Year 12 and Beyond: the International Baccalaureate

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a globally recognised high-school diploma and tertiary entrance rank. Growing steadily around the world, the IB is studied by an estimated one million students from 3000 schools in more than 140 countries. Subjects are consistent over languages and leave room to breath for different religions and cultures. Uptake in Australian schools is on the rise as an alternative to state curriculum and all major Australian Universities recognise IB graduates.

Australian Schools

In 2010 an estimated 2000 (Australia, NZ and Pacific Island Schools) high-school students graduated with an IB diploma. This year, the figure is expected to rise by 600. In Australia, this can in part be attributed to increasing acceptance by local universities. The IB is notable for its international focus. For students moving to Australia in the final years of high school, the ability to translate existing subjects and studies is an obvious drawcard. Likewise, many local students may choose the IB if they are wishing to study at an overseas University- as in many cases this is accepted more fluidly than for example an ATAR or VTA.

Structure & Curriculum

Students take six subjects, chosen from as many ‘groups’. In these, broad similarities can be found to Australian curriculum. For example subjects across mathematics (standard and advanced), science (biology, physics, chemistry), literature (language and performance), music, visual arts, economics, geography and history all parallel choices available in State high school curriculums.

There are some major differences, such as the uptake of a new language - mandatory in the IB. Here, students can opt for a beginner or advanced study.

Furthermore, there are three ‘core requirements’ of studying the IB at the diploma level. Students are expected to complete a 4000-word essay on a topic of their choice. A Theory of Knowledge course is also taken- an interdisciplinary subject with a focus on cross-cultural relationships. Lastly, students must complete an extracurricular Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) program- drawing from areas including sport, community service and the creative arts.

University Entrance?

The IB is accepted by all major universities in Australia. Each year, admission bodies in NSW, Victoria and South Australia co-operate to create a scale for comparing Australian and IB entrance ranks. This is developed by pinning the lowest (0), highest (45) and mean (22.5) IB marks to the 100-point standard. Marks from the previous years’ cohorts are then matched and scaled to create an ATAR or equivalent. In the midst of this, individual states are weighted and a ‘quadratic regression’ used to obtain a ‘smooth relationship’ between IB scores and predicted final scores.

The 2011 combined states ranking guidelines give an IB result in the low 30s to be equivalent to an ATAR (or TER or relevant equivalent) in the 80s. IB scores from 34 to 40 compare with ATARs 91-98. Scores from 40-45 are equated in the top 2 percent of State rankings; with a top score of 45 the same as an entrance rank of 99.95.

Could it be for me?

While aiming at presenting an accessible, worldwide curriculum, the IB has attracted criticism in certain countries. In the United Kingdom the program has been criticised as unproven for university entrance and in the United States, there is an organisation devoted to ‘revealing the truth’ about the IB (a key argument is that there are no compulsory American history studies). At times, the opposition might seem unwarranted- but as with all growing systems it pays to be aware of the IB’s development around the world.

The program is undoubtedly growing, and has become crucial for students in developing and developed countries who seek or require an internationally recognised high school qualification. In Australia, all major universities are supportive and encouraging of IB applicants- reflecting the generally high status of the diploma worldwide.

While many are attracted to the IB for its forward-thinking content and internationally recognized structure, growing uptake in Australia is indicative of a choice many students may wish to make. For university entrance is concerned, IB admission must be regarded as a genuine alternative to state pathways. Finally, as the program does remain a minority (at this stage only offered by some independent schools) it would certainly do no harm to check with your school and university that you are on a path best suited to your own goals.