A diploma programme that is offered to elementary, junior, and senior high school students by a number of educational institutions around the world. In addition to core subjects, courses are offered in many other areas, including music, studio art, information technology, and psychology. All high school diploma candidates are required to compose a 3000-word extended essay on any subject and take an epistemology course entitled 'Theory of Knowledge'.

The International Baccalaureate is an international highschool program. It was founded in the 1960s so that children of travelling diplomats and the like would get a less schizophrenic education, but it has since become quite popular, once it was discovered that it Sucks Less(TM). There are now about 1000 schools in about 100 countries which offer the IB program.

In the glossy-paper brouchures, the IB curriculum is drawn as a brightly coloured hexagon. The student (who in IB-speak is always refered to as the 'candidate' to stress the uncertainty of getting a passing grade) can choose 6 subjects from the selection of official IB courses his/her school offers. Of these:

  1. Must be the student's native language
  2. (literature),
  3. Must be a foreign language,
  4. Must belong to "Individuals and Societies": history, economics, geography...
  5. Must be an "experimental science" (physics and the like),
  6. Is mathematics (no choice.)
  7. And the last one can be chosen freely.

The most intersting part of the IB is the grading. At the end of the two years, there is a series of tests. The papers are sent away to Cardiff, UK (or in general to the nearest office), where they are assigned to examinators all over the world for grading. This means that teachers are not grading their own students, which IMHO makes for much more pleasant teacher-student relations. It also makes for plenty of cramming and anxiety during the weeks before the exams. And it makes for bad luck if you happen to have migraine on the day of a test (as happened to a friend of mine), or if you happen to overlook a page of the test until there only remains three minutes of writing-time (as happened to me).

The IB diploma requires the student to take at least one subject from six categories. For each subject, the student has the choice of either taking the "higher" level or the "standard" level. The higher level is more rigorous and often takes up more instruction time: either by extending the higher courses by another year, or having additional teaching time within the two year program. The six categories, and some examples of courses within those courses, are:

  • Mathematics: Higher Mathematics(HL), Math Methods(SL), Math Studies(SL)
  • Language A1: Study of a native language. In most schools, this is English, but the IBO does not limit the choice available to schools.
  • Second Language: Study of a second language. Again, the choice of language is left to the school.
  • Individuals and Societies: What most of the rest of the world would call the humanities. Subjects include Economics, Geography, History, and Psychology.
  • Experimental Sciences: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Environmental systems (at the standard level only).
  • Arts and Electives: This includes Visual arts, music, and drama. The IB allows the selection of a subject from another group to replace this requirement. I personally took two science classes, and no arts.

Note that this is not an exhaustive list. This IB allows a good deal of freedom to schools in preparing a course list. Many courses are specialized for the host country of the school. My school offered Indonesian, for example.

In addition taking a course from each category (and at least 3 at the higher level), there are three additional requirements. Students are required to take an epistemology course entitled "Theory of Knowledge", write a 4000 word "extended essay" in a subject they are taking, and do 150 hours of activities and service in the "CAS" (community, action, service) program.

The IB is graded on a scale from 0 to 45. Each of the subjects earns a grade from 0 to 7, and there are a possible 3 additional points for doing well in the extended essay and in the Theory of Knowledge class. The grades for each subject is composed of two components: an internal assesment, and a final exam. The exams are externally graded , and the internal assesments are externally moderated. Examples of internal assesments are: 1500 word world literature essays for A1 language, lab portfolios for experimental science, and taped oral assesments for second language classes. In order to receive the diploma, a students must attain at least a grade of 4 in all standard level classes, and at least 5 in all higher level classes. Exceptions can be made for a low score if a student acheived an exceptionally high score elsewhere.

The IB is coordinated by the IBO (www.ibo.org) which is a non-profit educational foundation located in Geneva, Switzerland. The IBO also offers the "Middle Years Programme" and the "Primary Years Programme," however, the diploma programme is by far the most well known of the three.

While most of the information listed by Billows is accurate, there are a few corrections/additions worth noting.

One must achieve a total of 12 points for the three Higher Level tests, thus averaging a score of 4 on each. High scores and low scores can balance out; however, if more than one elementary score is received, the candidate does not receive the diploma. (Elementary is defined as a 2 or below on a Standard Level, and a 3 or below on a Higher Level test; elementary scores can also be received on the extended essay or on the Theory of Knowledge essay.)

The 150 hours of "CAS" incorporate creativity (not community), action, and service.

As a graduate of the program and a diploma recipient myself, I can say definitively that it is a very painfully rigorous standard for students in the United States; rumor has it that academic standards are higher in other countries in the world, but from my experience, American high school students don't have to work very hard, and IB is rather a shock to some. Fortunately, universities in this country are beginning to recognize IB scores on a much larger scale; University of Tulsa, for example, grants 30 credit hours and considerable scholarship money to an IB diploma recipient. Other universities waive their core curriculum requirements and/or grant certain sums of credit hours.

The joys of procrastination go hand in hand with the work of IB. Sites such as ibscrewed.net allow a forum for overworked, stressed, sleep-deprived students to gather and let off a little steam.

Enrollment in the International Baccalaureate program is a convoluted and time-intensive way to teach yourself that your highschool life, and life in general, provides no tangible emotional reward. The program, known as IB, is mediated by the IBO, or International Baccalaureate Organisation. This essentially means that the assignments which influence your grades the most are not marked by the teachers who have taught you for the entire semester, but by completely random strangers all over the world, to whom your work is assigned to by a collection of tired men residing in Cardiff, Wales, at the IB Marking Headquarters. Who are they? What are their stories? We do not know. All we know is that they decide our fate, our future, and the tax bracket we are destined to land in.

So how are IB assignments marked? The answer: arbitrarily! By a completely arbitrary marking scale! All work is given a mark out of 7, with 0 being the lowest possible mark and 7 being the highest possible mark. Why 7? Who knows? Maybe because it's the holy number of Jesus or something. I don't know, I'm Jewish. Each degree of the scale (1, 2, 3, 7, 5, 6, and 7) covers a range of percentages, and your percentage grade decides your IB grade. Because the IB levels are slightly skewed (a 6 can cover the range of 93-96%), your final grade gets boosted up to match the scale. These are conversions, and they become your lifeblood, combined with caffeine and gel pen ink. Conversions differ between subjects, some boosting your final grade up to 20%, others giving you very little, if anything at all. Due to this, it is practically impossible to completely fail your course. Once you're in, you're in for good. Like Tartarus.

So now that you know who decides your future and how your future is decided, let's talk about your future! Your beaming bright future as one of the most well-rounded and intelligent students in the world! You can be anything you want to be! You can be any kind of doctor, lawyer, or engineer you want to be! Heck, you can even get into an Ivy League school! Exactly 3.42 students in your school get into UPenn every year! You could be one of those 3.42 lucky students, as long as you:

  • work hard, without interruption
  • manage your time to the second
  • get rid of any and all recreational activities that can't be put on your resume, because that's just wasting time that could be spent studying
  • commit to 2,351 other activities that CAN be put on your resume, and make sure to excel in all of them
  • get rid of your social life or any non-IB friends, because that's just wasting time that could be spent studying
  • never sleep more than 5 hours a night, because that's just wasting time that could be spent studying
  • sell your soul
  • don't burn out after grade 10 and continue worshipping the ideal of a 95% average all through highschool

Oh! And did I mention, be well-rounded? That's the whole point of the IB program! To encourage students to take courses in all fields of modern study, regardless of personal aptitude, future career choice, or preference, and fill up all the course requirements. Are you good at math? No? Of course you are. You're stupid if you're not good at math, and your friends know it. Are you creative? Great! IB has set curriculums in place for the liberal arts, which are a great way to look at the arts from a global perspective and become acquainted with the artistic community worldwide. Sounds awesome, right? Too bad your school doesn't run IB arts courses. Are you really passionate about something else, like geography? Yeah, none of that crap either. But there is a plentitude of chemistry courses for you to suffer through! It's either that or physics. Pick your poison. Did I say you had a choice? Sorry about that.

Don't get me wrong, some things about IB are great. There's Theory of Knowledge, known as TOK, which is an introduction to psychology course. It asks the question: "how do we know?". That's it. It's wonderful too look around and see a classroom of your colleagues' confused faces. And that one teacher, who probably teaches something like history, who is way too honest about their own life, and your insecurities. On Friday mornings they dish out life advice and bad jokes, and make you realise things about your current situation that you could never find the words to describe.

"Right now you're working hard in your life to live a life of hard work".


I'm sorry if I sound whiny and amateur. No, on second thought I'm not sorry. Though I (or my parents really) did this to myself, as a tired and overworked pseudo-child I feel that I have a right to be at least slightly bitter, and to express my bitterness. Also my French assignments are due soon and I am afraid. If any other IB kids wish to cry and complain along with me, feel free to message me. And eat some food, you've probably been doing math all night and have had exactly one grape for lunch, that's it. 



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