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How to Choose Your IBDP Classes

Upon entering high school, students need to focus not just on raising their grades for their college applications, nbut also on choosing the classes that they take in their final two years of secondary school. For a very sizeable population of students around the world, this means looking at the variety of International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP) courses available at their schools, thinking about what interests them the most, and then strategically choosing the best plan to both be engaged in these classes and excel in them.

What is the IBDP?

The IBDP is a rigorous curriculum that is an internationally recognized and highly challenging two-year curriculum in the final years of secondary school. Due to its demanding nature, the IBDP is highly regarded by universities worldwide. Starting at the beginning of their secondary school years, students begin with what is known as the IB Middle Years Program, which focuses on developing the skills students need to use for their IBDP years.

What makes the IBDP so demanding is its depth and breadth. IBDP students must take a total of six subjects throughout the two years, and must choose one subject from each of the core subject groups: language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and society, experimental sciences, mathematics, and the arts (although students may choose to forgo the arts and choose another course from one of the other subject groups instead). Three or four subjects must be taken at the higher level (HL) and the rest must be taken at the standard level (SL), though most students take three of each. Furthermore, students’ final scores are evaluated based on both internal and external assessments, the former of which are graded by the students’ own teachers, and the latter of which are graded by official IBDP examiners outside of the school. These assessments consist of oral presentations, practical work, and written work.

In addition to these six courses, students must meet three other core requirements, which are the extended essay (EE), theory of knowledge (TOK), and creativity, activity, and service (CAS). The extended essay is an independent research essay on an approved topic that the student may already be studying. TOK is a course that teaches the basics of epistemology (the nature of knowledge) and is meant to develop students’ critical thinking. Lastly, CAS, which is ultimately decided upon by the school the student attends, encourages students to use their personal qualities to be good members of their communities, whether it be through community service (service), athletics (activity), and creative activities (creativity).

As for grading, each course from one of the six subjects is graded on a scale of 1-7, with 7 being the highest. Thus, the highest score a student can receive in the six core subjects is a 42. In addition to this “core” score, a student can also get up to three points from TOK and the EE combined, but CAS is not included in the final grade. This means that the grand total amount of points that a student can get from the IB is a 45.

Because of the highly demanding nature of the IBDP, the average total score worldwide in 2022 as reported by the IB Organization itself is 31.28, while the per course average is 5.12. (In some regions, such as Hong Kong, the average IB score is much higher – students should ask their counselors what the average IB score is at their school.)

How do I choose which subjects to take?

In early secondary school, students can get a sense of what subjects they enjoy, not mind, or dislike. This will help them choose advanced classes; often, students will be much more engaged and therefore are likely to do better if they do not dislike the subject. As colleges and universities place increasing emphasis on rigorous coursework and academic excellence in their applicants, students have to try their best to match these growing demands by not only taking challenging classes, but excelling in them too.

When choosing their IB classes, students have to take into consideration not only their current grades, but also realistically how much work they’re able to do as well. The highly structured nature of the IBDP means that IB students do not have to worry about showing breadth as much as AP students do, but they still have to strategically choose their classes based on what they wish to study in college. For students unused to academic rigor, it is very important to make sure they are not overloaded by choosing “easier” IB subjects (we put easier in quotation marks because the IB is anything but easy)– you need to balance ambition with realism and make sure the student has plenty of support in his or her most challenging subject areas.

If a student already has a general idea of what they want to study in university or at least know that they’re a bit weaker in one subject than another, they can opt to take more advanced classes in the subject they want to specialize in and take standard level courses for the subjects they don’t do as well in. For example, a humanities-oriented student may take two to three HLs in non-STEM subjects and choose to do an art or otherwise language or social sciences- related subject for their sixth subject while a STEM-oriented student may take two to three HLS in STEM subjects while choosing an additional science or math course for their sixth subject over the arts. In these examples, the humanities-oriented student may take HL English Literature and Language (language and literature); HL Spanish B (language acquisition); HL History (individuals and society); SL Biology (sciences); SL Mathematics (mathematics); and SL Music (the arts). Meanwhile, the STEM-oriented student may take SL English Literature and Language (language and literature); SL French B (language acquisition); SL Economics (individuals and society); HL Chemistry (sciences); HL Mathematics (mathematics); and HL Physics (sciences instead of the arts).

On the other hand, if a student is not particularly inclined in any area, this distribution may be a bit more flexible and depends on their personal strengths and weaknesses as well as their schools’ requirements. For example, many schools require English literature and language for graduation, so students usually must have that as one of their HLs or SLs depending on how well they are likely to do in the subject.

Not sure how to strategize your course selections for college? Call or WhatsApp 9835 8011 or visit to learn more about how early applications can fit into your university admissions strategy!


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