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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

International Baccalaureate Diploma

If you want to study a wide range of subjects at a detailed level, the International Baccalaureate Diploma may be for you. It's designed for highly motivated students, and is offered by a growing number of schools and colleges.

International Baccalaureate: what it is

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme is an internationally recognised qualification for students aged 16 to 19. It is based around detailed academic study of a wide range of subjects, including languages, the arts, science, maths, history and geography.

It leads to a single qualification, rather than separate qualifications for individual subjects. However if you don't achieve the full diploma, you'll be awarded a certificate for each subject taken.

It's available in more than 100 schools and colleges in the UK, both state and independent, and can be taken in English, French or Spanish. It's designed to encourage you to:

  • learn how to learn
  • ask challenging questions
  • develop a strong sense of your own identity and culture
  • develop the ability to communicate with and understand people from other countries and cultures

The IB Diploma Programme is at level 3 on the National Qualifications Framework. The framework shows how different types of qualifications compare, in terms of the demands they place on learners.

What you will study

The IB Diploma Programme is made up of a compulsory 'core', plus six separate subjects where you have some choice over what you study.

Compulsory core

The compulsory core contains three elements:

  • theory of knowledge: you'll learn about the bases of knowledge, and how to analyse evidence and express yourself in rational argument; you'll also be encouraged to draw on experiences you've gained outside the classroom
  • creativity, action and service: this part of the programme encourages you to get involved in theatre or music activities, sports and/or community service
  • extended essay: you'll investigate a particular topic of interest and be asked to write a 4,000 word essay about it

Optional subjects

As well as the three core elements, you'll also select one subject from each of the following six areas:

  • first language (normally your mother tongue)
  • second language (this could be a language you already study, or a new one)
  • experimental sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, design technology)
  • mathematics and computer science
  • the arts (visual, music and theatre)
  • individuals and society (history, psychology, geography)

Normally, you'll study three of your six optional subjects at a ' higher' level (240 teaching hours per subject), and the other three at a 'standard' level (150 teaching hours). However, you can also opt to take four subjects at the higher level and two at the standard level.

How you are assessed

Most of the assessment is done through exams, marked externally. However, in nearly all subjects, some of the assessment is carried out by your teachers, who mark individual pieces of coursework.

The Diploma normally takes two years to complete, with exams taking place in May and November.


You are awarded points for each part of the programme, up to a maximum of 45:

  • up to seven points for each of the six optional subjects you take
  • up to three points from your performance in the core elements

To achieve a full diploma, you must score 24 points or more.

UCAS Tariff

Successfully completing the Diploma earns points on the 'UCAS Tariff' for getting into higher education.

An IB Diploma total of 24 points is worth 260 UCAS points - the same as a 'B' and two 'C' grades at A level.

The maximum of 45 points earns 720 UCAS points - equivalent to six A levels at grade 'A'.


If you are not happy with your results, you can retake one or more Diploma subject. The higher mark from your two attempts will count towards your Diploma points score.

Where it can lead

Most students who take the IB Diploma Programme go on to higher education; the qualification is recognised by universities in more than 100 countries. However, you may be asked to gain a certain number of points at the 'higher' level in specific subjects if you want to study a particular course.

You could also use the qualification as the route to a job, or to work-based training.

Find out more

You can get more information about the IB Diploma Programme, including a list of schools and colleges that offer it, from the International Baccalaureate Organization.

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