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A comprehensive guide to the IBDP | KB101

What is the IBDP?

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) is a rigorous, challenging and balanced two-year university preparation programme. It is currently offered in 140 countries globally and is respected by leading universities across the globe. Find out everything prospective students need to know about the IBDP in this blog.

The IBDP Grading System

Students of the Diploma Programme (DP) are required to complete courses across six subject groups. As such, students typically pick three higher level (HL) and three standard level subjects (SL). Aside from the additional academic rigour, HL subjects require students to spend a minimum of 240 class hours on a subject as opposed to 150 class hours for SL subjects.

All subjects are divided into six groups, namely Studies in Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics, and Arts. Each of these subjects is graded on a scale from 1 to 7 points - with 7 being the highest attainable score.

In addition to completing courses in six subject areas, IB diploma candidates are required to fulfil requirements for the Extended Essay (EE), Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Internal Assessments (IA) - EETOKIA and CAS, which stands for Creativity, Activity, Service. 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.

Group 1: Studies in Language and Literature

Students are required to select one of the following subjects:

Language A: Language and Literature

This subject covers a wide range of literary and non-literary texts such as poetry, advertisements, letters, etc. The balance in its approach may explain why it is the most commonly selected subject in group 1.

Language A: Literature

This subject focuses solely on the study of literary work, which suits candidates with a strong flair for writing and a passion for poems and classical works.

Literature and Performance (SL only)

Popular Languages on offered: English, French, Spanish, etc.

General notes:

Candidates are expected to study 13 works at higher level and 9 at standard level throughout the two years of the programme. In addition, HL students are required to complete a 1200 - 1500 word coursework on one of the works studied.

Group 2: Language Acquisition

Students are required to select one of the following subjects:

Classical languages: Latin, Classical Greek

Language ab initio (SL only):

Depending on each school and the language, students would be taught by a native speaker, making language ab initio an interesting option for those serious about learning a completely new language. It covers the most fundamental aspects of the language from basic vocabularies to grammatical structures.

Language B:

Students looking at choosing a Language B most likely already have experience with the language. Thus, it presents itself as a relatively safer option to achieve respectable grades than the other two options.

Group 3: Individuals and Societies

Students are required to select atleast one of the following subjects:

  • Business management

  • Economics

  • Geography

  • Global politics

  • History

  • Information technology in a global society

  • Philosophy

  • Psychology

  • Social and cultural anthropology

  • Environmental systems and societies meets both Group 3 and 4 requirements

  • World religions (SL only)

Generally, subjects at higher level in group 3 tend to be marginally more difficult than at standard level.

Group 4: Sciences

Students are required to select atleast one of the following subjects:

  • Biology

  • Computer science

  • Chemistry

  • Design technology

  • Physics

  • Sports, exercise and health science

  • Environmental systems and societies meets both Group 3 and 4 requirements

Sciences are notorious for having the greatest leap in difficulty between standard level and higher level.

Group 5: Mathematics

Students are required to select one of these subjects:

Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches

Students focus on honing their mathematical and problem-solving skills while exploring real and abstract applications. It is suited for students who wish to study mathematics at college or subjects that require a deep knowledge of math (engineering, physical sciences, economics)

Mathematics: Application and Interpretation

Students focus on exploring mathematical models and understanding the practical components of the subject. It is suited for students interested in social sciences, natural sciences, business, psychology and design

Students interested in pursuing a career in a STEM field may benefit from taking either Math course at a Higher Level

Group 6: Arts (Optional)

Although picking a subject in group 6 is optional for students, they nevertheless may choose from one of the following:

  • Dance

  • Music

  • Film

  • Theatre

  • Visual arts

Alternatively, students can pick an additional subject from Group 2 (Language Acquisition), 3 (Individuals and Societies) or 4 (Science). Among most candidates, another science or humanity is usually picked as opposed to art, unless the students have strong affinity for one of the art subjects offered. Subjects in group 6 allow for a high degree of adaptability to different cultural contexts. The emphasis is on creativity in the context of disciplined, practical research into the relevant genres.

The Extended Essay (EE)

The Extended Essay is an independent, self-directed piece of research, finishing with a 4,000-word paper It is graded by IB assessors on a scale of A to E, with A being the highest possible grade. Candidates receive consistent guidance provided by the assigned EE mentor - usually a subject teacher. Alongside the essay, three mandatory reflections are to be done and submitted, with the final reflection in the form of a viva voce (Oral Assessment).

The Extended Essay provides a strong foundation for undergraduate research. Furthermore, it is an excellent opportunity to explore a topic of interest to students, relating to one of the six chosen subjects. Going through multiple iterations of their drafts would hone students in the communication of their ideas and structuring of their argument. One bonus advantage for the IBDP candidates is that the Extended Essay may serve as a valuable stimulus during University interviews, showcasing their passion for exploring the subject matter.

Theory of Knowledge (TOK)

Students discuss and examine the concept of knowledge – its worth, veracity, and forms. The subject would be assessed through an oral presentation and a 1,600-word essay. The course of one’s TOK journey is comprised almost exclusively of questions, aiding in the purposeful inquiry into different ways of knowing

It is completely normal for students to take some time to understand the content initially. Consistent dialogue with the TOK tutor may help flatten the learning curve. It is crucial to deliver based on the student's TOK tutor’s requirements to do well.

Internal Assessments (IAs)

The Internal assessment is a graded component typically accounting for about 20% of a subject’s overall grade. This figure differs slightly from subject to subject: for some subjects, IAs may be worth as much as 40% of the overall grade, such as those in group 1.

Internal assessments are assigned and assessed by subject teachers. The grades are then moderated externally by IB assessors to ensure that the IB’s global standards are maintained across all IB Schools. It is common for students to be expected to work on more than one IA for each subject.

The actual format and requirements of each internal assessment vary. For instance, a science subject would require students to conduct a lab experiment and submit a detailed report.

On the other hand, the IAs of group 1 and 3 subjects may take the form of a write-up or commentaries. For mathematics, students would need to conduct a self-directed research called Mathematical Exploration. For each IA, students are allowed to have one draft submission where their teachers could provide written remarks. As such, it is recommended to submit a close-to-finished draft to leverage the opportunity.

Each internal assessment is unique and thus it is recommended for students to submit only what their subject teachers require, as well as to follow the given rubrics closely. Crucially, begin each IA as soon as possible.

Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS)

Students complete activities that allow their learning to extend beyond the classroom. Many students choose to fulfil their CAS requirements through community service or athletics or their CCAs such as dance, but additional possibilities exist so long as the project includes one of the three categories: creativity, activity or service. Throughout CAS, students are required to reflect on their experiences and explain how their activities help them achieve specific learning outcomes.


The IBDP is rewarding for students who are not shy from going beyond their comfort zone. It is likened by many to be a marathon rather than a sprint. In general, the IBDP is a favoured pathway by some due to the useful traits which students are likely to pick up such as independent research skills and essay writing, through compulsory components like the IAs, EE and TOK.

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