The GREAT debate: IB vs AP vs A-levels

  • The AP, A-IeveIs and IB curricuIums are structured differently

The International GCSE pathway starts in Year 11 with students sitting up to six subjects. These topics are structured as introductory to what will be seen in the course.
in year 12 students go to level A, which is divided into As and A2.NormaIIy, students take 4-5 AS Level subjects and then go on to take 3-4 of those subjects at the A2 Level.
The IB Diploma Program has 9 graduation components and is for students ages 16-19. Students must take 3 or 4 subjects at the higher level (HL) and the rest at the standard level (SL). In addition, all students must study Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Extended Essay (EE) and Creativity Project, Activity and Service (CAS).
Unlike A levels and IB, APs are additional college-level courses offered in US high schools.

  • The A Levels, IB, and AP use different assessments components

Through a series of exams at the end of their study, International GCSEs are evaluated 100% externally. the same is true for all AS and A grade subjects. There are generally two test dates which allow students to take it again if they felt they did not perform well enough.

Final scores in the IB program are a combination of internal and external evaluation. Internal assessment often takes the form of long-term projects, such as papers, reports and presentations, and comprises between 15 and 25% of the final IB score for that subject. The remainder of the IB is externally assessed, primarily in the form of a cumulative exam at the end of your second year of study.

The APs are evaluated externally at the end of the academic year. Most AP courses have an end of year paper and pencil exam, even though few courses have different ways to assess what you’ve learned. For exampIe AP Art and Design students submit a portfolio of work for scoring.

  • The A Levels, IB, and AP are graded differently

For international GCSEs and A levels, students take a series of individual exams. The weighted average of these exams will be the student’s final grade. (9 points max score)

In the IB, each academic subject is scored out of 7, with 7 being the highest possible score.

AP exams are scored on a scale of 1 to 5.

  • What about AP math vs A-levels vs IB?

These courses are all quite similar and as mentioned before, strong proficiency in either will result in University offers.IB is split into AA or AI. This is further subdivided into standard level (SL) or higher level (HL). AA is mostly based on calculus, mathematical methods and what we call ‘pure’ analysis. It is designed for a more mathematical approach with strong technique. AI meanwhile aims to have students be comfortable with technology to solve equations and learn a little more about statistics. AI makes sense for a degree in economics or statistics while AA is more suitable to a degree in mathematics or engineering.

A-levels can offer a depth of study which in some cases can go beyond what IB and AP would offer. A-levels offer modules like core math (C1-C4), pure math (P1-P4), further pure (FP1-FP4), decision math (D1-D2, logistics), mechanics (M1-M4). You could argue that a student who took harder modules here would reach a deeper understanding in mathematics than with IB or AP. So it’s a great option, and allows for a little more flexibility in terms of how far the students can go.

AP or advanced placement is typically a US type of system and will be offered in American international schools. The great part of APs is the university credits students can gain, allowing them to skip certain courses at university level. APs are split into Calculus or Statistics. Both courses are very comprehensive and equivalent to what students learn at HL IB level. Some students choose to take both statistics & calculus which provides an excellent basis in mathematics for all future endeavors.


Final Thoughts

While A-levels can in some instances push the envelope a little further, all three of these curriculums will be great precursors to starting at university. IB and AP can be considered to have a broader reach while A-levels is more specialized, but overall universities will look favorably at any student who does well and shows they will be able to study and thrive in a given course.
So excelling in a given course is the most essential part, the course itself matters little.