The Education Blog

Insight 16th June, 2017

International Baccalaureate (IB) or A Levels?

As students approach the end of exam season and begin to enjoy the summer, some families may already be preparing for the next stage in the education journey…sixth form study. The key question remains: A Levels or the International Baccalaureate?

At Enjoy Education, we often receive queries from families who are unsure which qualification will be the right fit for their child, to set them up for success in further study and beyond. Here, we will explore the practical nature of both options and how they can benefit students on a personal as well as academic level. 


Depth versus Breadth? 

British A Levels involve choosing any three to four subjects to specialise in, whereas the International Baccalaureate offers a combination of six subjects (three at Higher Level and three at Standard Level) and includes both humanities and sciences.

For the IB, students are also required to write an Extended Essay (written on a subject of your choice), study Theory of Knowledge (a reflection on the nature of knowledge) and Creativity, Activity, Service (a project based on one of those three concepts).

Which type of student would suit the International Baccalaureate?

A global qualification, the IB has gained worldwide popularity by offering learners a well-rounded curriculum and keeping subject options open for further study. This course therefore benefits students that enjoy and excel in a wide range of subjects and activities. If your child has not yet decided which path they would like to pursue after school, this could be a good way to allow for flexibility. However, it is important to remember that IB students must study Maths and at least one foreign language. Students who would prefer not to continue with either or both subjects may therefore be better suited to the more open choice offered by A Levels.

Which type of student would suit A Levels?

The Advanced Level (A Level) qualification preceded the IB programme by twenty years and remains the dominant option for sixth-form students in the UK. Candidates are able to select a combination of their top three or four subjects and begin the process of becoming ‘experts in their field’. Students who find themselves with particular areas of strength and interest will enjoy the tailored nature of A Levels. However, it is worth considering the impact of these choices on university applications as certain courses, such as Medicine and Architecture, can be more prescriptive with their offers. Therefore, we recommend researching a few different degree courses before finalising A level choices.  

Although it is difficult to compare the standard and level of each qualification, there tends to be a difference in the nature of questions asked, which can have an impact on the style of teaching. Nevertheless, within the bracket of A level study, there is a wide range of examination boards that provide diverse approaches to each course to suit every type of learner. Cambridge University’s Pre-U examinations, launched in 2008, are increasingly regarded as an alternative that combines the advantages of both A Levels and the IB.  


Each school will provide different options for sixth formers

Enjoy can advise on the specification of the courses to help you find the best fit for your child, both as a student and as an individual. 

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We hope these suggestions will provide a useful starting point as your child (and soon-to-be young adult!) approaches this exciting phase in their learning.

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We’d love to discuss how we can help your family’s learning journey. Call us or email to arrange a meeting in our Knightsbridge headquarters.