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The difference between International Baccalaureate Physics and Cambridge A Level Physics?

By August 19, 2022A Level Physics

When deciding on a Junior College, students and their parents alike must contemplate the difference between A Levels and the International Baccalaureate (IB) curricula. This article will hopefully shed some light on the key components of the IB Physics curriculum which are not present in the Cambridge A Levels.

IB stands for International Baccalaureate. It was founded back in 1968 and offers high-quality, challenging educational programmes at 3 different levels in Singapore: the IB Diploma Programme (IB DP), for students aged 16 to 19; the IB Middle Years Programme (IB MYP) for students aged 11 to 16; and the IB Primary Years Programme (IB PYP) for students aged 3 to 12. IB is known for its high academic standards and for helping to nurture truly global, 21st-century citizens. The curriculum it offers holds a great emphasis on creativity and imagination. Its students are encouraged to take a truly global view in every sense, as the belief is that learning should be centered around considering the nature of human thought and developing skills. Not just to memorise facts, but to analyse your own thinking and efforts.

In the IB curriculum, students can take subjects at either Higher Level (HL) or Standard Level (SL). In Singapore schools that offer the IB diploma, students typically take 3 HL and 3 SL subjects, so as to not overburden them.

For physics, like most other IB subjects, there is a greater emphasis on independent research, assignment writing, and experimental work, compared to the Cambridge A Levels. Students will undertake their various assignments, experimental work, and research projects, all the while studying for their major written exams scheduled at the end of the two-year IB programme. This allows them to have a more holistic perspective of physics education.

Individual Assessments for Higher and Standard Level Subjects

Both HL and SL subjects have Individual Assessments (IAs) which comprise at least 20% of the subject grade. These Individual Assessments can be externally or internally assessed by the school itself. For example, the Physics subject for both HL and SL has a Physics IA component where students must choose a topic of interest and develop a project around it.

Physics Extended Essay

The Extended Essay is a 4000-word essay written by the student independently with the guidance of an Extended Essay mentor. This essay must be from one of the student’s Higher-Level subjects and it must be independently researched. For example, if the student’s chosen subject is Physics, he/she must undertake the relevant experimentation on his own, designing his methodology. There will be opportunities for the student to check in with the Extended Essay mentor and submit reflections about the process so that the student knows he is going on the right track.

The Composition of Final Grades

For both IB diplomas or A-levels, students are required to take a final exam at the end of their two years.
But there is a difference in the weightage of this final exam.
For A-levels, the final exam carries the full weightage of the final grade that will be reflected on the graduate’s certificates.
This means that this final exam will determine everything. Their academic performance over the school year, no matter how good or bad, won’t matter on the grades reflected on the academic transcript.
Contrastingly, IB students have consistency in internal assessments and extended essays which are key to a good final grade.
Besides the final exams, there are additional coursework components that count toward an IB student’s final grades. This coursework is usually completed over a few months and will require students to do their own independent research.
To conclude, students must decide for themselves whether they are willing to undertake these additional components instead of devoting their full time and energy to preparing for a major exam at the end of two years. Students more suited for the IB diploma are creative, unafraid to think outside the box, and good at time management.