IB vs AP Programs

Enrichment learning programs are increasing in popularity among Canadian private schools and their students. This article explores the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP), and discusses a few of their differences.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is one of the most widely recognized enrichment programs in the world. The IB is administered by the International Baccalaureate Organization, a non-profit foundation based in Switzerland, with regional offices around the world. The IBO has authorized 2000 IB schools around the world, including 250 public and private schools in Canada.

The IBO offers a Primary Year Program (PYP), a Middle Year Program, and an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP). While many schools offer all three programs, some may only offer one or two.

The PYP is geared towards 3 to 12 year olds, and focuses on the development of the child in the classroom and the world outside. PYP curriculum consists of language, social studies, mathematics, science and technology, arts, and personal, social and physical education. There is no testing in PYP, so that students can focus on “how to learn” rather than “what to learn.”

The MYP is geared towards 11 to 16 year olds, and offers academic challenge and the development of life skills. The MYP curriculum consists of languages, humanities (history and geography), sciences (biology, chemistry and physics), maths (algebra, geometry, statistics and discrete maths), arts (visual and performing), physical education and technology.

The IBDP is a challenging program geared towards students in the penultimate and final years of high-school. The curriculum consists of study in six subject areas: English, a second language (usually French), individuals and societies (history, economics, business and management), sciences (biology, chemistry, physics and environmental systems), mathematics and computer science, and an elective of either visual arts or another subject from the ones listed above. A minimum of three subjects must be taken at higher level (HL), which requires 240 hours of teaching time, and the other three at standard level (SL), which requires 150 hours.

In addition, the IBDP program requires students to complete an Extended Essay (EE) of up to 4,000 words on a topic of their choice, and then make an oral presentation on the topic. Students must also study epistemology in a course called Theory of Knowledge (ToK), which also has an essay component. IBDP also requires students to complete at least 150 hours in the Creative, Action and Service (CAS) requirements, which involves engaging in some form of Creativity, participating in a sport or other physical Action, and doing social Service.

The IBDP leads to standardized exams at the end of the two-year program. Marks are awarded from 1 to 7 in each subject, with 7 being the highest. Students can also earn up to three additional points depending on the results of their Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge course. In order to receive the IBDP, students must earn a minimum of 24 points, with a maximum possible point total of 25. Some students only take a limited number of IB subjects or opt out of some activities, such as the EE or ToK courses. These students do not receive the IB Diploma, but instead receive certificates for each subject passed.

Many universities around the world recognize IB courses as first-year equivalents. In addition, the IBDP can qualify students for admission at some universities. Some universities even offer scholarships for students who have completed the IBDP with a minimum number of points. For example, IB students who score 32 points or higher are guaranteed a minimum entrance scholarship of $2000 at the University of Victoria.

IB gives students the critical thinking, writing and argumentation skills necessary to become learners for life. The goal of the program is to produce well-rounded, university-prepared global citizens.

The downsides of IB involve the extraordinary rigours of the program. Students experience a heavy workload and stress, which can result in missed extracurricular and social opportunities. Also, some students have concerns about the effects of the demanding curriculum on their grade averages.

But in spite of these possible downsides, IB continues to be the enrichment and university preparation program of choice for many students. For more information, visit the IBO website at http://www.ibo.org. For a summary of the IB recognition policies of Canadian universities, click here

Advanced Placement (AP)

Advanced Placement (AP) is the most popular enrichment learning program in North America. AP is administered by the College Board, a non-profit organization who also administers the SAT. Over 500 schools in Canada offer AP, and over 1 million students write AP exams each year.

AP consists of a year-long course of enriched study in a specific subject, followed by an exam in May. AP offers 37 courses and exams across 22 subject areas, including calculus, Latin, European history, economics and computer science, just to name a few.

Most AP exams involve multiple-choice questions with a free-response section in either essay or problem-solving format. The exams are graded on a 5 point system, where 5 means "extremely qualified," 3 means "qualified" and 1 means "not recommended." Scores are put on a bell curve, meaning that students are scored against each other rather than on a set standard.

While many schools offer AP courses alongside their regular curriculum, they rarely use the AP exam score as a grade for high-school courses, since exam scores are published in mid-July after most schools have already issued their final grades. AP exams are used by many Canadian and US universities to exempt students from entry level courses. Each university's use of the scores is different: some award a mark for a minimum score, others give an unmarked credit on the students’ transcript, while others waive course prerequisites. Its important to contact each university to determine their AP recognition policy.

The downsides of AP are similar to those of the IB program: a demanding curriculum and reduced free-time for extra-curricular or other activities. There is also a fee of $84 for each exam. Moreover, some criticise the AP program for focusing on content coverage to the exclusion of other skills, such as writing and critical thinking.

But the benefits are multiple: students receive enriched and accelerated curriculum, develop test-taking and study skills, and demonstrate maturity and university readiness which makes them stand out in the admission process.

To learn more about AP, visit http://www.ap.ca. For a listing of AP courses recognized by Canadian universities, click here

The Differences

Canadian and American universities accept AP and IB equally, but AP is more common in the US. While AP is only offered in North America, the IB diploma or certificates are prevalent worldwide, making it a better choice for those students looking to attend international universities.

The IB program offers a comprehensive and wide-ranging programme of study, while AP offers enrichment in single subject areas, which may or may not be combined with other subjects. In addition, the Theory of Knowledge and essay requirements of IB demonstrate skills and abilities beyond knowledge of a content area. However, IB requires extraordinary time-commitment, which may not be ideal for some students. AP allows students to choose enrichment in their stronger subjects, thereby not jeopardizing their grade averages. Moreover, students are not required to submit AP scores to universities, whereas IB scores are usually weighted into the marks students submit when applying.

However, both programs offer academic enrichment, the development of study and test-taking skills, and in many cases, a head-start in university. In addition, the external testing offered by each these programs is valuable in the university admission process, since unlike school marks, exam scores are comparable regardless of where the exam was administered.

As a result, each of these programs offers unique opportunities, and the choice between them should determined by the academic needs and goals of each individual student.