IB Curriculum Explained

07 JUL 2021

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Curriculum Explained

More than 5,000 schools in 140 countries around the world offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. With so much information about the various IB programmes, it’s easy to get confused.

This blog will clear up some of the confusion so you can decide if this curriculum is for you. Find out how to succeed in your medical admissions as an IB student.

What is the International Baccalaureate (IB)?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) programme is an internationally recognised school curriculum that aims to foster open-minded and well-rounded students.

First proposed in the 1960s, the IB helped establish internationally standardised courses for school leavers. Since then, it has grown into a K-12 programme dedicated to its students’ academic and personal growth.

The IB offers four programs catered to students ages 3 to 19. The IB Diploma Programme (DP), a two-year “pre-university” course that students start in their second-to-last year of high school, is the most popular. Completing this program rewards students with the world-renowned IB Diploma, opening pathways to some of the best medical schools in the world!

You can take the DP as an alternative to your high school qualification, which might be GCSE, A Levels, AP, HSC, VCE, or NCEA, depending on your location.

To participate in the curriculum, you must attend an IB accredited school. These schools have specially-trained teachers who deliver the IB curriculum.

There are about 5,000 IB accredited schools in 148 countries. Check to see if your school is one of them!

Primary Years Programme (PYP)

The PYP aims to foster academic, social and emotional wellbeing in children ages 3-12 years. It focuses on international-mindedness and strong personal values. Centred on six transdisciplinary themes, the academics in the PYP include students recognising:

  • Who they are
  • Where they are in place and time
  • How they express ourselves
  • How the world works
  • How they organise themselves
  • How to share the planet

Middle Years Programme (MYP)

The MYP is a 5-year program that prepares middle and high school students aged 11 to 16 years old for the IB Diploma Programme. Students study a broad curriculum across eight subject areas: Language & Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics, Arts, Physical & Health Education, and Design. At the end of the programme, students participate in a Personal Project. This self-driven research or practical project encourages students to situate their academic interests within the context of global issues.

Diploma Programme (DP)

The IB Diploma Programme is a two-year high school curriculum for students aged 16 to 19 composed of six academic subject groups and the Diploma Program (DP) Core. The DP Core requires students to reflect on the nature of knowledge in a course called Theory of Knowledge (ToK), participate in an independent research project to produce an Extended Essay (EE), and engage in extracurricular activities related to Creativity, Action and Service (CAS).

Pro’s of the IB Curriculum

1. Global Recognition

You can’t go past the most obvious point in the IB’s favour – the international aspect.

The IB Diploma Program is recognised by all leading universities, which instantly puts you on the world stage and contextualises your application to medical school.

Regardless of where you sit your IB exams, the results mean the same thing, and they’re understood by admissions officers across Australia, New Zealand & the UK.

Country specific curriculums, such as NCEA, VCE and HSC, don’t have the same global reach, so it’s harder for universities to understand the results and compare you fairly to other candidates.

2. University Preparation

The IB Diploma is effectively a “university preparation program”, in that it teaches you skills and ways of learning that will set you up to do well at a tertiary education level.

After two years of practice, it’s fair to say that you will have mastered fundamental skills such as university-style reports and essay writing, source citing, and how to conduct independent research which is necessary for medical school.

More broadly, you’ll be an expert at time management and self-study.

The IB’s heavy workload forces you to get into good study habits and work on ways to better manage your time, and these are most certainly important skills for medical school, where you’ll be in charge of your own learning across multiple papers.

In the IB, you are not tested on your ability to memorise facts and theories (which could be said for other curriculums), but rather your ability to understand how facts are presented and how theories are applied. This skill is very beneficial for the UCAT entrance exam!

Not only this, but you will have learned how to think critically. That is, how to view things from different perspectives and not to cloud judgement with preconceived ideas and beliefs. The philosophy-based component of the course, Theory of Knowledge (TOK), will train you to think outside the box and develop an enquiring mind.

This expanded thinking is necessary for medical school, where you’ll be exposed to many different conditions, opinions, and of course, people!

3. Well-rounded Education

The breadth of study is something that the IB offers that no other curriculum comes close to.

You’re exposed to a much wider range of subjects in the IB than you are in other curriculums.

Not only do you have to choose a wider range of subjects in the IB, but you have a much wider range to choose from. But it’s necessary to provide choice in order to develop “well-rounded students”, which is one of the goals of the IB Diploma Program.

Being a well-rounded student doesn’t mean you’re a jack of all trades and master of none. On the contrary; it shows your adaptability, strength of character, and ability to push yourself.

No one is great at everything, and that’s one of the reasons the IB is so challenging.

It’s also one of the reasons the IB is so rewarding because it’s in your weaker subject areas where you really have to step up your study game to do well.

You’ll get a much stronger sense of achievement in the IB because you can’t only play to your strengths.

However, you do have the option of studying the subjects you like more intensely.

In the IB, students will take some subjects at a higher level (HL) and some at standard level (SL), where the former comprises 240 teaching hours, and the latter 150 teaching hours.

This means you can focus more on your best three subjects (or four if you’re extra keen), and less so on your weaker subjects.

4. Personal Development

In the IB, you grow not only as a student but as a human.

One of the aims of the IB program is to create a more peaceful world by creating more socially conscious adults who will go on to make meaningful contributions long after they’ve completed their education.

This is where the Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) component of the IB comes in, which places emphasis on emotional and social development by getting students involved in activities outside the classroom.

Not only does it force you to take a break from the books and have a balanced approach to your studies, but you have the chance to develop softer skills like empathy and teamwork, which have massive benefits for the MMI Interview and application.

Other curriculums are purely academic and do not focus on character building in this way.

Want to get great IB results? At MedView, our online tutoring engages the world’s best teachers and tutors in specific curricula to help students reach their high school and medical school admissions goals.

Con’s of the IB Curriculum

1. Length of Study

The IB is no walk in the park. In fact, it’s not a walk at all. Think of it more like a run – but a marathon, not a sprint.

You need to be a “long-distance learner” to do well in the IB. It requires consistent work and solid performance over a two-year period. While everyone else has to be “on” for one year, you have to be on for two.

Exams aren’t spread out, either, which means that come to the end of your final year you’ll be tested on two years of learnings, and you’ll have to have just as strong an understanding of the material taught at the beginning of the course than at the end.

2. Heavy Workload

In the IB, not only have you got all the coursework and assignments that come with the six mandatory subjects, but also the essays, presentations, and projects that you need to do for the three core components: EE, TOK, and CAS.

This makes it a much more demanding and content-heavy course, and it’s why being diligent and organised is more important than being smart. You need to be able to manage your time really well to fit in all the activities as well as keep your grades up consistently with all the different assessments going on.

3. Less Flexibility

Even with so many subject choices, there’s less flexibility in the IB due to the compulsory breadth of study it requires.

The IB is a rigid curriculum with a six subject allowance dispersed across six categories. If you don’t take an arts subject, you can “double-dip” in another category, but there’s no triple dipping. This means you can ONLY take two science subjects BUT some medical schools require ALL three as a prerequisite.

As part of our Admissions Support program, MedView can help you navigate and manage your time if you would like to sit the IBs as part of your medical school application.

The IB Grading Scale

Seven is the highest possible score for all IB courses. The assessed components of the DP Core (ToK and Extended Essay) are scored on an A-E scale. Creativity, Action, and Service have a Pass/Fail requirement. Depending on the combination of your scores for ToK and EE, you receive between 1-3 points, bringing the total possible score to 45. At the end of the IB Diploma Programme, you receive a final score of up to 45 possible points. Your 6 IB classes attribute to 42 of those points.

While the IB does not provide a GPA or equivalent, use the following table as a guide to understanding how the IB grading scale works.

IB Grading System
IB GradeDescription
7Excellent
6Very Good
5Good
4Satisfactory
3Mediocre
2Poor
1Very Poor

IB Exams and Assessments

The IB Programme is unique in that final scores are a combination of internal and external assessments.

Internal assessments

IB Internal Assessments takes the form of long-term projects such as papers, reports and presentations. For example, in Group 5 (Sciences), you complete lab reports, and in Group 1 (Studies in Language and Literature), you write papers.

These internal assessments usually comprise 15-25% of your final IB score for that subject and are graded by your teachers. Your school later sends a small, randomly selected sample of student work to the IB for “moderation”, a process that ensures your school is grading fairly.

External assessments

The rest of the IB is externally assessed, mainly in the form of final examinations. IB exams are cumulative, with assessments in all topics taken in one exam at the end of your second year of study.

IB Courses Assessment Breakdowns

Below are common examples of assessment breakdowns for IB subjects.

IB English Literature HL External assessment (70%) 20% - Paper 1 (Written commentary) 25% - Paper 2 (Essay) 25% - Written Assignment

Internal assessment (30%) 15% - Oral presentation 15% - Oral commentary

IB Chemistry HL

External assessment (80%) 20% - Paper 1 (Multiple choice exam) 36% - Paper 2 (Extended response exam) 24% - Paper 3 (Higher Level topics)

Internal assessment (20%) 20% - Scientific reports

IB Business Management SL

External assessment (75%) 30% - Paper 1 (Exam based on pre-released case study) 45% - Paper 2 (Exam based on remaining course content)

Internal assessment 25% - Written commentary on a real-life business problem

Are IB Classes worth taking?

The IB is a rigorous academic program available to high school students. An IB Diploma indicates to your future university that you can manage the demands of undergraduate studies.

The IB Diploma is recognised worldwide, and universities around the world will understand your IB score.

The IB fosters a highly balanced intellectual experience - academically and beyond. You can take IB classes from a wide range of subject areas, allowing you the freedom to create independent research projects using gathered knowledge. The CAS program also ensures you have a balanced lifestyle beyond academics. Other high school programs do not have this level of intellectual and personal development.

Additionally, in recognising the rigour of the IB program, many universities accept IB course credit as a replacement for first-year courses, allowing you to bypass early requirements and accelerate your studies.

If you're interested in taking IB courses but need help managing the rigorous coursework or maximizing your performance for the best possible outcomes, MedView is here to help!

And if you’re still unsure which curriculum is best for your strengths and interests, schedule a free one-on-one consultation with one of our Academic Advisors who can help set you on the path to success.