Sunday, June 09, 2013

What is the International Baccalaureate?

Well, Tony's previous post on the IB programme was way back here in 2006 and since then the IB programme has really taken off with more and more Malaysians opting for it as an alternative to the A-levels programme/ SAM etc. 

I had the good fortune of being a scholarship recipinet of the IB Scholarship at the International School of Kuala Lumpur, which was the first IB school in Malaysia stretching way back to 1989. The IB at ISKL has beena wonderful experience and I will write more on the ISKL scholarship soon, in the meantime if you are interested you can read more here.

In the course of the next two weeks, I will be covering various aspects of the IB diploma in a series of articles including:
  • History of the IB diploma
  • The general structure of the IB diploma
  • Some benefits of the IB diploma
  • Some pitfalls of the IB diploma
  • Compare it to A-Levels
  • Recognition worldwide in terms of university acceptances
  • Who I would recommend the IB to

Today I will be discussing the general structure of the IB diploma. For ease of reference, the article will be framed in a FAQ style.

How many subjects do I take for the IB?
In the IB diploma, one is required to take 6 subjects. These subjects all belong to different categories (Arts, Sciences, Humanities) to ensure the student is well-balanced and versed in multiple disciplines. However there are additional components to the IB such as Theory of Knowledge, the Extended Essay and CAS.

What are the areas covered in the IB?
As you can see from the chart above, a student usually takes:
  1. One main language, e.g. English
  2. A secondary language, e.g. French, Spanish, Mandarin
  3. A humanities subject (individuals & societies), e.g. Economics, History, Business & Management
  4. A math course, e.g. Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Math Studies
  5. An experimental/ natural sciences course e.g. Biology, Chemistry, Physics
  6. An arts course, .e.g Theatre, Visual Art, Dance
These areas are further divided into Higher Level and Standard Level subjects. Essentially, one is more comprehensive and challenging than the other, though the gap between the two may differ depending on subject. An IB student is required to take at least 3 Higher Levels.

Is that it?
No. There are 3 additional components to the IB which are Theory of Knowledge, the Extended Essay and CAS. 

What in the world are those things?
Theory of Knowledge, otherwise known as epistemology, is a sort of philosophy course. It essentially tries to instill in a student questions like: What is morality? Is there a God? How do we know what we know is real?

In other words, it's pretty mind blowing things that does wonders for your thinking. 

The Extended Essay is a 3,000 to 4,000 word thesis paper that is written over the course of two years. Basically like a mini university paper. You can choose the area in which you choose to do the EE in. I chose History, and my EE was a research paper on whether the May 13 race riots were a coup d'etat or a spontaneous uprising. 

The CAS hours stands for Creativity, Action and Service. You're required by the IB diploma to do at least 40 hours of each component. Briefly, it's extracurricular activities. More on these later.

Wait... So could you recap again what the IB diploma involves?
Alright here goes:
  • You take 6 subjects, one from each field
  • Out of the 6 subjects, at least 3 are Higher Levels.
  • You also take Theory of Knowledge, write an Extended Essay, and fulfill CAS hours.

Hmm...Can I pick all Sciences or if I'm lousy at Science pick all Humanities?
No. Such an act would sort of defeat the purpose of the IB, which is to produce a person that is capable of multiple disciplines and is well rounded. If you're the type of person interested in a lot of things, the IB might be for you.

What if I don't want certain areas?
Well there's still some flexibility there. For example, I opted to forgo the Arts component in favour of an additional Humanities subject. 

I also opted to take 4 Higher Levels rather than only 3.

So there is some flexibility to the course, not to worry, but you can't get away with not doing languages, math or at least one science.

What did subjects did you do?
Well I had some flexibility so I did the following.
  1. IB History HL
  2. IB Economics HL
  3. IB English Literature HL
  4. IB Mathematics HL
  5. IB Physics SL
  6. IB French Ab Initio (Ab Initio means from the beginning, so essentially a starter course)
Why so many subjects? Isn't it really taxing?
Well as I've said before, the IB diploma is really meant to produce multidisciplinary people. I won't lie and say it is an easier course. Definitely I think A-Levels people had it easy (and I know because I went through 6 months of A-levels before obtaining the scholarship). Even in the beginning stages, the workload is heavier.

That being said, the schedule is really no more demanding than your regular Malaysian secondary school's. It's just that compared to other pre-u programmes you probably won't have as much free periods as your friends.

And what are individual subjects like?
There is a lot of emphasis on coursework. While the A-Levels are almost entirely exam based, the IB is a lot more diverse in terms of its grading. I'll use the example of my English Literature subject.

IB English Literature score breakdown
Oral Presentation (15%)  
This was a 20-30 minute long presentation about an aspect of a literary work. I explored prejudice and judgmental-ism  in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God through means of presenting black and white photographs and a poem set to music.

Oral Commentary (15%)
This was a 20 minute commentary on a previously studied piece of work with a teacher, followed by a 10 minute Q&A session. I did a commentary on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and during the 10 minute session answered question of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. The oral components are internally graded but are recorded and sent to the IB authorities for moderation.

World Literature Paper (20%)
This is a 1,500 word paper examining a particular aspect of a piece of literature. I examined the significance of the opening scene of Friedrich Durrenmatt's play, The Visit. The paper is marked externally. 

Final examination (50%)
This part is your standard final exam with timed written responses to a prompt. Pretty standard stuff. 

As you can see, there is a lot more emphasis on various aspects such as oral presentations, papers etc. One might say it mirrors the university grading system much more closely than purely exam-based pre-university programmes.

Anything else you want to add?
Nothing much, except stay tuned for more in depth, first hand info on the IB programme. Feel free to email me at if you want to talk in person/ have any other concerns. Thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

Malaysians must commit to the National Education System first. We should improve our system and not bring in ne systems. We want Satu Malaysia. Hidup Satu Malaysia.

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