who want to delve deep into particular subjects might opt for A-Levels.

It is important to note that recognition and admissions policies may vary between universities, so students should check with individual universities for their specific requirements and guidelines.

Global Perspective and Learning Approach

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) and A-Levels differ mainly in their approach to learning. IBDP focuses on a global view, combining different subjects and promoting a more comprehensive understanding of the world. 

In international schools, IBDP lets students experience various cultures and viewpoints. It emphasizes self-led learning and critical thinking. Unlike A-Levels, IBDP offers a mix of traditional subjects, arts, languages, and social studies, giving students a comprehensive education.

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