Surviving the IB

If you are reading this because you are trying to choose between AS/A Levels and the IB, then carry on reading. If you’re reading this because you’re stuck in the IB system and cannot get out, then carry on reading and laugh at how you can relate to almost everything…

Easy Stuff…

First term of the IB: easy. It’s like one of those deep-sea anglerfish with the little light bulb thing sticking out to attract other marine creatures. Work is easy, just a simple reading list. Even maths is alright. However, use this time wisely and get to know the material well. You will need it. There’s a reason you’re getting a relatively easy semester… you’ll slowly be stripped of your sanity week after week once that semester is over.


If you don’t like the taste of coffee, you will learn to. I have not spoken to a single IB student who has achieved a decent grade and who has not stayed up weeks on end to finish projects which seem impossible. The workload is very heavy. I dare say, heavier than A levels. However, a lot of it is coursework as well (some subject going as high as 30% on class-work and oral presentations). Thus, if you do stay up at night, your final grade does get boosted up quite a bit and your ‘A’ is not determined by migraines on set dates – instead, it’s a unification of a set of skills which is brilliant for those of you who do not like the exam conditions.


It is compulsory for an IB candidate to have completed at least one subject from the five categories. Maths is compulsory. A language is compulsory. And so the list goes on and on and on…

This, for me at least, meant that my worst nightmare (mathematics) had to suddenly become my best pal. Yeah, it never did. However, by being pushed into a corner and forced to take it I learnt that a “spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” and that because I had taken maths and other subject which I would have stirred clear from, I managed to get accepted into several countries because I was ready to cope with pretty much any entrance exam out there. Universities also like this mixture, as it produces a well rounded individual (it is true that they tend to be more psychotic and there is a far higher chance they develop insomnia, but still, academically suitable for all the great universities).

Hercules Ain’t Got Nuthin’ On Us

I found several people in my university who had taken the IB. Guess what happened? We all grouped together and shared our struggles and realised how amazing we were for pulling it off – and pulling it off so well. There is no doubt that a lot of what we said was along the lines of  “remember those days when we would sit and wonder why we had chosen this for ourselves”, or “I remember before the IB, when I knew what a social life outside school was”. However, we also all started to realise how easy things seemed in first term of university, as it was all things that the IB had covered – things that the AS/A Levels had not.

So, if you are looking for a slightly more difficult but more diverse set of skills, choose the IB. It looks amazing on your final diploma, as it is seen as a more challenging course and is recognized by a larger number of countries. However, if you do not believe that you can attain the grades required and that some of the subjects are simply not for you, then choose AS/A levels, because it is better to have a solid set of subjects than a flailing collection of average scores.

written by Aline Derlagen (Durham University)

A MyTutorWeb Tutor

How is maths different at university?

When it comes to applying to university, few courses are as misunderstood as maths. W...

A LevelEducational AdviceMyTutor for Students

A-Levels: how to choose the right subjects for your future

As the gateway to your dream degree or the access point to your ideal apprenticeship, ...

A LevelChoosing your A levelsEducational Advice

Poem analysis: how to SMILE

Poem analysis can be difficult, no matter your level. They say that a smile goes a lo...

A LevelExams & RevisionGCSE