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The Comprehensive Guide to Selecting IB Diploma Subjects

If you are considering taking The International Baccalaureate (IB), it is definitely worth spending the time to understand how the program works and the best way to pick the right IB subjects for your future.


There are 4 frameworks that IB offers to students of different age groups with the aim of bringing out the best in students throughout their educational development. The four frameworks offered by IB are the Primary Years Programme (PYP) for children ages 3 - 11, the Middle Years Programme (MYP) for children ages 11 - 16, the Diploma Programme (IBDP) for students aged 16 - 18, and the Career-related Programme (CP) for those older than 18.


In this IB subject selection guide, we will be focusing on IBDP, which will serve as the cornerstone that enables aspiring students to get into their university of choice. This IB program is particularly well-known and is widely regarded as a challenging pre-university course of study.


In certain tertiary institutions, students with an IB diploma may have an advantage over other applicants since the curriculum is rigorous, requires critical thinking, research skills and a global perspective, which many admissions officers feel prepares students for the demanding nature of higher education.


IB Subject Selection Guide


Picking subjects for IBDP is a completely unique experience. As part of the IB Diploma, students are required to choose at least one subject from groups 1-5, while they have the option to select either a subject from group 6, or an additional subject from groups 1-5. Furthermore, students must undertake three or four courses at a Higher Level (HL), while the remaining courses are taken at a Standard Level (SL). It is advisable to enroll in a maximum of 3 HL subjects.


Subjects should also be selected based on university requirements and the student’s desired career path, which we will touch upon later.


Group 1: Studies in Language and Literature


This subject group focuses primarily on training students to develop their communication skills, which will be invaluable for tertiary education and further down the line in the workplace. Options in this IB subject group include English literature, language and literature, and world literature.


Group 2: Language Acquisition


Students with a global mindset will need to be able to communicate their ideas not just locally but internationally as well. This is where Language Acquisition plays a huge role in students’ development. By having the option to pick between IB subjects such as language B (second language), language ab initio (beginner level) and classical languages, students will be able to make an impact abroad without just being limited to their countries of origin.


Group 3: Individuals and Societies


Picking subjects from this group helps students to understand the complex nuances of human behavior, societies and their interactions. Subjects like history, geography, economics and psychology offer students a chance to see how the world works on a macro scale or to specialize in the complexities of individuals by focusing on the inner workings of the human mind.


Group 4: Sciences


As far as IB subject selection goes, the sciences are often viewed as one of the most important for students. Not only does science give students the tools to potentially play a pivotal role in human advancement and progress, but it also allows them to grasp the complex rules and laws that govern our reality. Students can pick between any of the natural sciences with subjects like biology, chemistry, physics, environmental systems and societies, and computer science.


Group 5: Mathematics


Mathematics and sciences often go hand-in-hand as a cursory understanding of important mathematical concepts is usually imperative for students to gain a solid grasp of many scientific concepts. Maths is also one of the IB subjects that can enable students to attain lucrative jobs in the future in a wide range of disciplines. For this subject group, students can pick between courses like mathematics analysis and approaches (HL and SL), and mathematics applications and interpretation (HL and SL).


Group 6: The Arts


The IB subjects in this academic grouping teach students how to get in touch with their creative side and explore personal expression in various forms. This is the only group that students can opt out of and take another subject from groups 1-5, instead. Subjects in the arts include visual arts, music, theater and film.


IB’s Mandatory Core Components


All students who wish to graduate with an IB diploma must, in addition to their chosen subjects, also complete three additional core components. These are Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Extended Essay (EE) and Creativity, Action Service (CAS).


Theory of Knowledge


TOK requires students to come to grips with how knowledge is acquired and the ways that it can be justified. It further teaches students how to think critically, reflect on the nature of knowledge and consider the types of knowledge that are pertinent to different disciplines of study.


Extended Essay


The Extended Essay gives students the freedom to extensively research a topic that is of particular interest to them and produce a 4,000-word essay about it. This core component teaches students how to conduct thorough research while also developing their writing abilities.


Creativity, Action, Service


CAS requires students to break out of their shells and attempt activities in areas they may not otherwise have had the chance to experience. The idea behind this core component is that when students engage in creative, physical and service-oriented activities, it can foster personal growth, collaboration and a greater sense of charity in them.


IB Subject Selection Based on University Requirements and Career Path


Depending on the careers that students wish to pursue, choosing the right IB subjects to get into a good university is imperative. Depending on which universities students select, acceptance conditions can vary greatly. This is why before picking IB subjects, it is imperative that students have at least a cursory understanding of what they wish to study in university, which schools they want to apply to, what the entrance requirements of their tertiary institutions of choice are, and ultimately, what vocation they wish to specialize in.


All these factors will play a huge role in the selection of IB subjects since many university courses will mandate that certain subjects must be taken and passed as an eligibility prerequisite.


Some university courses will also specify which IB subjects are required at a Higher Level and which subjects are required at a Standard Level. One of the biggest mistakes that IB students make is picking a subject at SL and only later realizing that their university course requires that subject to be completed at HL for acceptance.


Be certain to check what the minimum passing grades are for each university you apply to. It is usually best practice to select universities that have tough, medium and easier acceptance requirements so that you have a buffer for your chosen IB subjects.


Try to Find a Balance Between Your Personal and Academic Interests


While it may be tempting to pick your subjects solely on what you feel would be best for your academic future, it is equally important to stay true to yourself and focus on subjects that you are interested in. One of the great things about selecting IB subjects is that class selection is designed around building well-rounded students. This means you can thrive in a creative subject group like the arts while also excelling at something more academic like maths or one of the sciences.


Find the Right Mentor to Help You Make the Right IB Subject Choices


Even with a detailed IB subject selection guide to help you, sometimes there is no substitute for a good mentor. HKExcel has a range of tutors who are familiar with the IB curriculum and know what students should expect when selecting a wide variety of subjects.


Book a free trial class with us and see firsthand if you are making the right subject choices for IB!



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