IB vs A Level: what do university admissions officers think?

New research reveals the disparity between the qualities nurtured in A level students and those studying the IB. Whilst A levels develop in-depth expertise, IB students are more independent learners.

IB vs A levels: what do university admissions officers think?
The International Baccalaureate (IB) is considered an excellent alternative to A levels and other post-16 qualifications but how do curricula compare? In the latest annual survey of UK University Admissions Officers by ACS International Schools and the IB Schools and Colleges Association (IBSCA) participants were asked to compare the qualities that IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) students demonstrate against those of A level students.The report, conducted with 81 university admissions officers, highlighted considerable disparity between the two main study programmes.

Highlights of the IB vs A level report

While the IBDP is top for ‘encouraging independent inquiry’, with 94 per cent of admissions officers saying the qualification develops this ‘well or very well’ in its students, A levels lag behind considerably in this respect with just 49 per cent of officers giving them a similar rating.The IB also has the edge when considering how well the two qualifications prepare students to thrive at university but both perform well.  The IB is given an outstanding 100 per cent ‘well or very well’ rating by admission officers, while A levels score 90 per cent.School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsOne area where A levels are seen to be better, however, is developing ‘in-depth subject expertise’, with A levels cited by 94 per cent as developing this ‘well or very well’, compared to 56 per cent for the IBDP.The largest disparity between the two qualifications, especially given current events, was the question “How well do you think the exam system encourages a global outlook in students?”’ The IBDP received the top ‘well or very well’ rating from 97 per cent of officers. This compares to a woeful seven per cent for A levels. “In today’s increasingly fractious and challenging world, encouraging a global outlook and nurturing an open mind must surely take a greater significance in schools than ever before, and it’s interesting to see how highly the IB is considered in this respect,” said Jeremy Lewis, head of school, ACS Egham International School.

How well do the IB or A level develop qualities in students useful for higher education? 

How well do you think each of these exam systems, A levels, the IB Diploma, Scottish Highers and Advanced Scottish Highers develop the following qualities in students at present? Please use a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is does not develop the quality well at all and 5 is develops it extremely well. 
Base: all who answered the questionA LevelsThe IB Diploma
 Score 4+5Develops skill well or very well
Encouraging independent inquiry4994
Developing in-depth subject expertise9456
Developing workplace skills267
Developing ability to cope with pressure6266
Nurturing an open mind2493
Developing self-management skills4791
Encouraging a global outlook797
Nurturing communication skills3744
Encouraging creativity1537
Developing intercultural skills870
Instilling a positive approach to risk taking424
Propensity to complete their degree7883
Interest to study to MA or PHD level4454
Nine in ten, 93 per cent, of admissions officers also consider that the IB helps ‘nurture an open mind’ well or very well, compared to just 24 per cent who think the same of A levels.  “It is most pertinent this year to highlight [the IB’s] proven commitment to developing citizenship, open mindedness and communication skills as well as its intellectual rigour – qualities which [it] has long delivered on but which have taken on a greater significance in recent months,” said Sandra Morton, chief executive, IBSCA.
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