What is the IB about?

It is not uncommon for students to be completely lost when first starting the IB (I definitely was!). It can be overwhelming, and it might seem as if there is too much to handle. I wrote this article to help clarify exactly what the IB is comprised of, and to perhaps help out a few of you who might be considering it or even doing it!

6 subjects

In the IB, there is a strong focus on being “well rounded” and the way that this is achieved is by doing 6 subjects, one from each of the 6 different “areas”. You must do a subject in each area, which means:

  • Language A (your native language, for me, this was English)
  • Language B (a second language of your choice, for me, this was French, but could also be German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese etc.)
  • Mathematics (Studies (SL), Standard Level, or Higher Level)
  • Natural Sciences (Biology, Physics, Chemistry etc.)
  • Humanities and social sciences (Economics, Business Management, Geography etc.)
  • Arts (Visual Arts, Dance, Drama etc.) BUT if you don’t want to do an art, you may choose another subject from any of the groups above. This means that you can do two sciences, two language Bs or two humanities! However, what you choose also depends upon what is offered at your school.

The “Core components”

  • TOK (mandatory, and is a course which you are assessed on through a TOK presentation and a TOK essay. The essay is weighted more (roughly 60%).
  • CAS – roughly 150 hours total of Creativity, Action and Service. This used to be split pretty strictly between creativity, action and service (50 hours each), but now the IB is encouraging a more “consistent” approach. They don’t so much count your hours, but make sure that CAS is a consistent effort across the two years. It doesn’t matter if one is slightly over or slightly under. You also have to complete a “major project” with your IB cohort to pass your CAS – this is often a service based project that takes about 10 hours (which you can count of course!)
  • Extended Essay—this is a 4000 word essay that is written in a subject of your choice. It does not have to be a subject you are doing – it can be in any of the subjects offered by the IB! You get a supervisor for this (a teacher from your school) and generally you will meet your supervisor every couple of weeks to discuss your progress etc.


Higher and Standard Levels

You must choose at least 3 subjects to do at higher level. Some people do 4, but in my opinion, this is completely unnecessary. You don’t get any bonus points for it, and since the IB does not scale, why bother?

Higher level subjects have 240 teaching hours, while standard level subjects only require 180 teaching hours. The content for higher level subjects is often in greater depth (and there’s often more of it too!). Some uni courses require you to do specific higher levels for specific courses, and some will even allow you to accelerate first year if you’ve done the higher level for that subject! See my post on Choosing Higher Levels for my advice when it comes to higher and standard level.


If you’re choosing whether or not to do the IB, you should also know that it doesn’t necessarily have to be “for smart people”. Too many people fall in the trap of thinking that IB is an program for “talented” students. The only thing that is required in the IB is a solid work ethic, and an indomitable determination. See my post on “Why do the IB?” for more information.

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