Why IB is better than A-Level.

As a survivor of the arguably traumatic experience that was IB, I can now safely look back and say: “worth it.”

A-levels IB

When you’re an IB student in a UK university, meeting others who went through the same hell and high-water that you did creates bonds seemingly stronger than blood. Every time I’ve met a fellow ex-IB student here and we discover our mutual experience, there’s always a resounding, “OH MY GOD YOU DID IB!”

And really, the reason for this is simple: IB is really fucking hard. It’s a programme that challenges you to be great not just at one or two things, but at EVERYTHING. It’s a programme that turns you into the most organised human being on the planet. It’s a programme that is constantly saying, “You did okay, but you can do a lot better, so go do it.”

It’s also a programme that turns you into the Energizer Bunny because of all the Red Bull you’re chugging to power through your study sessions at 3am.

Caffeine: an IB student’s best friend.

I know that makes it sound horrific. And trust me, as any IB student will tell you, the struggle is real. You’re pretty much usually sleep-deprived, you’ve developed a nervous tic every time someone says the words ‘CAS’ or ‘Extended Essay’, and you’re constantly throwing around acronyms that no one else understands (ToK, CAS, EE, IA, etc.). But here’s the thing.

My Head of Sixth Form told me at the start that after my two years of doing IB, I would look back and not recognise myself. He was right. The constant work, the well-rounded education, the community service, and the strong unity formed between IB students; it all turns you into a better human being, and a better student.

You’re more equipped to deal with the demands of university work. You’re better at organising your time, so you can do more extra-curricular stuff outside of your degree. You’re a person with a greater depth and breadth of knowledge, and trust me English students, after doing Theory of Knowledge, poststructuralism is not as earth shattering.

The library is no unusual habitat for an IB student.

IB students are expected to complete what is known as CAS, which stands for Creativity, Action, and Service. This means that at least once a week, we have to complete an activity that fulfils these criteria: for example, you play tennis for Action, take photography classes for Creativity, and volunteer at a local animal shelter for Service. After you’ve completed this, you’re expected to ‘reflect’ on your experiences and log it all online.

Obviously while you’re doing it, you’re moaning and complaining, but looking back, I learnt SO much that I wouldn’t have experienced in a classroom. You remember really important things that teach you about the value of not just being a good student, but a good citizen. And just a good human being, who is aware of issues that society is facing, and more importantly, is interested in them.

Universities all over Europe, in the States, and increasingly in Australia, recognise the value of an IB student. They are an individual that is not also academically strong, but also a well-rounded individual with strong team-working skills, resourcefulness, technical wherewithal, and most importantly, determination. Wanting to do well in about eight different categories will do that to you.

A strong workload makes for strong friendships.

A lot of the time, this is where my frustration with UK universities comes through. An average offer from Exeter is 38 IB points, which is the A-Level equivalent of AAAAA. And we’re talking full A-Levels, not AS. Compare that to the average AAB-A*AA requirement they place on A-Level students, and that’s already an unfair comparison

Considering that on average, a quarter of students that take the IB do not meet the minimum requirements to pass, expecting more than 36 points out of the majority of applicants is unreasonable. The average IB score all over the world is between 32-34 points, which is the equivalent of around ABBBB. That is above the national average A-Level score in the UK.

Plus, with IB, the fact that you only take exams at the end of two years means that you do actually have to know and remember everything you’ve been taught, instead of doing an exam every five months and then forgetting whatever was on it.

I’m not trying to completely put down or devalue A-Levels. I understand the benefits for students who know exactly what they want to study, or the possibility of taking certain subjects that you then can drop. I understand that you can focus all your attention on one or two specific subjects, or areas of study, and I understand that spaced out exams mean you have a better chance at passing your A-Levels. IB isn’t for everyone (neither are A-Levels), so if you feel like you’re better suited to three or four subjects rather than seven, then that’s completely fine and that’s completely up to you.

There were only ten IB kids in my year in my school, so we stuck to each other like glue. We had other friends of course (everyone else did A-Levels), but we always had each other’s backs because we knew just how difficult what we were doing was. We also knew just how happy we would be when it was over, and just how much it was worth all the effort.

We all ended up in great universities, and every time someone mentions the IB Diploma, we laugh and joke about the trauma of it all – all the while knowing that we never would have chosen differently.