(Original post by Aniaaa)
I am an international student who has done both A-levels and IB. I will argue with anyone who says that one is easier than the other ; however after experiencing both programmes I personally believe that IB is simply better. I do not want to insult any A-levels students, because I am fully aware that for ex. examination in A-levels in more thorough and so a more detailed knowledge is required on exams.
So to explain fully what I mean when I say that I find IB a more interesting programme I will now share some reflection on both courses.
What really annoyed me in A-levels, especially in sciences, was that the programme was divided into modules. At the beginning I thought that this is much better than taking one or two exams after two years of studying, but I now understand that it is not
. It is very easy to lose marks, because mark schemes in A-levels are very strict (for ex. when there is a 6 mark question there are 6 or 7 key words/statements in the mark scheme; in IB when there is a 6 mark question there is 8-10 possible marks and key words, although favoured, are not essential if student shows his/her understanding). My impression of biology and chemistry in A-level programme is that if you want to take a good mark you should learn mark schemes off by heart (especially ISA papers) and even when you do it some silly and unrelated questions will appear and you will get for example C, because ISA grade boundaries are very strict. So students usually end up retaking exams or doing EMPA, which is tiring and wasteful – each retake is 20 pounds.
Moreover, science modules are only loosely connected one to another. I think the person who designed the course aimed for it to gradually take the student from less advanced to more advances material, but failed completely. Compared to IB syllabus the A-levels one seems messy and unorganized
, lacking actual connection between modules. IB SL Biology has much more sense that AS Biology and it is simply more interesting (and I am not the only person saying that). It is more understandable and the books are better.
As far as chemistry in concerned I can only comment on A-level chemistry and contrast it with what my friends from IB said about their chemistry. The former might be better for people going into courses with organic chemistry, because in IB you can basically skip a large part of organic by choosing a different option. I found A-level in Chemistry very interesting in general, but some bits were simply soooooo boring and made no sense because a-level chemistry is less advanced than other equivalent European programmes! And also I know for a fact that lab reports in IB are more convenient that ISA, even if at the beginning of the course you might feel like they are more difficult.
As far as history is concerned I would recommend IB very much, because you can choose what you want to study. The history is said to be one of the most demanding subjects in IB and I will agree with this statement, but at the same time the topics are more holistic than in A level. When I did IB I scorned at ‘the international perspective’ but after two years I can understand how important it was. When you leave the IB programme you have an idea about why is the world now how it is. When you leave A-level you know all about England, Ireland, and suffrage and you think you know something about Stalinist Russia and something about Germany ( well, you do know quite a lot in terms of facts) but the reality is you don’t understand the basic problems of modern politics. I can already see the amount of people who are going to argue with this, so let me just explain that this is my impression and is in not objective at all.
I would also recommend Geography in IB, because it is a pleasant, fairly easy and useful subject, but I have not done it in A-level so I have no comparison.
Now something that I feel really strongly about
: languages. Ok, now listen people, this is important. IF you actually want to learn the language DO NOT CHOOSES A-LEVELS
. I did ab initio Spanish and A2 Spanish and to be honest the latter was just ridiculous. I don’t even know where to start.
Since IB is international, everything you do is in Spanish (especially if you are in an international school). The paper is in Spanish. Exams check your knowledge of SPANISH. You are required to understand Spanish. Spanish is the focus of your course.
In A-level you spent a lot of time doing listening and an enormous part of your exams is listening. This is very wasteful, because if you are able to do the speaking exam you have to have good listening skills. In IB there is no listening exam, because during the speaking your ability to respond is assessed.
Moreover, in the exams ( AS) you are required to write what you hear in Spanish in English. Now people who already speak a foreign language will know that if you actually want to be fluent in a language you have to stop the translation going on in your mind ( the faster you do it the better). But this is just the beginning. A-level doesn’t actually teach you any form of writing. It only shows how to express your opinion in an essay form, while in IB at the most basic level of a language course you are taught how to write formal, informal letters (this is actually very useful ex. when you write to unis in Spain), reviews... At HL you are required to be able to use quite well formal language, idiomatic expressions as well as express your opinions.
Most importantly, A2 Spanish focuses largely on translation, which is fine if you want to do translations later on in life (although given how ridiculous the mark scheme is it will not be very useful) but it may actually hinder your ability to express yourself in Spanish. I would also like to mention that some of the examiners of Spanish seems uneducated and lots of native speakers I know have criticized A-level programme very strongly. From my point of view A-level languages are a really bad choice, because not only is your knowledge of the language not sufficient to for. ex go for a year abroad and study there, but also is not recognized by the rest of Europe. Honestly people, it is better to take B1 or B2 European certificate than A level!
Now, let’s go to something I find very entertaining in A-levels: critical thinking. This subject seems like a minimalistic version of TOK, but IS NOT NEARLY AS GOOD. You waste a lot of time on it and you often end up confused, but from my point of view it just produces student who are unable to think outside the box and are not able even to see trough logical fallacies. TOK is easy to pass and even if you get like a C over all you really have a good understanding of how all the areas of knowledge work and you can still get 2/3 for essays.
Finally, I would like to say that the amount of work you do in IB and in A levels is similar, however I would argue that IB gives you greater chances of getting into uni (unless you want to go to Oxbridge), because for ex. to get into majority of law and medicine courses you will need overall 36 point out of 45 with 666 at HL. This is not easy to achieve, but not impossible, because to get a 7 you usually need around 80% (depending on how did other people do and on the difficulty of the exam) unless you are taking maths HL or history, where grade boundaries are extremely flexible. To get into the same courses on a decent uni you will need AAAa, or AAB ( if you are lucky). This might be more difficult to obtain, because the exam is much more detailed and doesn’t want to check your knowledge but to lower your score as much as possible.
On the other hand, if you are less ambitious and you would be happy with let’s say BBC-CCC in your a-levels don’t go for IB, because it will kill you and you will hate it and it will be simply too much. Also if you want to go for engineering course please keep in mind that HL maths is required and it is more demanding than A-level maths, and that physics is said to be more demanding in IB ( not my own experience, so I would suggest you compare the programmes on your own). If you want to go for an average uni or below average uni don’t bother with IB. If you want to something challenging ( your way of thinking and your understanding of how things work around you will be challenged; workload is comparable) I would suggest you choose IB.
Also a message to people who want to study medicine: if you will not get into medicine in the UK, because for ex. you got 6,5 in biology and chemistry don’t worry! IB is recognized in the whole of Europe and you can go and study medicine in English to Poland or Slovakia. This will not be much more expensive that the English course but and might give you better scientific base and you will get accepted with 5 in bio and 5 in chem, because IB is very much preferred there. A-levels on the other hand are less valuable that any other European baccalaureate and for any course in English you will be most probably asked to pass an entrance exam.
Ok, this is all I have to say. I have been as honest as it is possible and I know I have been quite harsh on A-levels, but I don’t believe that the standard and organization of the course are sufficient. After doing both programmed I remain convinced that IB in superior ( and also it gives people sense of unity because they have to spend more time at school and can complain about this together).