IBDP & A Levels: 4 aspects to consider before you make your choice

Deepika Sodhi
May 6, 2022
IBDP programme

Parents who are looking into international schools in Singapore will quickly discover that two of the in-demand programmes for secondary students are the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) and the Cambridge International A Levels. Both the programmes are designed to prepare students for life after secondary school, focusing on the skills needed at the university level. However, both the programmes have distinct features that you should consider when looking at the educational options in Singapore.

The IBDP was created in 1968 by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), and is designed for secondary students between the ages of 16 and 19. It features a rigorous academic curriculum, and encourages students to think deeply and critically as they expand physical, intellectual, emotional and ethical knowledge.

The Cambridge A Levels are a secondary school programme for students between the ages of 16 and 19, established in the 1950s. The curriculum is globally recognised for its international outlook. The Cambridge Advanced offers advanced study options for higher education and university, offering learners the Cambridge International AS & A Levels.

Here’s an overview of the strengths of both the international programmes that will help you make an informed decision when opting for a secondary school programme.

IBDP Programme

Curriculum: The IBDP is a comprehensive programme designed to produce well-rounded students. All students take courses within six core subject groups, and they can choose to take three courses at higher level (HL) and three at standard level (SL). Additional components of the IBDP curriculum include theory of knowledge (TOK), extended essay (EE) and creativity, activity and service (CAS).

Course structure: No matter which course a student is enrolled in as part of the IBDP, they can expect an in-depth dive into the course content. All of the courses in the IBDP are research-led, and incorporate several hands-on learning opportunities. The goal of the programme is for students to do more than memorise and reiterate facts. 

While enrolled in the IBDP, students become knowledgeable and open-minded inquirers who are conscious of their impact on the world around them. The programme is designed to nurture students and help them become responsible members of their communities at the local, national and global levels.

Also Read: Top 5 Benefits of IB Diploma Programme

Programme focus: The focus of the IBDP is on the holistic development of the student. As such, the IBDP nurtures students to become intellectual thinkers who are emotionally and ethically mature, and also ready to take risks. In addition to offering coursework that prioritises academic excellence, the IBDP is a skills-based programme that provides students with hands-on learning opportunities that encourage the development of 21st-century skills.

Assessments: The IBDP assessments are designed to measure a student's understanding of advanced academic skills and knowledge. During the assessments that span over a period of two years apart from the year-end exams, students are required to analyse information and construct their own arguments. 

They present the information they have learned and showcase their problem-solving skills. Both external and internal exams are used in the IBDP, but all exams are governed by one examining body, and a points-based grading system is used.

Collaboration and research-led learning are significant aspects of the IBDP programme 

Cambridge International A Levels

Curriculum: A Levels are a great option for students who are already aware of their strengths and know how they want to focus their careers. Most students who enrol in A Levels choose courses that will benefit them during their university experience. A Levels are offered in the United Kingdom and other countries around the world, including Singapore. 

Course structure: Similar to the IBDP, the A Levels have an in-depth course structure that focuses on independent, logical thinking. The emphasis is on 21st century skills, application of knowledge to new and familiar situations, evaluation of various sources of information, presentation of the finding, and finally clear communication.

Programme focus: A Levels offer a strong focus on academics, helping students to stay engaged and become confident learners. They are encouraged to select courses that will prepare them for their future careers. For example, a student interested in studying medicine at university would primarily take medical courses during their A Levels.

Assessments: As part of A Level assessments, students complete several examination series, and each series is graded separately on the traditional letter scale. No grade point average is calculated for the total score across all exams, and students earn an individual certificate for each set of exams they complete. 

Here the students take a ‘staged’ assessment route – the Cambridge International AS Level in one examination series and complete the final Cambridge International A Level at a subsequent series. AS Level scores can be carried forward to a full A Level twice within a 13 month period. There’s a separate grade for each subject. The A Level is reported on a grade scale from A* (highest) to E (minimum requirement). There is no A* grade for Cambridge International AS Levels.

Discover the IBDP at GIIS

As one of the leading IB schools in Singapore, GIIS offers the IB Diploma Programme to its secondary school students. The programme is well-complemented by our 21st-century learning environment, including state-of-the-art facilities like our digital classrooms and skills-based studios that encourage collaboration, communication and skills-based learning. 

GIIS’ 9Gems pedagogy maps with the IB learner profile, leading to a holistic development of the students. In addition, our students are taught by IB-trained teachers, who undergo professional development training from the IBO. With more than a decade of experience in IB teaching, our educators ensure that they are successful in this programme. 

At GIIS, we are proud of our excellent results, and our students have flourished during their time in the IBDP.

If you are keen to know more about IBDP at GIIS, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our friendly admissions counsellor today.

Deepika Sodhi

Ms Sodhi is the Academic Supervisor for the International Curricula at GIIS SMART Campus, Singapore. She has been teaching Physics for the past 22 years and has a great ability to help students relate to scientific principles in everyday life. She is also actively involved in GIIS’ seamless transition to digital pedagogy in teaching, assessments etc.

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