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What is an International Baccalaureate (IB)?

The International Baccalaureate Program, also known as the IB diploma program, is an academic program for students between the ages of sixteen and nineteen. In the US, this usually means that students complete the IB program in the last 2-3 years of high school. Like the Advanced Placement program, the IB diploma program features dedicated classes and exams. The diploma program differs from AP in that it's a several-year program, meaning that the exams cover several courses' worth of material. The program also includes service and arts requirements and is geared towards encouraging a global outlook.


Core Requirements

The IB diploma program is about more than coursework; it aims to prepare students for higher education and to encourage drawing connections between areas of study and real life. The Core Requirements of the diploma program are an extended essay, the Theory of Knowledge course, and a service and arts requirement.


The Extended Essay

The extended essay is one of the most important and rewarding parts of the IB program. Many students in the US have to write a college or graduate degree thesis. The extended essay is basically a high school thesis. Students choose an academic topic and write a detailed research paper over the course of a year, with the help of a mentor who works in a related field. For example, you might analyze disguise and deception in Shakespeare's comedies and choose an English professor from a local college as your mentor. Or, if you're interested in biomedical research, you might work with a local doctor.

The extended essay is intimidating, but it's also a chance to really dig deep into a topic that interests you.


Theory of Knowledge (TOK)

The Theory of Knowledge requirement includes the TOK class, an introductory philosophy class that helps students integrate the information they're learning in all their other classes, and a TOK final paper. For the TOK paper, you'll choose from a list of philosophy topics and write a short paper that, like the extended essay, is then graded anonymously by official IB examiners.


Creativity, Action, Service (CAS)

This component requires students to engage in a creative (e.g. writing, fine arts, or theater), active (e.g. playing a sport, hiking, etc.), or service (e.g. volunteering at a local homeless shelter) activity on a weekly basis. Students need to be involved in at least two activities from each category over the course of the diploma program.


The Six Diploma Program Groups

In addition to the Core Requirements, students in the diploma program must take courses and be assessed in six subject areas. Groups one through five are required, and the sixth subject can come from Group 6 or can be, for example, an extra science subject or foreign language.

Group 1: Courses in Group 1 focus is on language and literature studies, usually in the student's first language.

Group 2: In keeping withe the international focus on IB, students must study at least one foreign language.

Group 3: IB calls this group "Individuals and Society," and it includes history, philosophy, economics, and other social sciences.

Group 4: Subjects available include biology, chemistry, physics, environmental systems and design technology.

Group 5: Group 5 is math and computer science. IB math is probably unlike any high school math program you're used to. It definitely involves more essay writing!

Group 6: This group includes dance, visual arts, theater, music, and film.


The Assessment

IB assesses students in numerous ways, most of which high school students are not used to. Students can choose to pursue Standard Level (SL) or High Level (HL) studies in each Group. Each subject is assessed internally, usually through an essay or an oral exam with one of your teachers, and externally, through a series of written exams taken over several days. For example, you may have to analyze a poem you've never seen before during an oral exam in Group 1.  For Group 3, you'll complete a historical investigation, in which you delve into one of history's unanswered questions. For science classes, you'll have to submit one or two years' worth of laboratory notebooks. For math, portfolio-style assessments are used. External assessments include multiple-choice, short-answer, reading comprehension, document analysis, and essay exams.


The Score

At the end of the IB diploma program, you'll receive a score out of 45. Each of the six subjects is graded from 1-7, for a total of 42 points. The remaining three points come from a combined score of your extended essay and TOK paper.


The Goal

The goal of the IB diploma program is to provide an academically demanding course of study that encourages the development of key skills, including critical thinking, reflective skills, independent learning skills, research skills, intercultural understanding, and more. For those who may be preparing for IB assessment, consider practice exams and questions. Review the curriculum guidelines, too. It is important to be ready not just for the specific information and knowledge learned, but also for the style of testing. Though challenging, IB can be very rewarding, and it's excellent preparation for college!