Understanding IBDP, AP & A-LEVELS

What Is The Deal - AP Versus A-Levels Versus IB?

Understanding AP Versus IP Versus A-Levels

Many parents with teenagers who are entering their last two years of secondary school want to know what programmes their child should take to increase their chances for admission to a top university. With the caveat that every situation is different, here is some advice to help guide you as you make these decisions with your child. Little Steps has partnered with ITS Education Asia to help understand the main differences between the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, The Advanced Placement Programme, AS, and A-Levels. Read on!

  • International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP):

    The IBDP is a comprehensive, rigorous two-year programme. It is designed as a pre-university programme for students aged 16 to 19. There are a wide range of courses designed to meet the interests and requirements of different students. In addition to the courses offered, it is unique because only the IBDP includes Creativity, Action and Service (CAS) programme, the Extended Essay and the Theory of Knowledge course. Together these offer IBDP students experiences and skills they will not find in any other programme.

    Where is the IB diploma recognized?

    The IB diploma is recognized by universities around the world. However, you can generally get U.S. college credit only after taking the full two-year programme that leads to the IB diploma. That means if you just take a few one-year IB courses, depending on the university, you may not get credit.

    How important is the IB Programme to universities?

    The IB curriculum represents the highest level of rigor of any high school programme.  Most well respected universities recruit IB students and offer special scholarships, transfer credits and other incentives.  The more selective colleges in the US often give college credit only for IB classes taken at the “Higher Level” (HL). IB students take three classes at that level and the rest at the Standard Level (“SL”). Some colleges give credit only for IB exam scores of 7 (the top); some for lower scores. Thus, even the most outstanding students may only get college credit in three areas, while AP students could end up with credit in many more subjects, depending on how many AP classes the student takes, how the student fares on the exams, and what the college’s credit policy is.

  • The Advanced Placement (AP) Programme:

    Advanced Placement courses are curricula and exams created by the College Board (who also run the SAT I and II) and are usually much more rigorous than the general course offerings (including those characterized as "honors") at American high schools. "Advanced Placement" means that many colleges and universities will award credit for these courses if the student has received a 3 or higher (or some cases, just a 5) on the AP subject exam [All AP exams are for specific subjects, and the highest score available is a 5]. Highly competitive first tier colleges and universities, however, do have their own set of requirements. Scores are reported in mid-July.

    What are the benefits of taking AP courses?

    AP courses can help you gain the skills and study habits you'll need to be successful in a US college. You'll improve your writing, problem-solving, time-management skills, and learn how to stay focused on your work and goals. AP courses can also help you get accepted into college. It's less about taking the easy classes and earning an "A" than it is about showing colleges that you're willing to take a challenging class, even if it lowers your grade point average. This makes you stand out in the admission process.

    Can I take an AP exam without taking the course?

    Yes. Any student can take the exam. An AP course is not required, but it does help you prepare for the exam. Other high school or honors classes as well as studying on your own can prepare you too.

    How do I earn college credit?

    AP classes don't just earn you high school credit. You may also earn college credit if you take an AP exam at the end of the course and earn a score of at least three (3) on a scale of one (1) to five (5). Colleges and universities consider a score of three (3) an indicator of your ability to do successful college work. Colleges may award credit or advanced standing. Some colleges might even award both!  You have to send your AP scores to each college for them to figure out what you are eligible to receive.

  • AS and A-Levels (Advanced Subsidiary and Advanced Level):

    A full A-Level qualification is achieved after 2 years of study. If a student started A-levels in 2014 or before, in the first year of study they would have worked towards four or five AS qualifications and then, in the second year, a student would have concentrated on three or four of their subjects up to A-level. However, from 2105, there are some rigorous changes to AS and A- Level courses. Each A-level’s content is being revised but the major change comes with the exams, which will all be ‘linear’ i.e. taken at the end of the course. AS, while it survives, will not count towards the A-Level grade and re-sitting will involve re-doing all the exams.

    How many A-Levels should I take?

    Up until now most students have taken four or even five subjects in Year 12, after AS Level exams, they drop one or two subjects, and continue the other three through Year 13, to A-Level. However, since September 2015, with the changes in AS and A-Level qualifications, this might change and students might choose three A-Levels to study for the two-year course or work towards AS qualifications, or a mixture of both.

    How are universities responding to the changes?

    Universities are considering how they will respond to the changes in AS and A-Level qualifications, especially as different schools might have different approaches, with some only offering A-Levels and some offering both AS and A-levels. Therefore, for entry to university after September 2015 you should check what the arrangements will be at universities that are of interest for you.

    What are the changes to UCAS Tariff?

    From 2017, the University & Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) will introduce a new tariff (points awarded for A-Level and AS grades) which will take into account the changes to AS and A-Levels. It is wise to first consult with a school counselor on what courses are most appropriate for your child.

Where To Find It:​

Additional Info:​

  About ITS:  The academic counselors and support staff of ITS Education Asia are here to: Assist students in planning and implementing immediate and long range academic and career goals; Assist with UCAS applications for UK Universities - completing an application - from initial registration, to writing a personal statement and course selection; Counsel students on success strategies; Evaluate U.S. college transcripts.

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