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IB vs. AP Tracks: What's the Difference?

AP vs IB      For the ambitious high school student, whether or not to take AP or IB classes is an important question. While there are benefits and disadvantages to both curriculums, it can often be challenging to find a single source that offers a comprehensive comparison. As an IB Diploma and AP student respectively, we have provided summaries of what both programs are like, included some of the pros and cons of taking them, and identified the types of student that would benefit from the each course.


     The IB Diploma program simultaneously allows for rigid structure and room for individuality in its curriculum. While a student can opt to only take a few IB courses, those who are going for a full International Baccalaureate Diploma have a set schedule for their junior and senior years. The IB Diploma requires at least one course in each core subject: English, history, science, math, foreign language, and the arts. At least three of these classes must be HL (higher level).  The rest of the classes can be SL (standard level,) and only take either one’s junior or senior year. An important distinction between the IB and AP programs is that IB classes can only be taken if one is at least 16 years old.

     Other components of the IB Diploma include an extended essay of 4,000 words in any of the core subjects, the Theory of Knowledge course to connect the various core subjects, and the Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) course. In this, a student must complete  volunteer hours spanning two years. Volunteering should fall in one of the three CAS categories and should include an original community service project. IB exams are also taken at the end of the course and are graded on a scale from 1-7. Like AP scores, many colleges will award credit for high scores on these exams, some schools offer up to a year’s worth of credit for the successful completion of the full diploma. These scores, as well as the evaluations on Internal Assessments, the extended essay, and completion of CAS determine whether or not a student receives his or her diploma and with what final grade.

     The IB program is great for students who are geared towards the humanities, as well as students who find themselves much better essay writers than multiple choice testers as almost all assignments are written. However, a certain amount of capability in all subjects is required for a diploma candidate, as well as time management skills as there is often hours of homework in each class and strict deadlines. The classes also tend to be much smaller and focus a great deal on discussion and critical analysis, as well as a more worldview perspective rather than simply a western focus, creating a small community of fellow minded individuals with similar goals. Many colleges regard the IB program very highly as they consider it the best preparation for what college is like. The program is also, as the name implies, great for students who want to go to an international college, as it has worldwide recognition.

     One downside to the IB program is that in order to take the exams, a student must be enrolled in IB classes, while one doesn’t have to be in an AP class to take the exam. The IB program is also more expensive than AP, with each exam costing 100 dollars, and the initial registration as a diploma candidate costs 145 dollars. Despite the additional expense, the IB program’s cohesive nature offers a unique experience that cannot be gained through individual AP classes.


     The Advanced Placement program at South allows students to take college-level classes and potentially earn college credits for  a lower cost than actual college and in a more comfortable setting. The classes are taught similarly to college classes, and the information students learn is on par with a class of similar caliber one could take in college.  The AP exams occur in May, and the student must pay a fee (it fluctuates annually but has been around $100 recently) in order to take the exam. They are graded on a scale of 1-5, with the point system different depending on the individual subject and exam composition.  Different colleges award different scores for success on these exams: some simply view a student as a better candidate, and he or she is more likely to get into the school but will receive no additional reward, some will allow one to get college credits for receiving a 4 or a 5 on the exam, and in other cases, a student may be able to completely skip a course in college because the AP will be considered as similar enough to the curriculum.

     It is important to look into the policy of each school, as even within an individual college the different AP classes will be treated differently (this can also depend on what major you choose).  The rigor of AP courses is designed to prepare students for that of college, but it is also transitional, seeing as the classes are smaller, and the teacher is able to provide more assistance to the students.  The AP program allows one to pick and choose which AP classes he or she would like to take. Students are not obligated to take a certain number. Most courses are full year, although there are some that are one-semester courses.  In addition, the AP courses provide many options for each subject. If someone wants to take an AP science, he or she can select from AP Chemistry, AP Biology, or AP Physics. Additionally, AP Physics has the option to take a second year if he or she wants to continue with that specific subject.  In the math department, there are many AP classes that a person can choose from, including two levels of calculus, AP Statistics, and AP Computer Science.

     The style of the assessments students receive in the class will depend on the subject.  For example, in an AP History class, one can expect multiple choice exams, along with DBQ essays and Free-Response essays.  These different types of assessments are given using either AP questions from previous years or AP-style questions in order to prepare  for the AP exam. The multiple choice questions typically require more thinking and are not as straightforward as multiple choice questions in regular or honors classes.  In addition, the essays are graded on a number scale (e.g. 1-7) as opposed to a percent out of one hundred. In an AP English class, however, the assessments will be mostly essays, inside and outside of class, as opposed to simple tests on the plot of what are reading.

     One opportunity presented with AP is the Recurring Themes program.  It consists of taking AP Literature, AP European History, and AP Art History in the same year.  The classes will move through history at the same speed, and students can expect teachers to make references to things students have learned in the other two classes. Some, but not all, colleges in the United States value AP classes more highly than IB classes.  Since this depends on the school, it is once again important to look into the policies of specific colleges.

     If you are interested in any of these programs, please talk with your guidance counselor.

Riya Balachandran and Victoria Reiter