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Choosing Between the IBDP or the A-Levels | KB101

Each year, as students make an important decision regarding their pathway in high school, the IBDP and the A-Levels are considered by thousands of students. The curriculum students take in high school can have a sizeable impact on their future - from college admissions to the overall development of a student. Thus, it can be advantageous for students to develop a nuanced understanding of these two popular high-school pathways. This article will compare five critical differences between the two programs: availability, curriculum, grading, student development, and impact on college applications.

Which is more widely available in Singapore?

The Singapore A-Levels program is certainly amongst the most popular courses available at Singapore’s pre-tertiary educational institutions. The A-Levels are offered by the following MOE schools in Singapore;

Hear from alumni of Raffles Junior College, Victoria Junior College, and Hwa Chong Institution on their schooling experiences.

According to the official IB website, there are 29 schools in Singapore that offer the IBDP, some of which are listed below:

Government / MOE schools

International Schools

Read about Rachel Han’s IBDP experience at ACS (Independent) here.

Overall Curriculum

The IBDP requires candidates to complete courses across six subject groups. Typically, candidates pick three higher level (HL) and three standard level subjects (SL). Subjects are divided into six groups:

  • Studies in Language and Literature,

  • Language Acquisition,

  • Individuals and Societies,

  • Sciences,

  • Mathematics, and

  • Arts.

In addition to completing courses in six subject areas, IB diploma candidates are required to fulfil several requirements, which are:

  • Extended Essay (EE),

  • Theory of Knowledge (TOK),

  • Internal Assessments (IA) - EETOKIA and

  • CAS, which stands for Creativity, Activity, Service.

On the other hand, the subjects in the A-Levels are divided into two main subject groups, namely “the Mathematics & Sciences” and “the Humanities & the Arts”. A-Levels candidates are also required to select either the Science, Art, or Hybrid Stream for their subject combinations. Regardless of streams, students have to take Project Work and General Paper. One may opt to take Knowledge & Inquiry instead of General Paper - the specifics of which can be found in this article. There are three levels of difficulties: H1, H2, and H3. Aside from the abovementioned compulsory H1 subjects, candidates are expected to choose either:

  • 3 H2 subjects + 1 H1 subject or

  • 4 H2 subjects

Grading Systems

The IBDP grades each subject on a scale from 1 to 7 points - with 7 being the highest attainable score. Candidates could attain a maximum score of 45 points: 42 of which would be accounted for by six subjects, whereas the additional three bonus points are accounted for by EE and TOK.

The maximum score for the IBDP is 45 points

On the other hand, subjects in the A-Levels are graded on an alphabetical scale; A being the highest attainable grade while U is the lowest. The grades achieved in exams are then accordingly given a rank point. Each H2 subject is worth a maximum of 20 rank points while each H1 subject is worth 10 rank points. The maximum score is 90 ranks points whereby 70 of which would be accounted for by the four main subjects (3 H2 + 1 H1), whereas Project Work (H1) and General Paper (H1) makes up 20 rank points.

The maximum score of the A-Level in Singapore is 90 RP

Holistic vs In-depth Development

Graduated candidates are developed holistically due to the requirements of the IBDP. Alongside academic excellence, the three additional compulsory components - the Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge, and Creativity, Service, Action (CAS) - provide candidates with the opportunity to hone their research and thinking skills, as well as partake in activities beyond the classroom.

Another major component of the IBDP is the Internal Assessment (IA), which usually comes in the form of a laboratory report or written commentary. The IA particularly aids in lowering the weightage of the final exams on students’ scores by 20% on average. As such, the final exams typically have an 80% weightage on students’ IB scores. Coupled with how the submission deadlines for these non-examination components are evenly spread out across the two years, the IBDP could be compared to a marathon.

The A-Levels curriculum is designed around an emphasis on academic rigour, which explains why some compare it to a sprint - particularly towards the end of the program. More in-depth concepts are included in the syllabus that may not be covered in the IBDP curriculum - providing an arguably more challenging academic experience for candidates. The absence of a compulsory requirement to fulfil a certain number of hours of activities beyond school like the CAS allows students more time relatively to dive deep into their academic endeavour.

Impact on College Applications

Both the Singapore A-Levels and the IBDP are world-class post-secondary programs recognised by top universities globally. Each holds its own merits in providing a conducive environment for students to craft competitive applications to institutions globally. However, certain institutions may have differing requirements in accordance with students’ high-school curriculums.

Thus, students are recommended to keep their university aspirations in mind when selecting either high school program. Universities may have different entry requirements for the same university course. This could allow students to meet a university’s entry requirements more comfortably by picking either the IBDP or the A-Levels

Choosing between the two can be difficult considering the vast impacts this will make on the students future. Get in touch with us today to understand which pathway better suits your needs, based on your university aspirations.

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