The International Baccalaureate versus A levels

University admissions officers compare A levels to the International Baccalaureate on how they prepare students for higher education

July 11 2017
Exam study

The International Baccalaureate diploma programme is better at encouraging a “global outlook” in students, while A levels give students more “in-depth” expertise, according to the findings of the University Admissions Officers Report 2017.

UK university admissions officers were invited to rate both qualifications on how they develop a range of different qualities in students. The results found that there was a considerable difference in the two study programmes. 

The biggest difference was in “encouraging global outlook” where 97 per cent of the admissions officers rated the IB as developing this “well or very well”. Only 7 per cent said the same about A levels.

The IB was also top for “encouraging independent inquiry” with 94 per cent of the admissions officers saying that it did this “well or very well”, while only 49 per cent of officers gave the A levels a similar rating. 

However, A levels were considered to offer better “in-depth subject expertise” with 94 per cent stating that they developed this “well or very well”, compared to 56 per cent for the IB. 

A levels is a qualification offered in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, as an alternative qualification in Scotland and as an international school qualification worldwide. Students usually study three or four subjects in-depth over the course of two years. 

The International Baccalaureate is made up of four different study programmes, one of which is the diploma programme. Students must pick one subject from six subject groups including languages, sciences and the arts and then study three of these to a higher level. The International Baccalaureate is studied all over the world.   

This table shows the percentage of advisers who believed the two education programmes developed the listed skills “well or very well”. 

How well do you think A levels and the International Baccalaureate diploma develop the following qualities in students at present?




Encouraging independent inquiry

49 per cent

94 per cent

Developing in-depth subject expertise

94 per cent

56 per cent

Developing workplace skills

per cent

67 per cent

Developing ability to cope with pressure

62 per cent

66 per cent

Nurturing an open mind

24 per cent

93 per cent

Developing self-management skills

47 per cent

91 per cent

Encouraging a global outlook

per cent

97 per cent

Nurturing communication skills

37 per cent

44 per cent

Encouraging creativity

15 per cent

37 per cent

Developing intercultural skills

per cent

70 per cent

Instilling a positive approach to risk taking

per cent

24 per cent

Propensity to complete their degree

78 per cent

83 per cent

Interest to study to MA or PhD level

44 per cent

54 per cent

Read next: the best universities in the UK

Reader's comments (1)

My viewpoints are: 1. The most appropriate is the best. 2. For some students who are really good at only Math/Science and not good at Humanity, A Level might be more appropriate. 3. It is "TOK,EE and CAS" in IB curriculum which play important roles in helping students gain competence in a wide range of skills. 4. If a school provides A-Level and IB (esp. TOK+EE+CAS), WHAT WILL HAPPEN?

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