The International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme Explained - Crimson Education US (2023)

More than 5,600 schools in 160 countries around the world offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. With so much information about the various IB programmes, it’s easy to get confused. This blog will clear up some of the confusion so you can decide if this programme for you.

What is the International Baccalaureate (IB)?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) programme is aninternationally recognised school curriculumthat aims to foster open-minded and well-rounded students.

First proposed in the 1960s, the IB helped establish internationally standardised courses for school leavers. Since then, it has grown into a K-12 programme dedicated to its students’ academic and personal growth.

The IB offers four programs catered to students ages 3 to 19. TheIB Diploma Programme (DP),a two-year “pre-university” course that students start in their second-to-last year of high school, is the most popular. Completing this program rewards students with the world-renowned IB Diploma, opening pathways to some of thebest universitiesin the world!

You can take the DP as an alternative to your high school qualification, which might be GCSE,A Levels,AP, HSC, VCE, or NCEA, depending on your location.

To participate in the program, you must attend anIB accredited school.These schools have specially-trained teachers who deliver the IB Diploma Programme. There are about 5,600IB accredited schoolsin 159 countries.

While this post primarily focuses on the Diploma Programme, the IB also has programs for primary and middle-year students.

Primary Years Programme (PYP)

ThePYPaims tofoster academic, social and emotional wellbeing in children ages 3-12 years.It focuses on international-mindedness and strong personal values. Centred on six transdisciplinary themes, the academics in the PYP include students recognising:

  • Who they are
  • Where they are in place and time
  • How they express ourselves
  • How the world works
  • How they organise themselves
  • How to share the planet

Middle Years Programme (MYP)

TheMYPis a 5-year program thatprepares middle and high school students aged 11 to 16 years old for the IB Diploma Programme. Students study a broad curriculum across eight subject areas: Language & Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics, Arts, Physical & Health Education, and Design. At the end of the programme, students participate in a Personal Project. This self-driven research or practical project encourages students to situate their academic interests within the context of global issues.

Diploma Programme (DP)

The IB Diploma Programme is a two-year high school curriculum for students aged 16 to 19 composed ofsix academic subject groups and the Diploma Program (DP) Core. The DP Core requires students to reflect on the nature of knowledge in a course called Theory of Knowledge (ToK), participate in an independent research project to produce an Extended Essay (EE), and engage in extracurricular activities related to Creativity, Action and Service (CAS).

In March 2022 the IB launched an online Diploma Programme pilot. This delivers a fully online Diploma Programme together with a small number of selected partners. The programme is not available everywhere yet.

Did you know Crimson offers support in all IB subjects, including English, mathematics, the sciences, economics, history and more? More Crimson IB students score 44+ than any other tutoring company. Learn more about our online tutoring services.

What Are IB Courses? IB Subject Groups Explained

Of the six academic subject groups offered in the IB Diploma,students must take one class from groups 1-5. They caneither take a subject from group six or a second subject from groups 2-5. Additionally, students must take three or four courses (subjects) at Higher Level (HL), with the remainder taken at Standard Level (SL). We recommend you take a maximum of three higher level subjects.

Group 1: Studies in Language and Literature

Courses in this group help students develop an appreciation of language and literature, skills in literary criticism, an understanding of texts from diverse cultures and eras, and strong written and oral communication skills.

Courses available in this group include literature (available in 55 languages), Language and Literature (available in 17 languages), and Literature and Performance (available in English, Spanish, and French).

If students take a second language as an elective for their 6th subject, those who attain a grade three or higher receive aBilingual Diploma.

Learn more about Studies in Language and Literature.

Group 2: Language Acquisition

This group encourages proficiency in a second language and promotes understanding of other cultures by studying their language.

Students can study languages at two different levels: Ab initio courses are for beginners with little to no background in their chosen language. Language B courses are for students with some prior exposure to the language. Language B courses are available at a standard level or higher level.

Language selection depends on what your school offers.

Learn more about Language Acquisition

Group 3: Individuals and Societies

Subjects in this area encourage students to appreciate the physical, economic and social environments in our world. They also allow students to develop an understanding of the history of social and cultural institutions.

Subjects commonly offered in Group three include Business Management, Economics, Geography, History, Global Politics, Philosophy, Psychology, Information Technology in a Global Society, Anthropology and World Religions. However, not all IB schools offer every Group 3 course.

Learn more about Individuals and Societies.

Group 4: Sciences

Students in natural sciences courses learn the scientific method through studying key concepts, models, theories, and techniques in each subject area.

Students must choose Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science, Design Technology or Sports, Exercise and Health Science.

Learn more about Sciences.

Group 5: Mathematics

IB Mathematics caters to the full range of abilities and interests. Subjects available include Mathematics SL, Mathematics HL, Mathematics Studies SL, and Further Mathematics HL. There is a mathematics course suitable for the background and needs of each student.

In 2019, the IB announced two new mathematics courses: Mathematics: Analysis & Approaches and Mathematics: Applications & Interpretation, both available at SL and HL.

TheAnalysis and Approaches courseis for students interested in exploring maths at a deeper level, enabling them to solve complex problems in relevant and real-world contexts. This course is perfect for students interested in pursuing a degree or career in Mathematics.

TheApplications and Interpretation courseis for students who want to understand the relationship between maths and the real world. Students learn how to use real-world data to create mathematical models to uncover insights and aid decision making. Unlike the Analysis and Approaches course, this course dives into practical math application.

Learn more about Mathematics.

Group 6: The Arts

Designed to provide a balance of creativity and disciplined research in the genres of choice, Arts include Dance, Music, Film, Theatre, and Visual Art.

In place of an arts subject, students can also enrol in a second subject from groups 2, 3, or 4.

Learn more about The Arts.

Diploma Programme (DP) Core

In addition to the six academic subject groups, students also engage in the three components of the DP Core:

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme Explained - Crimson Education US (3)

The IB Grading Scale

Seven is the highest possible score for all IB courses. The assessed components of the DP Core (ToK and Extended Essay) are scored on an A-E scale. Creativity, Action, and Service have a Pass/Fail requirement. Depending on the combination of your scores for ToK and EE, you receive between 1-3 points, bringing the total possible score to 45. At the end of the IB Diploma Programme,you receive a final score of up to 45 possible points. Your 6 IB classes attribute to 42 of those points.

The minimum score required for an IB Diploma is 24, and you must score at least 12 points total in your HL subjects (no score below 3) and obtain a minimum of nine points for all your SL subjects.

While the IB does not provide a GPA or equivalent, use the following table as a guide to understanding how the IB grading scale works.

IB Grades and GPA Calculator
IB GradeDescriptionGPA EquivalentLetter Grade
6Very Good4A
1Very Poor0F

Points are allocated for ToK and EE as follows:

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme Explained - Crimson Education US (4)

IB Exams and Assessments

The IB Programme is unique in that final scores are acombination of internal and external assessments.

Internal assessments

IB Internal Assessments takes the form oflong-term projects such as papers, reports and presentations. For example, in Group 5 (Sciences), you complete lab reports, and in Group 1 (Studies in Language and Literature), you write papers.

These internal assessments usuallycomprise 15-25% of your final IB score for that subjectand are graded by your teachers. Your school later sends a small, randomly selected sample of student work to the IB for “moderation”, a process that ensures your school is grading fairly.

External assessments

The rest of the IB is externally assessed, mainly in the form of final examinations.IB exams are cumulative, with assessments in all topics taken in one exam at the end of your second year of study.

IB Courses Assessment Breakdowns

Below are common examples of assessment breakdowns for IB subjects.

IB English Literature HLExternal assessment (70%) 20% - Paper 1 (Written commentary) 25% - Paper 2 (Essay) 25% - Written Assignment

Internal assessment (30%) 15% - Oral presentation 15% - Oral commentary

IB Chemistry HL

External assessment (80%) 20% - Paper 1 (Multiple choice exam) 36% - Paper 2 (Extended response exam) 24% - Paper 3 (Higher Level topics)

Internal assessment (20%) 20% - Scientific reports

IB Business Management SL

External assessment (75%) 30% - Paper 1 (Exam based on pre-released case study) 45% - Paper 2 (Exam based on remaining course content)

Internal assessment 25% - Written commentary on a real-life business problem

Are IB Classes worth taking?

The IB is arigorous academic program available to high school students. An IB Diploma indicates to your future university that you can manage the demands of undergraduate studies.

The IB Diploma is recognised worldwide, and universities around the world will understand your IB score.

The IB fosters a highly balanced intellectual experience - academically and beyond. You can take IB classes from a wide range of subject areas, allowing you the freedom to create independent research projects using gathered knowledge. The CAS program also ensures you have a balanced lifestyle beyond academics. Other high school programs do not have this level of intellectual and personal development.

Additionally, in recognising the rigour of the IB program, many universities accept IB course credit as a replacement for first-year courses, allowing you to bypass early requirements and accelerate your studies.

Next Steps

While challenging, the IB diploma programme offers a holistic and high-quality curriculum that prepares you for university studies and life beyond high school. Tools like Crimson’s Revision Villageoffer a comprehensive collection of study materials designed explicitly for IB exams. This includes:

By utilizing resources likeRevision Villageand adopting effective study strategies, students can enhance their preparation, gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter, and excel in the exams. With dedication, perseverance, and the right approach, students can overcome this demanding course's challenges and succeed in their academic journey.

To further boost your chances of success in IB exams, consider Crimson Education'sonline tutoring services. Crimson's expert tutors can provide personalized guidance, tailored strategies, and invaluable support throughout your IB journey. Don't miss the opportunity to maximize your potential—book a free consultationwith Crimson Education today and get started on your path to academic success.

If you’d like to learn more about the IB Program or other high school curriculums, check out the following blogs.

  • Pros and Cons of the International Baccalaureate
  • How to Prepare for the IB Diploma: Top 10 Study Tips
  • The IB Scores Needed for the Top Universities in the World
  • What are AP Classes in High School?
  • Everything you need to know about the AS, A2 and A Levels


What is International Baccalaureate IB education? ›

IBCC. An IB education provides opportunities to develop both disciplinary and interdisciplinary understanding that meet rigorous standards set by institutions of higher learning around the world. IB programmes offer curriculum frameworks and courses that are broad and balanced, conceptual and connected.

What is the American equivalent of IB? ›

IB vs US Curriculum Similarities

Both the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the American (US) Curriculum excel in producing well rounded students that achieve competitive academic results. Students from both curriculums are accepted into the top universities globally.

Is going through the International Baccalaureate IB program worth it? ›

It's academically rigorous. It's stimulating, inspiring, and allows students to really excel and see what they're capable of. For those who choose to challenge themselves, the IB is hugely rewarding. Students finish with skills and a level of confidence that will push them forward their whole life through.

What is IB curriculum in USA? ›

The IB has six main areas of study: language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, experimental sciences, mathematics and computer science, and the arts. Three additional elements round out the program: a theory of knowledge course, learning outside the classroom, and a 4,000-word essay.

Why do people go to IB schools? ›

The IB enables students to direct their own learning pathway and develop the skills and confidence they need to thrive and make a lasting difference. It empowers teachers as the architects of learning excellence, working alongside engaged colleagues in a rewarding career supported by a strong global network.

How is IB Baccalaureate different from regular school? ›

The IB's programmes are different from other curricula because they: encourage students of all ages to think critically and challenge assumptions. develop independently of government and national systems, incorporating quality practice from research and our global community of schools.

What is harder IB or AP? ›

IB is more rigorous than AP because it requires higher grades than other classes do (i.e., A). This means that students who take IB won't necessarily be able to take as many classes at their local community college or state university—they'll need to apply for admission through another route first!

Do colleges prefer IB or AP? ›

Do Colleges Prefer AP or IB? Colleges typically do not state a preference for AP or IB courses. Both options are rigorous and can help you earn college credit depending on your exam scores. If your school only offers AP or IB, you may want to simply stick with what is available.

Is IB Board recognized in USA? ›

Many US higher education institutions offer benefits to IB students. Benefits are is determined by each institution individually, but might include credit for certain IB scores, scholarships or tuition assistance.

What are the negatives of the IB program? ›

  • Workload. If the subjects are as wide ranging as they should be, you also need to consider the hard work and magnitude of study which is needed. ...
  • Reduced flexibility. Even with so many subject choices, there's less flexibility in the IB due to the compulsory breadth of study it requires.

Does IB raise your GPA? ›

The key difference is that grades earned in more challenging courses—including honors, IB, and AP—receive a higher numerical value, which can potentially raise a student's overall GPA.

Do colleges really care about IB? ›

Universities appreciate the IB's rigour and they know it takes hard work and dedication to perform well, particularly in Higher Level (HL) subjects. This is demonstrated by the fact that most US universities award course credits for IB Diploma subjects.

What are the pros and cons of the IB program? ›

IB Benefits and Pros
  • #1: Global recognition. ...
  • #2: Well-rounded curriculum. ...
  • #3: Personal growth opportunity. ...
  • #4: Faster and cheaper college. ...
  • #1: Difficult Classes. ...
  • #2: Takes 2 Years to Complete. ...
  • #3: Expensive. ...
  • #4: Limited Flexibility.

Why is IB education better? ›

IB students develop strong academic, social and emotional characteristics. They are also likely to perform well academically – often better than students on other curricula. Read key findings from IB research to learn more about how the IB programmes impact students and schools.

Which state has the most IB schools? ›

The states with the largest number of IB World Schools are California (120), Florida (114), Texas (102), Colorado (79), Virginia (73), New York (63), Georgia (57) and North Carolina (55).

Are IB students more successful? ›

Strengths of an IB education

Some of the most selective universities worldwide recognize the IB diploma and our students are regarded as some of the highest performers in their areas of study.

What percentage of IB students get into college? ›

IB College Acceptance Rates
University or collegeIB students acceptance rateTotal population acceptance rate
Columbia University13%9%
University of California - Berkeley58%26%
Harvard University10%7%
New York University57%30%
6 more rows

Is IB more difficult than college? ›

Is IB More Difficult than University? The IB diploma is more demanding than most courses in the university. Irrespective of its difficulties, the outcome of taking part in the program is that you become a critical thinker who can solve challenging problems at the college or university level.

What is the hardest IB subject? ›

Top 10 Hardest IBDP Subjects
  1. IB Maths Analysis & Approaches.
  2. IB Chemistry.
  3. IB History.
  4. IB English Literature.
  5. IB Computer Science.
  6. IB Maths Applications & Interpretations.
  7. IB Biology.
  8. IB Arabic B.
May 6, 2023

Does IB help get scholarships? ›

The award amount is for $3000 per year (up to four years). To be considered for the IB Diploma Scholarship you must be an entering Freshman, have a total IB exam score of 30 or higher, and apply by February 1st.

Does Harvard accept IB? ›

Placement Recommendations - Harvard makes recommendations for courses appropriate for a student's background based on results of AP, IB, SAT II, and placement exams. Students with stronger preparation in a language, math, or science, for example, will be recommended for placement in more challenging classes.

Do Ivy League schools prefer AP or IB? ›

Students who take IB classes in high school have higher acceptance rates into Ivy League schools, but this doesn't necessarily mean a higher acceptance rate than AP students; it just means that IB students have a higher acceptance rate than the general application pool.

Is the IB program liberal? ›

The IB program is a liberal arts approach to education. Students must study two languages, math, science, individuals and societies, and the arts. There is both depth and breadth.

Does IB help get into Ivy League? ›

IN THE US: The IB Diploma Programme is a well-known and accepted “college-standard” curriculum. The acceptance rate of IB students into Ivy League Universities is up to 18% higher than the total population acceptance rate.

Is IB a British or American curriculum? ›

The International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum is neither British nor American. It was developed in Switzerland in the 1960s by a group of international educators seeking to create a curriculum that would provide students with a well-rounded, globally-focused education.

What is a good IB score for Ivy League? ›

Based on what the Oxbridge universities in the UK expect from IB applicants, an overall grade of 38+ would be well received by the Ivy Leagues. For the more selective universities, you're looking at around 40+.

What is the average SAT score for IB students? ›

The average SAT score of IB Diploma Programme candidates is 1953, and the average for IB Certificate candidates is 1794. The national average SAT score is 1500. 65% of IB DP students plan to study abroad during university years, and 51% intend to pursue a career in another country.

Are IB students more depressed? ›

Research done by the University of South Florida states that IB students are more susceptible to being stressed under the higher-pressure academic environment, which also makes them more susceptible to mental health problems, lower levels of happiness, fewer friendships, and disengagement from school.

How many people fail the IB program? ›

That's around 4 out of every 5 students who are able to pass. The good news? That means you're quite likely to pass the IB as well!

Why is IB so complicated? ›

It's Intense. The essential requirement to graduate with an IB diploma is that a student has to take at least six subjects. The student needs to specialize in any three or four of the chosen six subjects. It would help if you opted for a Higher Level (HL) in those subjects.

What is a 4.0 GPA in IB? ›

The Weighted GPA Conversion Chart
Letter GradePercentageAP/IB GPA
8 more rows
Jan 23, 2020

What is the highest GPA for IB? ›

IB Honors Track
GPA within ConcentrationNo thesis or No creditExcellent or Exceptional

Are IB classes weighted the same as AP? ›

The IB courses are weighted like the AP courses. However, with the IB Diploma Program, students receive 6 weighted credits their Junior year and 5-6 their Senior year, plus one for TOK. These students can also receive AP weighted credits if they take those classes.

What IB score is needed for Harvard? ›

Harvard University requires students to maintain a minimum IB score of 40 in order to stand a good chance to get admission into Harvard University. However, it is important for IB students to score at least 38 points and above if they are aiming for an Ivy League school.

Does getting the IB Diploma matter? ›

Since this program is known to be rigorous, doing well in your IB courses and earning your IB diploma indicates to colleges that you're an objectively strong student. Earning an IB diploma also shows you're willing to take on special academic challenges.

Is IB stressful? ›

The workload can be overwhelming, and the pressure to perform well is intense. Many students also have extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and part-time jobs, which can add to their stress levels. Moreover, the IB curriculum is demanding and requires students to be self-directed learners.

How many credits are IB classes worth? ›

Students usually earn 6-8 credits per exam, depending on the subject. International Baccalaureate Program credit is granted at for Higher Level examination scores of 4 or better in all International Baccalaureate subjects to a maximum of 32 semester hours of combined CLEP, AP, and IB credit.

What are the IB learner traits? ›

The profile aims to develop learners who are:
  • Inquirers.
  • Knowledgeable.
  • Thinkers.
  • Communicators.
  • Principled.
  • Open-minded.
  • Caring.
  • Risk-takers.
7 days ago

What is the hardest IB class in high school? ›

Which Courses Make the HARDEST IB Diploma?
  • English A Literature HL - Average Score: 4.67.
  • Spanish AB. ...
  • History HL - Average Score: 4.29.
  • Chemistry SL - Average Score: 4.01.
  • Math Studies SL - Average Score: 4.17.
  • Visual Arts HL - Average Score: 4.26.
  • Individuals and Societies - Average Score: C.
  • Average Score: C.

What is the most popular IB course? ›

The IB Diploma Programme (DP), a two-year “pre-university” course that students start in their second-to-last year of high school, is the most popular. You can take the DP as an alternative to your high school qualification, which might be GCSE, A Levels, AP, HSC, VCE, or NCEA, depending on your location.

Is AP or IB harder? ›

IB is more rigorous than AP because it requires higher grades than other classes do (i.e., A). This means that students who take IB won't necessarily be able to take as many classes at their local community college or state university—they'll need to apply for admission through another route first!

Is the IB program hard? ›

IB is one of the most demanding courses that one can attend in high school. We have dedicated another article to answering if the intensity and extra workload are worth it!

Does Harvard prefer AP or IB? ›

Does Harvard prefer IB or AP courses? Harvard does not explicitly state a preference for IB or AP courses. To receive credit for IB classes, accepted students must earn an IB diploma. Incoming students must earn a score of 5 on at least four AP exams to earn college credit at Harvard.

Do IB classes raise GPA? ›

A student typically receives 5.0 grade points for a class if they earn an “A” grade in an Honors, Advanced Placement (AP), or International Baccalaureate (IB) class, while each subsequent grade is worth an additional point over its worth in a non-weighted system.

What are the disadvantages of IB? ›

  • Workload. If the subjects are as wide ranging as they should be, you also need to consider the hard work and magnitude of study which is needed. ...
  • Reduced flexibility. Even with so many subject choices, there's less flexibility in the IB due to the compulsory breadth of study it requires.

How many people fail IB? ›

That's around 4 out of every 5 students who are able to pass. The good news? That means you're quite likely to pass the IB as well!

Can you fail an IB class? ›

Grades of A and B are expected of all IB students. Students with a grade of D or F are not considered in "good standing." A semester grade of F in an IB course will require the students to return to their sending school for the remainder of their high school education.

Does Harvard like IB students? ›

Dean of Admissions “Success in an IB program correlates well with success at Harvard. We are always pleased to see the credentials of the IB Diploma Program on the transcript.” GPA is not nearly as important a factor in university admission as the IB Diploma.

Is IB Recognised in USA? ›

As an internationally recognized qualification, the IB also prepares them for a career anywhere in the world. IB students are global citizens and this makes them an asset to the international academic communities of the US.


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