How to Choose Subjects for the IB Diploma Programme

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme is an assessed two-year program for students entering grades 11 to 12. It is an academically balanced program of education that requires students to take three Core components, three Higher Level (HL) subjects, and three Standard Level (SL) subjects for a total of nine combination subjects that match their interests, abilities, and future aspirations.

When considering one’s options for an international high school in Singapore, it may be a good choice to settle on one that’s accredited by the IB organization. What makes the IB Programme unique from other educational pathways is the way it’s designed to develop critical thinking skills and how it requires students to do research and oral presentations—competencies that make a student stand out in their college applications, especially if they’re applying to an educational institution abroad.

The IB Programme is an inherently flexible one, but this may overwhelm students and parents who don’t know which subjects are the right ones to take. While there’s a wide range of courses available under each category, some private schools don’t offer every single one to their students. It’s best to speak with your school of choice to see a full list of the IB courses they offer.

Are you a potential IB student who wants to know more about the programme and the courses offered under the IB umbrella? Below is an introduction to the IB Diploma Programme and some tips for choosing the best combination of courses for yourself.

IB Diploma Programme

The IB Diploma Programme: How It Works

As mentioned above, students in the IB Diploma Programme must complete three core elements and a combination of six courses chosen from six different subject groups, three of which are taken at HL (comprising 240 teaching hours) while the remaining are finished at SL (comprising 150 teaching hours).

HL and SL courses differ in scope, but are measured according to the same grade descriptors. Students may opt to study an additional course from the same subject group instead of taking a course each from every group, as most do.

The three core elements are designed to challenge the student’s critical thinking skills and prepare them for their college applications. They are divided into the following components:

  • Theory of knowledge, which asks the student to reflect on the nature of learning;
  • The extended essay, which is usually a 4,000-word paper, and;
  • Creativity, activity, or service, which asks the student to complete a project related to all three concepts.

The six subject groups in the IB Programme are studies in language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, and the arts.

Tips for Choosing IB Diploma Subjects

Knowing the basic mechanism of the IB Diploma Programme and what finishing your diploma will entail, here are a few useful tips for determining your own IB journey:

Select Subjects with University Entrance in Mind

The first step to choosing subjects for the IB Diploma Programme is to align them with your chosen university and major. As early as now, look at your desired college and its preferred IB subjects. For example, students who want to study Economics at one of the top universities in America or Europe will need to take mathematics at the Higher Level.

Even if you’re not sure what you want to study yet for college, having a general idea can already narrow down your options to the most practical ones. Education advisers also recommend that you select one subject you are most passionate about at the HL level, even if the course is unrelated to your intended major. This way, your IB Diploma Programme experience will also be enjoyable for you.

Create a Combination That Works for You

As much as possible, try to create a combination of subjects that’s both rigorous and manageable. After researching which subjects will help you get the best chances of being accepted into your desired university, you should also consider selecting subjects that strengthen your application. Remember that most universities prefer to accept students who have a well-rounded education.

This means that you should not burden yourself with subjects that you are already struggling with, but that you shouldn’t select the easiest combination of subjects either just for the sake of passing. If you’re having a hard time striking a balance, don’t hesitate to ask your teachers for advice.

You should also consider researching subjects that you’re unfamiliar with. Some international schools in Singapore, for example, offer subjects that international students may initially know little about. Often, students think that they may not be interested in a lesser-known subject only to find that it’s a great match for their interest and intended major.

Understand the Difference between HL and SL

Many students make the mistake of thinking that HL is a “better” version of their intended course. However, taking a subject at HL simply means covering all the SL material with an additional extension–which varies from school to school. Sometimes this is an extra project, an oral presentation, or another form of assessment. Regardless, you need to know what your school will require so that you can avoid choosing subjects at HL that may cause you to overextend yourself.

Keep in mind as well that all IB subjects are assessed either through coursework (internal assessment) or by an examiner (external assessment). The balance between an internal and external assessment varies from subject to subject. In addition to choosing courses at the right level, based on your interests and competencies, make it a point to learn about your assessments and the criteria that will determine your final marks.

Above all, don’t pressure yourself to get your IB Diploma subject combination right the first time. Many students ask to change their level choices or even their subjects within the first week of starting the Diploma Programme. At the end of the day, the programme is intended to help you map out a better education pathway for your future. Consider both playing to your strengths and giving yourself room to go out of your comfort zone, in search of lessons that will excite you and challenge you to grow as a learner.