IB and National Baccalaureate: main differences

Taking the IB gives you a global view of the world and prepares you for life.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme is a two-year bilingual educational programme offered at our school for non-university students between the ages of 16 and 19. It was founded in Geneva (Switzerland) in 1968 by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO). It is currently taught in 3180 secondary schools, 907 public and 838 private, in 127 countries. Successful completion of this baccalaureate gives you a boost when it comes to accessing different universities around the world.

The National Baccalaureate and the International Baccalaureate share the same length: two years. However, as Iván Vaquero Cabrera, a 1st IB student at Agora International School Madrid explained to us, “one of the main contrasts is that the IB is a single course which lasts 2 years, so the subjects you choose when you start the IB will be the ones you take during the 2 years”.

At the Centre, as Iris Oliva Herranz, National and International Baccalaureate coordinator, explains, we offer “the different university branches: biosanitary, technological, social and performing arts” for both the IB and the National Baccalaureate.

Another major difference, if we compare the IB with the National Baccalaureate, is the assessment criteria and exams themselves. In Spain, baccalaureate students take quarterly exams, and at the end of the two years they sit the EvAU. For the final mark, 30% of the average of the 1st year marks is taken into consideration, the same 30% of the average of the 2nd year marks, and the weight of the EvAU is 40%, to which 20% is added, optionally, if the two specific subjects of the EvAU are taken. However, in the IB, work is carried out throughout the two years, and accounts for 30% of the final mark; and the final exams in the last year correspond to the remaining 70% of the final mark. In the words of student Iván Vaquero, “the methodology is also very different; the Spanish Bachillerato focuses on periodically assessing students through exams, while the IB focuses on individual and group work such as essays and studies. The exams during the IB focus on mock exams for the external evaluation, which takes place in May, of the second year.

Students take six subjects: one from each of the first five groups and one from any group except the fifth. It is recommended that three subjects are taken at Higher Level (NS) and the rest at Middle Level (NM).  The Higher Levels have programmes of 240 teaching hours, while the Intermediate Levels have programmes of 150 teaching hours.

The IB offers multiple subjects to be taken over two years, such as English (compulsory), Literature and Theatre Performance, Environmental Systems and Societies, Mathematics, Applications and Interpretations, Mathematics Analysis and Approaches, Business Management, Physics, Biology, History or Music. A total of six subjects are taken in addition to the three core subjects: Theory of Knowledge, Monograph and CAS (Creativity, Activity and Service).

The monograph consists of an essay of up to 4,000 words, which is the result of a research project directed by the student and supervised by a teacher from the school. The monograph deals with a very specific topic that the student considers interesting to study, and is one of the sine qua non requirements for obtaining the Diploma.

The IB prepares future adults for their own lives, as it offers them a different vision and a different working method to the traditional one, teaching them values and skills beyond the strictly academic. Because of all this, the involvement, perseverance and maturity of the IB student is much greater, and probably his or her level of learning. Why this statement? As the student tells us: “IB requires a lot of perseverance and effort, because it demands a lot of responsibility to keep up to date”. The second reading of the IB student’s involvement and demands “is an advantage, because when you enter university,” says Iván Vaquero, “you already have the habit of working independently”, defining your own time to achieve your goal. Studying IB,” continues the student who is currently in his second year of IB, “you learn to be independent and constant, you are less dependent on teachers and you are able to acquire certain skills that are very useful when it comes to studying a career.

The way students are graded is also different. While in Spain the evaluation criteria range from 0 to 10 (and 14 with the EBAU), in the IB the maximum grade that can be obtained is a 7.

What if an IB student wants to enter a Spanish university?

One of the concerns when choosing whether or not to take the IB comes down to the decision to go to university. You can rest assured. To get into the same pool as a national student to enter university in Spain is very simple. If a student chooses the International Baccalaureate, the final IB mark is validated by the UNED, to give them a mark out of 14, so that they can apply for a degree in Spain without passing the EBAU. The UNED validates the six subjects out of 10, and depending on the degree course chosen by the students, the university in question will select two subjects that the candidate student has taken throughout the IB, and which will serve as specific subjects, to which 20% is applied to reach the Spanish criteria of the mark out of 14. Another qualitative option, which we offer at the school, is to prepare for the exams of the specific subjects through the UNED to raise the final mark.

This would be the case of the student with whom we discussed his IB experience, who confesses that he will study in Spain but that he would repeat his IB experience a thousand and one times because “it is not only a study path to acquire academic knowledge, but it is also a way to gain maturity and a mentality that is closer to that required when studying for a degree”.

Beyond where you end up studying at university, choosing IB opens your mind, forms adults, and involves you in your own knowledge. As Iván Vaquero explains: “The difficulty of the IB is the IB itself, both in Spain and abroad. Some subjects take on a first or second year degree level, such as chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics, analysis and approaches, which means you have to work hard, especially during the first few months, to leave behind the mentality of secondary education, and adopt a more mature, university mentality. It’s about maturing two years before you start your degree, so that when you enter university, the impact is not so great.

Why choose IB: you decide the motivation

The subject Theory of Knowledge is a research course of approximately 100 hours oriented towards critical reflection on the multiple fields of knowledge. It is one of the three core subjects. To successfully complete it, Diploma candidates must write an essay of 1200 to 1600 words on a given topic chosen from a number of options, and make an oral presentation to the class on a topic of their choice with subsequent discussion.

Who better to explain it than Iván himself: “For me personally, the most enriching thing is the fact of being able to study subjects that interest me. In each subject, you have to do research work, and this can be on any topic and focus you want, as long as it is within the content of the subject”. To understand the magnitude of a student’s involvement when it comes to choosing a topic for a project, he says, “if a person is interested in the demographic study of populations, they could focus their mathematics research project on applying a function to calculate the population trend”. In addition, he stresses the freedom and responsibility required of them in preparing the IB in “the monograph subject, everyone can choose what they want, and that makes it something that they can take advantage of and motivate them”.

A special feature of the IB that is highly valued by students is the core subject CAS. The Creativity, Activity and Service programme is another necessary requirement for the Diploma. Currently, a series of activities are carried out in which the exact hours are not counted, but an approximate figure is given, and from which it is necessary to extract learning on an artistic (Creativity), sporting (Activity) and/or solidarity (Service) level. In their words: “the fact that the IB includes, as a subject in itself, a subject which favours the development of creativity, promotes sport and encourages collaboration in society is something which I think makes the IB worthwhile”. In this discipline they have managed, and they tell us proudly, “to carry out solidarity initiatives that have brought about a change in the community we form, and that makes us aware of the social involvement of the actions we take”.

We end the article with the words of the student who has volunteered to tell us about his experience. “Personally, I would choose IB over the Spanish baccalaureate, not only do I find the contents of most of the subjects more interesting and focused on university careers, but I also think it gives you a more global vision of society”.

24 / 06 / 21