The conventional, familiar path of the HSC has its place. That being said, parents and students would be foolish not to consider the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IB), if their school offers it. Once you demystify its befuddling acronyms and bewildering structure, what you are left with is a course with serious advantages over the HSC. For students that have the conviction to take the global path, who desire the prestige of an international diploma, who want their hard work in year 12 to open the doors of Oxford and the Sorbonne, the IB is for them. The IB is the HSC with a Passport.
1| International recognition
By completing the IB, not only do you receive an ATAR, allowing you to elect courses at tertiary institutions across Australia, you will also receive an internationally recognised diploma. It’s a two-birds-one-stone scenario. You complete one set of examinations, yet receive recognition for two certifications. This means should you wish to study at Oxford or Cambridge in the UK, Uppsala in Sweden, or Tsinghua University in Beijing, you will not be required to complete local examinations. I should note, for US college options you must still complete the SAT examination.* Does this mean that if you do not wish to study overseas the IB doesn’t offer you much?
2| Professional development
Beyond the IB’s direct tertiary applications, the course itself offers certain benefits in the form of professional and educational development. The IB, unlike the HSC, boasts a holistic schooling experience. Students are required to complete six subjects, one from each of the following six categories: humanities, maths, English, languages, sciences, and arts (optional).** Additionally, they must complete two major works in the form of the Theory of Knowledge Essay (TOK, 1600 words) and their Extended Essay (EE, 4000 words). Moreover, they must dedicate a certain number of hours over the course of the two years to creative endeavours, physical activity, and service to the community (embodied in ‘CAS’). The IB strives to make its students independent and self-directed learners. As such, assessments are designed to reflect the student’s ability to think for themselves, rather than their ability to rote learn. This better prepares students for the independence that accompanies university study.
3| Favourable Conversion rate
By completing the IB you receive an ATAR-convertible IB score. One of the most under-reported benefits of the IB is the extremely favourable conversion you receive. The table below summarises these conversions.
IB Score (out of 45) ATAR
To break it down, a 42/45 and above gets you a 99+ ATAR. A 37/45 and above a 95+ ATAR. And a 33/45 and above gets you a 90+ ATAR. It is important to note the increasing marginal changes experienced as you drop one IB mark against your ATAR conversion. For example, going from a 45 to a 44, your ATAR drops from 99.95 to 99.85 (0.1 change). On the other hand, dropping from a 31 to a 30, sees your ATAR diminish from 87.35 to 84.60 (2.75 change).
So why such a favourable conversion rate? Is the IB simply a superior pie that we should all partake in consuming? Well, there’s no such thing as a ‘free lunch’ in education. As mentioned, by undertaking the IB you are required to complete a wide variety of subjects, as well as additional forms of assessment such as CAS, TOK and EE.*** The favourable conversion is a way of recognising this. To get a 99.95 in the HSC, a student can specialise in their strongest areas. In the IB, you cannot hide behind your specific strengths, you are examined on subjects from 6 different disciplines. You are thus compensated for this with a favourable conversion rate. Hence, if you are naturally an all-rounded student with broad interests, it is likely you will perform better in the IB.
4| Forget the Ranking Rat Race
What I would deem the dux of the superiority of the IB over the HSC as an educative system, is the approach towards learning that it fosters. The HSC’s primary purpose is differentiating students based on performance. This is embodied in the ATAR ranking system. How well you perform is a function of how you compare relative to your peers (internally) and the state (externally). This emphasis on ranking creates a counter-beneficial and excessively competitive environment.
The IB is the only avenue available to students to side-step this option. It places no emphasis on ranking. How well your close peers perform in no way hinders your ability to perform. As such, this nurtures an environment where it is in fact mutually beneficial to cooperate. In a way, the IB experiences the ‘network effect’. Much like the way social-media platforms become more beneficial to the individual user as more people sign up, the more students partake and contribute the better your individual IB results become. This is the idea that underpins certain school’s successes in the IB. For example, MLC produced an enormous ten, perfect IB scores of 45 in 2015 (out of roughly 40 girls sitting the diploma).
Nonetheless, the NSW schooling system is designed to prepare the individual for the final HSC exams, and few teachers – let alone schools – have serious expertise in the IB. To adapt to the unique demands and intellectual rigour of the IB, students would be wise to consider seeking out one-on-one mentorship. To navigate the global path, a bit of guidance can be the key to a successful journey.
*SAT examinations are mandatory for entry into US Colleges. However, most (if not all) colleges view IB as a superior intellectual program. This is because the by completing the IB, you have naturally completed all the requirements of CAS, as well as the TOK and EE. US admissions focus more on holistic applications – i.e. sport, community contributions and extra-curricular activities.
**The Arts category is the only optional category. Should a student not wish to complete an art, they can opt to do another language, humanity or science.
*** TOK and EE are major works that all students are required to complete should they wish to receive their diploma. The TOK and EE combined account for 3 out of the 45 marks that become their final IB grade. CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) is another requirement that IB students must fulfil. It bears no marks, yet failure to complete roughly 200 hours dispersed across the three categories will result in no IB being awarded.