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IB vs AP: Is IB Better Than AP? A Comprehensive Guide in 2024

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

In Hong Kong, secondary school students are presented with various curriculum options during their educational journey. When it comes to senior students, the decision between the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) can be more challenging than expected. If you're unsure about the differences, similarities, and difficulties of these programs, this comprehensive guide will help you delve into the necessary details of each program and determine which one is better suited to your needs. Explore the “IB vs AP” comparison and find the curriculum that best aligns with your academic goals.

What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) program?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is a globally recognized two-year educational program designed for 16-to-19-year-olds in 140 countries. It offers a widely accepted qualification for higher education and is acknowledged by universities worldwide.

To obtain an IB diploma, students must engage in a comprehensive curriculum that includes the core compulsory disciplinary subjects: Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS), and the extended essay. These are complemented by six subject groups: Studies in language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, experimental sciences, mathematics, and the arts. Students may opt to enroll in either Standard Level (SL) or High Level (HL) IB courses, with at least three HL courses being mandatory for the diploma.

What are Advanced Placement (AP) classes?

Developed by the College Board in the United States, Advanced Placement (AP) classes offer a challenging and rigorous curriculum at the college level, designed for high school or secondary school students with a strong interest in a specific subject. These courses are widely recognized for granting credit and advanced placement in universities across the United States, Canada, and worldwide.

By enrolling in AP classes, students have the opportunity to study 38 different subjects, gaining a comprehensive understanding and preparing themselves for the demands of college-level work. Depending on their performance on the AP exam, students may be eligible to receive college credit. With no set minimum requirement, students can choose the subjects that align with their interests flexibly.

What are the Similarities between AP and IB?

Before exploring the differences between Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, it is essential to learn their shared characteristics. While both are renowned and well-recognized by universities worldwide for their rigorous coursework and classes, they share many notable similarities:

  • Wide Range of Subjects: Both AP and IB programs offer a diverse range of classes across various subjects. Students have the opportunity to explore and excel in areas such as math, science, English, social studies, and more.

  • College Credit and Placement: Both AP and IB programs provide students with the opportunity to earn college credit or place out of introductory courses once they enter college. Students who successfully complete AP or IB courses can often receive credit for their prior coursework, giving them a head start in their college education.

  • Competitive Advantage: The recognition both AP and IB programs receive ensures that students who have completed either program are well-regarded and have a competitive edge when applying to higher education institutions.

  • Exams and Assessments: Both AP and IB assess students' knowledge through exams at the end of each course. They also require coursework and assignments throughout the course duration.

What are the Differences Between AP and IB?

Both the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs are known for their rigorousness and global recognition. While they have such similarities, their differences in between are key to understanding which program might be best suited for an individual student:

  • Assessment Methods: The assessment methodologies of the two programs vary significantly. With a combination of internal and external assessments and a point grading system, the IB Program's internal assessments include test papers, reports, and presentations conducted throughout the academic year. The external assessments primarily revolve around a cumulative exam. In contrast, the AP Program focuses on subject-specific expertise. After a year of studying a particular subject, students take exams that are scored on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest.

  • Curriculum Approach: The IB Program offers a comprehensive and holistic curriculum that aims to foster both academic ability and soft skills. It exposes students to diverse experiences and learning opportunities. Conversely, AP classes focus more on content and emphasize the importance of specializing in a particular subject.

  • Flexibility and Time Commitment: The IB Program tends to be more demanding and offers less flexibility when it comes to choosing subjects, making it a considerable time investment, compared to the AP program.

  • Recognition: While AP tests are widely accepted by most colleges and universities in the United States, the IB program holds higher global recognition. This international recognition makes IB a favorable choice for students who aspire to study abroad.

IB vs AP Classes: Difficulty

When comparing the level of difficulty between IB and AP, the differences may not be obvious, as each program actually presents its unique and distinct challenges.

AP courses are renowned for their intensity. They focus on students’ development in specific subjects, requiring them to possess higher levels of critical thinking skills and advanced writing skills. Success in AP often leans on the student's capacity to memorize and recall information, especially for multiple-choice tests. The method of study in AP tends to mirror the traditional high school curriculum.

In contrast, IB courses emphasize the development of creativity, critical thinking, and comprehensive writing. While they also cover subject-specific material, the overall IB program can be a stretch for students more attuned to a straightforward, subject-based approach.

In essence, both IB and AP courses are rigorous in their own right. The primary distinction lies in their teaching and learning methodologies. AP zeroes in on in-depth subject knowledge and testing, while IB leans towards nurturing analytical and writing skills. They are not necessarily harder and more challenging than one another, as it often is determined by a student's personal learning style and preferences.

IB vs AP Classes: Is IB Better than AP?

Determining whether IB or AP is superior largely depends on a student's individual academic objectives. The IB program delivers a holistic curriculum, emphasizing critical thinking and global perspectives. It's designed to provide a rigorous education that equips students with relevant skills for college. However, it can be more demanding in terms of time and may limit subject choices. For those considering studying abroad, especially outside the U.S., IB is considered a better choice than AP due to its higher global recognition. On the contrary, AP hones in on particular subjects, presenting college-level content. This allows students the chance to earn college credits or meet admission prerequisites. It's also prevalent in U.S. high schools, making it an accessible choice for many American students. If you're looking to study advanced courses in areas where you naturally excel and want to maintain a packed schedule, AP can be the better route.


Considering the rigorousness and level of difficulty of both IB and AP programs, it is crucial for students to thoroughly delve into the key differences between the two and understand the unique advantages that each curriculum offers. Ultimately, the decision should be based on your individual academic goals.

If you have any questions about the IB program upon finalizing your decision, HKExcel has a range of tutors who are familiar with the curriculum and know what students should expect when selecting a wide variety of subjects. You can book a free trial class with us today and see firsthand if you are making the right subject choices for IB.

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