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Which is better for my child – GCE “A” Level or IB?

Last Updated on 22 May 2024

A Level vs IBIn the Singapore GCE “A” Level system, admission to local universities depends on the university admission score (UAS), which is calibrated based on the following subjects: three H2 subjects and one H1 subject (one of which must be a contrasting subject), General Paper, and Project Work. Students must also obtain at least a D7 in Mother Tongue. (The Mother Tongue grade can be used in the calculation of the UAS if its inclusion helps to increase the score.)

For admission to overseas universities, students should have good grades in at least three of the H2 subjects. Students can also differentiate themselves in terms of academic rigour and depth of understanding in a particular subject area by offering an H3 subject in the discipline that they wish to pursue at tertiary level.

For the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, students take three subjects at Standard level and three at Higher level. Students also have to meet requirements for three other components – Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Creativity, Action & Service (CAS), and an Extended Essay (EE). If you fail any of these subjects or components, you fail the whole examination. Each of the six subjects carry a maximum of seven points. Another three points are available depending upon the marks gained for TOK and EE. The maximum number of points is 45. Most overseas universities will consider admitting IB students with 39 points and above, but admission into the university will still be based on personal statements, recommendations and other criteria.

From here, you can tell that the GCE “A” Level curriculum emphasises depth within each subject discipline while the IB is about breadth across a range of subjects.

Therefore, if your child likes to delve deep into subject areas – be it science, mathematics, history, economics or literature – the GCE “A” level is a better route as it allows him/her to go as far as he or she wants to.

For example, the H3 subjects provide students with a variety of learning opportunities to pursue areas in which they have interest and exceptional aptitude. This includes exploring advanced content, and attending research attachments to the various science research institutes, as well as to local and international universities. Those who prefer working on their own and pursuing their own research area – especially in mathematics and the sciences – will find the GCE “A” level curriculum more suited to their needs.

In comparison, most subjects in the IB programme have a 20 percent school-based component assessed by the teachers within the school. Hence, your child will be provided less time to delve deeply into a subject, as curriculum time is spread more broadly across the different subjects. This also means that your child’s grade depends not on a final examination, but on the consistent work that he or she would have to produce throughout the year.

The IB pedagogy is characterised by much interaction in class as the school-based assessment components include presentations and independent papers. Your child would have to be strong in his or her language ability, and enjoy giving presentations and writing papers across a range of subject matters. The IB curriculum articulates well into university courses that are broad-based, along the lines of the liberal arts colleges.

Most top US colleges and UK universities still put a premium on academic rigour and prefer students to exhibit depth within subject areas. Scholarship boards also highlight the need for intellectual rigour, content mastery, and a strong grasp of subject matter within and outside of the syllabus.

As for which is better, it really depends on the personality of your child and his or her learning style. If your child is unable to keep up with the consistent work needed for continual assessment because of commitments that take him or her out of classes or school, the IB may not be a good idea. However, if your child has an interest in many disciplines and prefers not to focus only on a few areas, and has a strong command of the English Language as well, then the IB will be an interesting option for him or her.

In addition, it may be a good idea to take into consideration your child's future plans for university and career, and work backwards from there.

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