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Choosing subjects for the IB Diploma Programme

As explained elsewhere, the IB Diploma programme requires students to select one subject each from six Subject Groups to supplement the three compulsory core components of the IB: CAS, Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge. Three of the six must be at Higher Level (HL) and three at Standard Level (SL). This then involves a large spectrum of work and variety of knowledge, which can only be achieved with good organisation and hard work.

Whether you are 15 already at an IB school or a new entrant at 16, the choice of the six academic subjects is critical to your success.

The full list of IB subject options is given at the end of this section, but bear in mind that your target schools may not offer all of these. Thus, if one or more HL subjects are key to your ambitions (degree or career) you may be advised to seek another school which offers them. Assuming you know your target degree course it is a simple matter to check the entry subject requirements, but don’t forget to also check any minimum points, which might be 6 or 7 for example.

At the end of this section is a complete list of IB subject options and also some sample minimum grade points targets.
Your initial task is to pick your three HL subjects and you will obviously select some of your stronger subjects. Bear in mind that some selective schools (particularly in the UK ) will set you admissions tests based on your HL subjects.

The first group is languages which will typically be your best home language, but assuming you are heading for a university teaching in English, you may well be advised to choose English as an HL subject because the university will expect you to be fluent in English. It may not matter if you already have a high GCSE score in English or a high IELTS score.
The second Language group is not usually as important and you may decide to go for an SL or ab initio selection.

Every student has strengths and weaknesses and you are more likely to pick your strongest subjects at HL because you are also more likely to get nearer to a 7 top grade even if it does involve more work. But look at the differences in workload between HL and SL and be sure you will enjoy doing it.

The next task is to pick subjects which your chosen university degree considers essential to have at HL. If you want to study Medicine, for example,  you are going to need HL Chemistry, and probably also Biology and/or Maths. 

The IBO has recently changed the syllabus for mathematics to two main courses. You may find that universities prefer Maths – Analysis and Applications – if you need to take HL Maths. You really need to have obtained a top grade (A* or 9) in your GCSE to take Maths at HL. 

One interesting way of choosing is to check the different percentages of your final score for HL and SL subjects that is based on your Individual Assessment. If you think you will struggle with your IA, choose the version which impacts you less. Don’t be afraid to ask to see the detailed curriculum for each of your 6 interests.

Success in your HL subjects will be partly influenced by how good or inspiring your teacher is for the subject. If you can, find out who they are and get to meet them. If you are not going to be motivated by the teacher, you are unlikely to enjoy it or do as well. Now you might say that you cannot do this before you join a school – but yes you can. Go to as many open days as you can or ask specifically to meet the teachers. You may well be given a tour by existing 6th form students. Ask them what they think of their teachers. Students will typically be a lot more open and honest than a Registrar whose job it is to sell you the school!

Our advisory services do not just cover choosing a school. For entry at 16 we can help you choose the right combination of subjects. Phone us on +44 (0) 1622 813870

In closing the section we list the current IB subject options

IB Diploma Programme Subjects

Group 1 – Studies in Language

Language A literature HL or SL
Language A language and literature HL or SL
Literature and performance SL

Group 2 – Language acquisition

Language B HL or SL
Language ab initio SL
Classical languages HL or SL

Group 3 – Individuals and Societies

Business management HL or SL
Economics HL or SL
Environmental systems and societies SL
Geography HL or SL
Global politics HL or SL
History – Africa and Middle East HL
History – United States of America HL
History – Asia and Oceania HL
History – Europe HL
History SL
Philosophy HL or SL
Psychology HL or SL
Social and cultural anthropology HL or SL
World religions SL

Group 4 – Sciences

Biology HL or SL
Chemistry HL or SL
Computer Science HL or SL
Design Technology HL or SL