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.