As your child approaches the tender age of 16, you should already be considering which secondary education programme path your child will pursue. For many, this decision is already made at the time when enrolling your child in a particular Primary School or Middle School.
For students attending international schools in Hong Kong, the choice of secondary education programmes from the age of 16 usually falls between either the A-Levels or the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme. These programmes follow a very western curricula. They are often preferred by expat families who wish to give their children the option of international university education.
The A-Levels study path is a curriculum developed by the UK government. This curriculum features mainly British learning materials that have been adapted for international study. In the A-Levels path, students gain qualifications in specific subjects. Students are led to specialize in three or four subjects which they study in depth.
Students are able to focus specifically on those subjects they are enthusiastic about. This prevents distraction from subjects they are less interested in. A-Levels study is structured, but students are still required to learn, think, and work independently. The A-Levels path is a two-year study programme. It’s pursued mostly by students once obtaining their High School diploma in Years 12 and 13.
Based in Switzerland, the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) is an international organisation offering the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP). The IBDP is a globally focused skill-based curriculum. It’s carried out over two years for secondary students in the 16 to 19 age range. It comprises a set of examinations enabling successful students to qualify for higher education in several countries worldwide.
Students also develop learning skills through extended essays, theory of knowledge, creativity, and service elements. This broadens the learning experience of students outside the rigid structure of lessons and homework. This is a good study path for students who prefer applying themselves through independent learning. It allows for the exploration of areas of personal interest through community and individual research. The IBDP is considered more challenging for students.
There are international schools in Hong Kong that offer both programmes. The A-Levels and IB Diploma are recognised by universities and employers worldwide, which may make the choice a little more difficult. Let's break it down further to help you decide.
The A-Levels path is more subject specialised. It focuses on three or four subjects that relate to the direction the student wishes to pursue at university. The IBDP path is broader, covering a balance of regular subjects usually taught in a school curriculum. The A-Levels are suited more to students who are stronger in a specialist area of study or a specific subject. The IBDP is more suited to students who are all-rounders as they study six subjects which individually all count towards the student’s final grade.
The IBDP is more costly in both time and money when compared to the A-Levels. Following the IB continuum throughout the schooling career is not necessary to do the IBDP. However, entering the IB pathway (IB PYP/MYP) early can help students develop the necessary skills for when they commence the IBDP. The IBDP is said to equip students with better time management skills that will be of value for university study.
For the IBDP, students study three subjects at higher level and three subjects at standard level. All six subjects need to be successfully completed and passed to be awarded the IB Diploma. In the IBDP, students study and complete the following:
For the A-Levels, three or four specific academic subjects are studied in depth by students. In this study path, none of the subjects are compulsory. Students choose their specific subjects from a wide list of subjects that can include anything from economics to photography.
The A-Levels are graded by the representation of the letters A to E linked to percentage ranges, with A being the highest grade. The IBDP follows a points system. Students will receive a grade for each subject comprising a point from 1 to 7. The highest point for a subject is 7. Students require a combined total point score of 24 or above to be awarded the IB Diploma. A perfect score in the IBDP is 45 points. When students apply to universities, their A-Level grades and IB scores are converted into points for consideration by admissions boards.
The A-Level exams are taken in May/June with the results being published in August. The IBDP exams are taken in May for schools following the September to June academic year, with results being published in July. The IBDP exams are taken in November for schools following the January to December academic year, with results being published the following year in January.
International schools can offer either the GCE A-Levels or the International A-Levels, or both. The International A-Levels are offered by exam boards, like Cambridge International (CI) and Pearson Edexcel. Only international schools who are authorised by the IBO may offer the IBDP to students.
University admissions boards do not favour one path over the other. If your child has decided on a specific career direction to pursue, like medicine, then they could follow the A-Levels path and focus specifically on medical sciences subjects.
Following the A-Levels path tailored to the medical field would then bode well for admission to universities offering study in medicine. The IBDP path encourages students to follow a more independent inquiry and global outlook approach in learning. This would be a safe choice for students who wish to study at university but who have not decided on a specialised field of study or are following less specified career paths like politics. This would be a good option for general admission and considered favourably by university admissions boards.
It is important to remember that university admissions boards will consider each student's application individually on merit. They also consider whether the university’s grade requirements are met. This includes considering students from both the A-Levels and IBDP study paths.
A-Levels usually set the standard for entry to UK universities. UK universities do prefer students to have undertaken study of at least one of the following facilitating subjects in their A-Levels:
The IBDP is understood more by universities admissions boards in the US.
To understand more about grading and points scores under the A-Levels and the IBDP for university admissions, follow the links below:
Visit www.ibo.org for more information on the IBDP points system.
Visit www.ucas.com for more information on UCAS tariffs for entry to UK universities.