If you’re either debating on whether to do the IB program, starting your IB journey next year, or just curious about what the program entails, this beginner’s guide is for you! I will be sharing my experience as an IBDP student going into my second and final year. 

What is the IBDP?

The International Baccalaureate Diploma (IBDP) program is a two year, globally recognised educational program aimed at 16-19 year olds, completed during the last two years of high school. Students are given a score out of 45 at the end of the two years. 

Students must choose 6 subjects to study, 3 higher level and 3 standard level. Each subject is assessed on a 7 point scale (7 being the highest). Students have to pick one subject from 5 subject groups, and have the choice of picking an art: 

  • Group 1 – Studies in Language and Literature (usually done in a student’s first language)
  • Group 2 – Language Acquisition 
  • Group 3 – Individuals and societies
  • Group 4 – Sciences
  • Group 5 – Mathematics
  • (Optional) Group 6 – The Arts

I feel choosing from these subjects groups makes me and other IB students well-rounded academically and allows me to dive into many different interests I have because we do not focus on one ‘stream’ such as only the sciences or only business management. I also have acquired many different skills from taking such different subjects, from critical analysis skills in Psychology, to memorisation skills in Chinese.  


The IB Diploma ‘Core’: CAS, TOK and the EE

As you can see, the IB has a lot of acronyms: sometimes I lose track as to what they all mean! In addition to the curriculum there is a “core” that all students must do to receive the diploma. All three core subjects give you an extra 3 points in addition to your academics (if full marks are achieved in each). I feel these additions are very unique to the IB program and personally push me to be a versatile student, have better time management skills, and think critically. 


Creativity, Action, Service (CAS)

Photo source from author. Taken at a CNY celebration with all the services our school works with.

CAS is very similar to CCAs and encourages students to get involved in activities outside of their academics, for a minimum of 150 hours in total. Creativity allows students to engage with the arts and creative thinking, action motivates to have a healthy lifestyle through physical fitness and service gives opportunity for students to volunteer and work with the local and global community. While writing reflections on our activities can be a bit tedious, CAS has helped me gain new experiences: I became the chair of a local service working with adults with intellectual disabilities, which has been extremely rewarding as I have been doing service in the local community for a long time and CAS has strengthened my relationship with this service. 


Theory of Knowledge (TOK)

TOK is a compulsory subject which combines philosophy, critical thinking and logic. Students are assessed on two pieces of work: a 10-minute presentation and essay. From talking to my classmates, their opinions range from liking it or not understanding it at all; there is no in between. I think that TOK is a very useful subject as it has significantly improved my critical thinking skills: it makes us question whether what we know is actually true and examine the flaws of acquiring knowledge. Despite it being quite tough and unlike anything I have ever studied before, TOK is very interesting and gives a new perspective to the world around us. 

Photo by author. Screenshot of one slide from my practice TOK presentation.

Extended Essay (EE)

The EE is a 4000 word essay on any topic in a subject of your choice. While 4000 words seems quite daunting, you have complete freedom of what you want to write about. It is important to choose a topic that is genuinely interesting to you because you will be spending a large amount of time researching and reading about it and it will be easier to do critical analysis. In my school, there have been essays written about global warming to meme culture so it is really about writing about a passion you want to explore more.


Is the IB worth it?

While it varies from person to person, I feel that the IB is worth it. It is globally recognised by all local and international universities so you have a wider range of options in terms of applying to institutions and  the IB itself is almost like a university preparation program: it equips students with the necessary skills, such as writing a 4000 word research report and time management, to move on into university. I chose to do the IB because I was really drawn to the idea of a holistic education and it allows me to explore many of my academic interests. 

Even though I, and many other IB students, have had to pull numerous all nighters to complete coursework for our subjects, I have still really enjoyed my IB experience. It has taught me many values such as self-responsibility and self-help. The program has not only pushed me in terms of learning new content in my academics but also thinking beyond school and college applications to being more socially responsible and wanting to contribute more to our society on both a local and global scale. I feel that I have developed not only as a student but as a person and I feel very grateful to be given the chance to learn in such a socially conscious and open-minded environment.

This article is brought to you by Samantha Sayson. Samantha is a rising senior at United World College SEA East Campus and is currently interning with SNCF. In her free time, she enjoys fencing and spending time with her dog named Ginger.