A Level Vs. IB: Which one do top universities prefer?

A Level Vs. IB: Which one do top universities prefer
A Group Of High School Students Discussing

For many students, choosing between A-level exams and the International Baccalaureate (IB) program is difficult. Both offer a rigorous academic program, but each system has its own advantages and disadvantages. Making an informed decision is key to getting the most out of your educational experience.

So, A Level Vs. IB: Which one is better for you? Generally, IB Diploma is ranked as a better preparation for university and the workplace because it provides students with the necessary skills to succeed in higher education. In the United States, IB graduates are 21.4 % more likely to be accepted into 10 top universities, including Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford (Source: International Baccalaureate)

In this blog post, I will compare the two programs to help you decide which is best. If you are interested in taking the AP exams, I wrote a whole article comparing A Level and AP Exam, including their key differences.

What Are A Level Exams?

Advanced level qualifications (AKA A levels) are subject-based qualifications that can lead to university, training, further study, or work. You can generally study three or more A levels over two years. A series of examinations usually assess them.

The A-level program is a two-year course that culminates in end-of-year exams. The program is divided into three stages – AS Level (Year 1), A2 Level (Year 2), and Final Exam (Year 2). At each stage, students can choose from a wide range of subjects offered, including Maths, Sciences, Humanities, Languages, Arts & Design, Business studies, and more.

After completing all three stages, students receive final grades based on their exam performance.
The advantage of this system is that it allows for greater flexibility in subject selection and allows for more time to master each subject before taking the exam. However, it does not provide any international recognition or qualifications.

What Is International Baccalaureate Program (IB Program)?

The IB program is designed to be challenging but rewarding for high school students aged 16-18 who want to pursue higher education or university degrees abroad. It comprises six subject groups – Language & Literature; Individuals & Societies; Experimental Sciences; Mathematics & Computer Science; Visual Arts & Performing Arts; and Creativity Activity Service (CAS).

Students must take at least one subject from each group and write an extended essay on a chosen topic as part of their curriculum. Upon completing all requirements, they will receive an internationally recognized qualification that can be used to apply to universities worldwide.

The advantage of this system is that it provides international recognition and allows students to better understand different cultures and perspectives through the different courses offered in the program. However, it does require more dedication due to its more demanding curriculum and requires students to be able to commit fully to get good grades.

Key Differences Between A Levels and IB Programs

A-Levels, also known as Advanced Level Qualifications, are offered by the British education system and are taken after completing GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education). The program consists of two years of study in one or more specific subjects. Students must take three or four exams at the end of the second year to receive their qualification.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Program is a comprehensive curriculum focusing on developing students’ skills in critical thinking, research, and communication. This program is offered worldwide and includes six subject groups: Language Arts & Literature; Individuals & Societies; Experimental Sciences; Mathematics & Computer Science; Arts & Creative Writing; and Physical Education. Students must pass all tests in each group to receive their diplomas.

One key difference between A Levels and IB programs is the number of exams required to complete each program. A Levels require students to take three or four exams, while IB requires six subject-specific tests for graduation.

Another major difference is that A Levels focus on teaching specific subjects while IB focuses on teaching students how to think critically about complex topics across multiple disciplines. Finally, A Levels are typically only available through private schools, while IB programs can be found at both public and private schools worldwide.

Both A Level Qualifications and International Baccalaureate Programs offer rigorous academic curriculums that prepare students for life after high school.

The key differences between these two programs include the number of exams required for completion, the focus on specific subjects versus critical thinking skills across multiple disciplines, and availability at private or public schools.

A Levels Vs. IB: Course Overview:

Program Standard Age RangeSchool YearSubjects NumberExams
International BaccalaureateBetween 16 to 18Year 12 and Year 136 subjects and 3 papersOne cumulative external exam after 2 years
International GCSEs and A LevelsBetween 14 to 18Year 11 and Year 13At least 4 to 5 subjectsExternal offered about 2 to 3 times yearly
The Table Displays An Overview of The A Level And IB – mathodics.com.

A Level Vs. IB: Which One Should You Choose?

The IB is probably a better choice if you don’t necessarily want to attend a university in the United Kingdom. The IB is recognized in about 90 countries and encourages a global outlook in study cases.

However, if you want to study in the UK particularly, A-Levels will be better suited for you because it is the United Kingdom’s traditional high school qualification. A-Levels are a better choice if you want to apply to a university that requires an interview as part of the admissions process, including medicine or UK top universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

But if you don’t know yet what course you want to study at university, IB would be a better choice because it is broader, allows you to build knowledge in different areas, and prepares you for university-level work more effectively.

And finally, IB is academically more demanding than A level exams.

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Wrapping Up

Deciding between A-Levels or IB can be difficult, but by understanding what each program offers, you can decide which best suits your needs and abilities.

A-Levels offer a more flexible approach with less commitment, while IB provides international recognition with more focus on developing broader cultural understanding alongside academic excellence.

IB program offers higher chances of getting accepted into top universities in the United States because of the challenging nature of the IB diploma.


I am Altiné. I am the guy behind mathodics.com. When I am not teaching math, you can find me reading, running, biking, or doing anything that allows me to enjoy nature's beauty. I hope you find what you are looking for while visiting mathodics.com.

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