The IB.

Chances are if you’re reading this you’ve either suffered through it, are suffering through it, or will suffer through it. But regardless, you should keep reading this.

If you’re someone like me that has suffered through it, you might remember the IB in one of two ways:

Either Stockholm syndrome has kicked in, and you look back at the time of your life where you spent your days trying to figure out what the fuck TOK is about.


You look back at the IB with the hatred reserved for bad internet connection and Game of Thrones spoilers.

Either way, I think you should know that you’re under-appreciated.

Not by me or your teachers.

You’re under-appreciated by the very academic institutions you did the IB to impress.

Your university.

What does that mean, you might be asking yourself?

It means that these places of higher learning might not fully appreciate the struggle of the IB proletariat.

How so?

I am going to talk about schools in the UK and the USA mainly because most of the people I know are going to school there. And also because I am not looking up the minimum score requirements for the National University of Papua New Guinea.

So let me start with my very own school.

The University of Warwick.

So when I applied in January (clutch I know), I originally wanted to do Economics, Politics and International Relations (EPAIS).

These are the IB requirements I had to get:

38 points

5 in Standard Level Mathematics

5 in English (or take the IELTS)

Easy enough right?

To the lay individual, those might sound like perfectly reasonable requirements. But they really really really aren’t.

First of all, there is no such thing as “IB English.” The IB offers 3 different English courses at both Standard and Higher level, so this couldn’t be a more ambiguous requirements. Take my case for example. I took Higher Level Language and Literature and got a 6 on it. But let’s imagine I am not a beast at analyzing stylistic devices, and I got a 4. Which is still a perfectly acceptable grade but I would have had to take the IELTS. To give you some context on the IELTS, it’s a test that my friend took hungover, on two hours of sleep and still got a near-perfect score on. But let’s imagine I took English B SL and got a 5; I would have met a third of the requirements.

Now let us move on to the Math requirement.

At first, it too looks rather harmless. A 5 in Standard level Mathematics seems like a good requirement for a course which requires a fair bit of Math. But as is the case with everything in life, a bit of context is required. When I first got to Warwick, I was socializing with my fellow EPAIS peeps, when I realized that most of the people in the course with me hadn’t done a single Math course in two years. Flabbergasted, I wandered onto the A Level requirements page on UCAS for EPAIS, and I realised that there was only a GSCE (the A-level prerequisite) requirement. Granted this requirement is A* but I highly doubt everyone doing this course met the requirement.

But even if they did, this is some simple Math for you

5 in SL Math > A* in GCSE Maths and its not even close.

Now at this point, you might be thinking to yourself “Damn this is such a dope article. Zein is so funny and knowledgeable, but he’s only focusing on a very specific case”.

To which I respectfully retort “I’m just getting started.”

After I realised how terrible the EPAIS requirements were I asked myself as every good IB student does, “is this an outlier or trend? “. So I did some more research, and the results were really damning.

So I looked at the Economics courses at the best schools in England and compared their A Level requirements with their IB requirements:

Cambridge LSE Warwick Oxford UCL
IB 40 or 41, 776 in the Higher Level subjects. 38, 7 6 6 required. Grade 7 in Mathematics required. 38, 6 points required from Mathematics at higher level 39, 766 at HL, Math HL required 39, 7 in HL Mathematics, 6 HL Economics, no grade lower than a 5
A Levels A*AA A*AA Further Maths A2 or AS preferred A*AA, GCE A level grades A*AA including A2 level Mathematics. A*AA Candidates are required to have Mathematics to A-level A*AA Mathematics at grade A*

First of all, notice how each and every one of these schools offers the exact same minimum A-level score of A*AA yet somehow offer IB scores ranging from 38-41 for no good reason.

Another point which is also worth pointing out is that a lot of these schools put a minimum requirement on the higher level classes of 766. They do this to assimilate IB scores into A-level scores which is disastrous. You cannot try to make two widely different ways of learning congruent without sacrificing the integrity of one.

Things start to get tricky when you actually try to make both programs coherent. There are a variety of different papers on the subject, each giving a variety of different results.

For instance, the Financial Times rates a 39 in the IB as AAACD which is weird because usually people only take 3 A Level Courses. So if this is the case the A-level requirements are woefully lackluster.

On the other hand, a man by the name of Dave Thomson published a paper trying to solve this dilemma using statistical models. For the purposes of this article, I think it might be a little overkill if I judged his methodology (even though I love me some good methodology), so I am just going to take him at his word. He took a more optimistic view saying that an A*AA is worth (rounded up) 39 points. Then, if he is correct, why is there such a large fluctuation between IB scores if the A-level results are the same?

I personally didn’t know the answer to this question at first, which is fine but after consulting with my former teachers (who as usual proved they still know much more than me), they came up with a possible hypothesis which I shall reveal at the end of the article.

Now on to the land of the free and the home of the brave AKA ‘murica.

It’s also not fine and dandy across the Atlantic when it comes to us IB folk.

First of all, only a select group of schools in the US of A are SAT optional (NYU being the Flagship school), meaning that you can apply solely with your IB results without having to take the SAT. So almost off the bat, the IB student is being put at disadvantage, being forced to allocate a period of his time after the 3 hours of recommended daily studying, CAS requirements as well other social activities in order to study for the SAT. As opposed to the typical student who takes the SAT who has to do no such thing.

Now let’s assume for the purpose of this article that the SAT is a splendiferous (yes I just used splendiferous I studied for the vocab section too) way to judge a student’s academic prowess (which it isn’t). It still wouldn’t be a better indicator of a student’s academic portfolio than their IB predicted grades.

Furthermore, to get into the higher echelon schools, you have to take multiple subject tests. Duke, for instance, requires you to take 2 subject tests. I personally didn’t take a single subject test, so I asked my fellow comrades at my alma mater to share their personal experience. Every single person that I spoke to said that the content of the SAT subject tests wasn’t pertinent to the subject that they were supposed to be testing. For instance, my friend taking the Physics subject test didn’t see how Newton Trivia correlated with a deep understanding of the class.

Furthermore, as an Economics Student, I would be morose if I didn’t mention opportunity cost. The time my compatriots spent studying for a test they deemed to be unnecessary they could have better allocated their time studying for their IB classes. The time commitment required to study all this superfluous content is extreme, that is why a small minority like myself just opted to do without it.

A counter-argument to my point about the IB being neglected in the USA would be the fact that schools give students credits for taking certain IB classes. So if you do well on your HL Math exam, you get to skip freshman Math classes. Still, my counter-argument to the second degree would be that some students cannot get into the university in the first place because they are busy subdividing their school time trying to study for the IB classes and for their SAT subject test.

I understand why the SAT exists. It exists as an easy medium to assess the competence of a variety of different students on a homogenous benchmark. But in the case of the IB, there exists a benchmark, and it is a much better indicator of a students performance than the SAT.

In the end, all these inconsistencies between A levels, the SAT and the IB might simply stem from the fact that cultural biases exist within the various academic systems. The IB is limited by the fact that it is expensive to run, making it scarce. This scarcity means that a very minute group of people have taught or, by extension, understand it making it hard for them to actually judge it.

It is worth noting, however, that a concentrated effort is being made in the UK as well as the USA to increase the number of schools which are teaching the IB as well as changing certain aspects of their systems to be more IB-esque.

But anyways I just wanted everyone to know a little something about

The IB.