Your All inclusive Guide to IB vs. Ap classes

Writer: Lauren Cohn

First, let’s start out with the basics. IB stands for International Baccalaureate, and encompasses a program in which students are encouraged to think critically and independently. With an international presence, over 150 countries throughout the world utilize the program to create a more caring and thoughtful collection of students. Classes are arranged based on level, with standard level (SL) and higher level (HL). Higher level classes are more demanding and require extra work for credit.

Students can take any number of IB classes they wish through the IB certificate, or they can opt to become an IB diploma candidate and create a schedule featuring all IB classes. 

So, what is the difference between IB diploma and IB certificate?

  • With IB diploma, students must take at least 3 SL classes and 3 HL classes. Some students with a passion for certain topics decide to pursue 4 HL classes, as well. It is important to choose how these classes are arranged based on a personal assessment of interest in the class and ability to succeed.
  • With IB diploma, students must receive a sum of at least 12 points for both their HL classes and their SL classes, totaling to 24 points. Points are given on a scale of 1-7
  • IB diploma also comes with additional requirements, including an essay, project, and unique class
    • The Extended Essay is a requirement for all diploma students. After choosing a subject based on one of their HL classes (For example, History), students form a question about anything pertaining to that subject and answer it in, at most, a 4,000 word essay. Subjects can also be interdisciplinary, like world studies that examines different topics in a single essay. 
    • The CAS Project is also just as broad. CAS stands for Community, Action, and Service, and students must find some sort of leadership project that demonstrates two of the three components of the project. The project truly has no limits and students are encouraged to create something meaningful based on their passions.
    • TOK, Theory of Knowledge, is a class all students must take as IB diploma candidates. This class looks at how knowledge works, how it is created, and how it is pursued.
  • IB classes give credit, or points, based on an IA (internal assessment) and an end of the year exam
    • IAs are short essays that a student must complete in every class. They are similar to the extended essay in that they examine and answer a question. For example, science IAs consist of some sort of experiment while economic IAs apply economic concepts to real life situations. All IAs contain a research component.
    • Some classes, like economics, have more than one IA. Other classes have an oral assessment, instead, like literature and language. In these oral assessments, students must present an analysis to their teacher. 
    • Exams at the end of the year are writing focused, and oftentimes consisting of different parts.
  • If students wish to only take certain IB classes instead of pursuing the whole diploma, there is not a minimum requirement for scores. Sometimes, colleges award credit for IB diploma classes.
  • Some classes are two years, and exams and IAs typically begin at the start of the second year. Other classes, like IB environmental and economics are only one year, and so the exam and IA take place at the end of that time. 

AP stands for Advanced Placement and is a program from the College Board that provides college-level curriculum to high school students. Students can take any number of AP classes they wish, and many of Riverwood’s social studies classes are offered as advanced placement. AP classes are only available in the United States.

So, what specifically does AP entail?

  • AP has a different curriculum than most classes, setting students up for a final exam at the end of the year for college credit.
  • AP exams are scored on a range of 1-5, with 3 regarded as “passing”. However, these exams do not constitute a Riverwood grade, and therefore do not affect one’s GPA. They are used for college credit.
  • Some AP classes have DBQs (document-based questions) where students have to answer questions based on analyzing a source. Students will practice with these types of questions throughout the year, since they will appear on the final AP exam.
  • LEQs (long-essay questions) are a sort of essay, while SAQs are short answer responses.
  • FRQs are free response questions similar to the structure of an LEQ
  • Students can begin taking AP in their freshman year, and each grade has a varying level of AP classes available. 
  • There is also an emphasis on multiple choice, so exams during the year as well as the final AP exam are very multiple-choice oriented

How do I know if AP or IB is right for me?

  • AP focuses on multiple choice, while IB consists of much more writing
  • IB asks you to think of concepts beyond just the curriculum through the internal assessment, while AP very strictly follows the curriculum in place.
  • The credit you receive at the end of the year for IB classes consists of assignments that you work on throughout the year, while AP is only based on the single exam taken at the end of the year
  • IB diploma fosters a very unique community, since all students have similar expectations and typically take some level of the same classes. On the other hand, because students can pick and choose IB certificate and AP classes, one schedule may feel very distant from another
  • Because many IB classes are over the course of two years, much of the work has very distant deadlines. Students are assigned a project or essay and sometimes have months to work on it. With AP, there is no overarching “big” project or assignment, so the work is due at the time it is taught
  • If you are much better at multiple choice, AP may be more suitable for you. IB requires better time management since work takes much longer to complete.

Am I prepared enough to take on the course load and expectations that come with these types of classes?

  • Pick classes that you are genuinely interested in, as AP and IB requires a lot of critical thinking, and passion for the topic results in better engagement.
  • If you are having trouble understanding the curriculum and applying concepts, taking an AP or IB class in that subject may not be best. However, if you are simply struggling with keeping up with assignments, understand the different time management required for both AP and IB and assess whether or not you can maintain your assignments.
  • Challenge yourself! But, don’t put yourself in a position to fail if you feel very insecure about the subject and the course load. Understand what works best for you.
    • However, what is good about both AP and IB is that there is a lot of flexibility. If you decide to take a class but then find it too challenging, you can alter your schedule and pursue different classes that cater to your needs.

Coming from an IB Diploma candidate, I fully recognize the difficulty of taking such classes. As a senior, I am often drained after particularly daunting assignments and sometimes find myself unmotivated to continue with my work. While I cannot lie and say that pursuing this route isn’t stressful, I have definitely seen rewards that outweigh any sort of challenge. With the IB diploma, I feel much more engaged in my classes and have also developed better relationships with teachers. AP classes have set me up for college in a really valuable way by preparing me for the rigor to be expected after graduation.   

Teachers at Riverwood are so happy to help you figure out what works best for you and your goals. Ask your current teachers about IB and AP and you can also reach out to teachers you may have next year. The IB coordinator, Mrs. Kopkas, is so helpful at working with students to develop plans for junior and senior year of high school, and Mr. Gribble, a Theory of Knowledge teacher, provides excellent assistance in developing Diploma schedules with interested sophomores.  And, feel free to reach out to current students taking classes you may be interested in! They have great insight into the benefits and disadvantages, and would love to offer anyone an honest reflection of their experience. Know that decisions made right now can be changed later, and if you do decide to pursue these higher level classes, know that there is a huge support system behind you, helping you along the way.

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