Academia: AP vs IB

Thank you for your comments on my last entry, “Candidates and Classrooms”, and reading one of them mentioned the value of the AP classes. So here’s my spiel:

AP, or Advanced Placement, is indeed a very beneficial path to take during your high school career. I might have considered taking a few of the tests, given that I am in AP Biology and AP Calculus. I was already accepted into my school of choice, and few of the AP credits were applicable, so I opted out. However, this is not to say that the average student should turn down the AP classes and tests. In fact, I would readily encourage it, if you are planning on attending an academic college. There is no denying the benefit of not having to take a college course.

However, I believe that the presence of AP tests has its downsides, too. For one, it only encourages and reinforces the “teach the test” [see Candidates and Classrooms] method of education. For another, some schools are trying to actually award a higher grade point for AP classes; essentially meaning that 4.0 is not the highest potential GPA you could get, but rather you could get higher than that if you attend the right schools. I cannot say if it was actually put into action or merely proposed, but it certainly was, at least, discussed.

It also seems that the AP curriculum and the way our education system functions are at odds with one another. At some schools, the classroom time or facilities are insufficient to provide students with the full scope of the AP coursework. Overall, the AP classes feel very rushed, very hurried, with little emphasis on how anything is useful to you other than saving money – it’s all about passing the tests. There is a lot of stress involved, heavy course load, but somehow we make it through.

Basically, AP is a money-saver, but I doubt if we’ll remember any of it in a year.

So what about this IB thing? First, does anyone know anything about it?

The International Baccalaureate Organization, or IBO, or just IB, is an internationally standardized diploma program currently in place in approximately 125 countries around the world, in over 2,000 schools. There are 6 areas of study: Foreign Language (Spanish, French, German or Japanese, student choice), Science (Chemistry or Biology), Mathematics, Economics, History, and Literature. There are also two “levels” of study: Higher Level and Standard Level. The primary difference between the two is that HL tests are a measurement of two years of learning, with SL only one. Basically, HL encompasses information from both Junior and Senior year of study, with SL primarily on the Senior year classwork. With the exception of the Foreign Language, each area is comprised of 2 test sessions, ranging from one to three hours in length. This means that we take 11 test sessions total for Full IB Diploma.

A student can, optionally, take Certificate tests. These are just the test sessions in however many areas the student chooses to take. Undergoing the full IB program also throws on 50 hours of community service (on top of 100 hours we have to do anyway).

Get all that? There will be a test at the end of the post, so take notes.

The IB tests are less widely recognized than the AP test. In some classes, say Oregon State University, full IB Diploma “Scholars” are given $2,000 scholarship, and guaranteed admission, as a sophomore. Other schools, such as the Art Institute of Portland (my destination) threw a handful of confetti into the air and said, “Congrats”, and that’s about as far as the benefits took me. They also cost an arm and a leg to take, each area over $100 a pop. So the benefit of the tests are fewer.


If you plan on studying aboard, than the IB tests can be a big boon. See, every student in every school in every country that participates in this program learns the same curriculum and takes the same tests on the same day – possibly even at the same time. So going abroad means that it actually is important. However, not many of us are going to go to Europe for college, as much as we might like to.

Having said that, what I like about the IB program is the actual curriculum. The classes are more in-depth, and are taught in a very unique style. It’s fun, interesting, and we find ways to apply what we know to the other areas of our life. I might do a more detailed exploration of IHS (International High School) and the IB program later, so I won’t go into it deeply.

Basically, though, the IB tests have less financial/academic value than the AP tests, because they are less likely to be recognized and to allow you to waive classes, however I find that the curriculum has a much better pace. Also, while all the information you learn in IB classes are useful for the test, the test themselves have such a wide range of questions, covering the entire range of possible things you could learn in the classes, that it is slightly less “teach the test” in style. The format of papers, perhaps, is very strictly taught as IB-criteria. However, take History. A teacher might go more in-depth into, say, the Russian Revolution and Nazi Germany during their study on Single Party States, rather than Mao in China. However, the IB test will allow you to select, for instance, three questions to answer, in essay form, from a list of fifteen to twenty questions, that range from Mao, to Castro, to Stalin. So instead of the classes teaching you what will be on the exam, the exams are meant to test you on something you will be taught.

Thus are the choices we make. Neither one is easy – but both are rewarding in their own ways.

And everything changes
And nothing is truly lost
-Neil Gaiman

Academia: AP vs IB

3 thoughts on “Academia: AP vs IB

  1. 1

    I think IB just kicked AP’s arse.That idea of making the test suit the teaching rather than vice-versa strikes me as a very excellent one indeed. If only more American schools were smart enough to think that way… you’d still get your good test results, along with a far superior education.However. We all know that America has absolutely nothing to learn from the rest of the world, cuz we’re so perfect and stuff. [/snark]Excellent post, even better advice (where the fuck were you when I was in high school??? Oh… right. Grade school), and a banquet for thought. Thankee kindly!Ladies and gentlemen, my co-blogger. *takes bow* There will be a meet-and-greet session where autographs can be obtained in the lobby after the program.

  2. 2

    For another, some schools are trying to actually award a higher grade point for AP classes; essentially meaning that 4.0 is not the highest potential GPA you could get, but rather you could get higher than that if you attend the right schools. I cannot say if it was actually put into action or merely proposed, but it certainly was, at least, discussed.Oh, it was definitely put into action. At my school AP classes were worth 4.5 if you received an “A” or its numerical equivalent. In the end, this meant that you could receive a lower GPA for taking more classes. Juniors and Seniors weren’t required to take a full course load; a maximum of two free periods were allowed each semester. So, if one student maxed out on AP courses, and took a number of ‘normal’ classes to reach a full course load, they would still end up with a lower GPA than someone who took the same number of AP courses but took advantage of the free periods to slack off.And don’t even get me started on the ‘everyone who graduates with a 4.0 or higher is a valedictorian nonsense…’

  3. 3

    Thank you, unnamed stranger! I was not quite sure if that policy had been put into effect; I think it had gotten turned down in my area, but I was not sure about the state of things across the nation. It’s nice to have other viewpoints, especially those validating my concerns about the educational system.Hmm, that reminds me of something I might have to include in my next Academia entry..Thank you!

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