IB or A-Level? Battle between IB Diplomas and A-Level

Publish Date: 2019.02.14

The IB Diploma and the General Certificate of A Level (GCE A-Level) are known to have a long history, and a strong advocacy in terms of educational and political influence. Yet, the students and their parents face the challenges of picking the appropriate pathway. Understanding the real differences between the IB Diploma and A Levels is certainly the key to being able to make the right choice that would turn out to be beneficial for the student’s future.

IB Diploma

The IB Diploma is a two-year programme completed before entering university. There are only five schools in Hong Kong that offer all three components of the full IB programme - the primary years programme, middle years programme and the sixth-form diploma programme. As the International Baccalaureate (IB) Organization states, “these programmes focus on teaching students to think critically and independently, and how to inquire with care and logic.” It requires no specific preparatory class work, and thus, can be undertaken from the GCSEs.

IB Diploma offers a broad curriculum made up of six main subject groups - Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics and the Arts. These subjects are graded on a scale of 1 (minimum) to 7 (maximum). In order to pass the IB Diploma, students need to score a minimum of 24 points, and the successful completion of the DP Core Requirements (which carry an additional 3 points).

More importantly, the aim of the DP Core is to broaden students’ education experiences and challenge their application of knowledge and skills. The Theory of Knowledge requests students to reflect on the nature of knowledge through Community, Action, Service (CAS). The CAS requires students to participate in a wide range of activities and projects related to music, sports or fundraising. Meanwhile, the Extended Essay is an independent piece of research, culminating in a university level 4,000-word paper.

A list of some of the schools in Hong Kong offering the IB programme:

  • Australian International School Hong Kong
  • Canadian International School of Hong Kong
  • Carmel School
  • Chinese International School
  • Creative School Hong Kong
  • Diocesan Boys School
  • Discovery College
  • Discovery Montessori Academy
  • ELCHK Lutheran Academy
  • French International School
  • G.T. (Ellen Yeung) College
  • German Swiss International School
  • Hong Kong Academy
  • International College Hong Kong
  • Island School
  • Kiangsu-Chekiang College
  • King George V School
  • Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong
  • Malvern College
  • Po Leung Kuk Choi Kai Yau School
  • Po Leung Kuk Ngan Po Ling College
  • Renaissance College
  • Sha Tin College
  • Singapore International School (Hong Kong)
  • Stamford American School
  • South Island School
  • The ISF Academy
  • West Island School

A Levels

The General Certificate of Education Advanced Levels (or also known as GCE A-Levels) are UK national curriculum school-graduating qualifications that are taken by majority of the students between the ages of 16 and 18 in the UK. Students can choose up to three or four subjects and take two years to study for these A-Levels. The highest grade is A*, followed by A, B, C, D and E. Classes are generally offered on a variety of subjects - Accounting, Biology, Business Studies, Chemistry, Economics, English Language, English Language and Literature, Geography, Law, Mathematics, Physics and Psychology.

A list of some of the schools in Hong Kong offering the A-Levels:

  • Discovery Bay International School
  • Diocesan Girls’ School
  • Han Academy
  • Harrow International School
  • Hong Kong Baptist University Affiliated School Wong Kam Fai Secondary School
  • Kellett School
  • Mount Kelly Hong Kong
  • Sear Rogers International School

IB Diploma vs A Levels

Although both pathways are widely accepted for entry into universities, they both have their devotees. A-Levels offers students an opportunity to take up what they like and what they don't like. They can focus on the specialization which would be their strengths and continue a school life full of enthusiasm. Meanwhile, IB Diploma is suitable for students who are not particularity confident in what subject they are interested in. In this case, they get the opportunity to test out the waters.

The biggest difference is that IB Diploma was “encouraging global outlook” and “encouraging independent inquiry.” However, A-Levels were considered to offer better “in-depth subject expertise.” A recent study done by Leeds University academics found that students who take up higher level Maths at IB were more likely to get a first class degree than those who took A-Level Maths.

Source: Education Ladder