International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma

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International Baccalaureate Diploma

Qualification family also includes:

  • IBO Level 3 Certificate in Higher Level (HL) subjects
  • IBO Level 3 Certificate in Standard Level (SL) subjects
  • IBO Level 3 Certificate in Extended Essay
  • IBO Level 3 Certificate in Theory of Knowledge
  • UK
  • International

The IB Diploma programme aims to provide an academically challenging and balanced programme of education with final examinations that prepare students for success in higher education and life beyond.

It has been designed to address the intellectual, social, emotional and physical well-being of students.

Education context

The IB Diploma programme is awarded by the IBO, a Swiss-based charitable foundation, established in Geneva in 1968.

Initially designed as a programme for students in international schools, IB Diploma examinations were first taken by about 300 candidates in 11 schools in 1970.

In 2016, internationally there were 159,000 students completing IB Diploma programme exams in around 2,500 schools, including approximately 5,000 students attending UK schools.

IB Diploma students follow a broad range of Higher Level (HL) and Standard Level (SL) subjects over the two years of the programme, but can at the same time specialise in those subject areas of greatest interest to them.

Students are expected to develop the critical thinking skills, independent learning styles and knowledge of academic research that are expected for successful university level study.

They are also expected to consider the nature of knowledge, engage in community service and promote international understanding, valuing cultural diversity.

Awarding organisation
  • IBO
Qualification code

Three subjects (or occasionally four) are studied at Higher Level (HL) and three subjects (occasionally two) at Standard Level (SL).

All subjects are two-year linear courses, with examinations in May of the second year (Year 13).

The IB also offers another examination session in November for students based in the southern hemisphere.

Diploma candidates may choose to take at most two Standard Level subjects after the first year of study. However, this is unusual in the UK (although more common in schools in the US).

Candidates are allowed at most three different examination sessions in which to gain their Diploma.

It is possible for candidates to enter individual subjects, the Extended Essay or Theory of Knowledge and receive certificates for these on their own, without obtaining the full Diploma.

Individual subjects are known as IB Diploma courses. Increasing numbers of students are following this pathway, particularly from international schools and those offering the related IB Careers-related Programme (CP).

Subject areas

The subjects available for study are divided into six groups:

  • Group 1: a literature course or a language & literature course in the student’s best language
  • Group 2: second language course (a modern or classical language)
  • Group 3: individuals and societies, including history, geography and economics
  • Group 4: experimental sciences, including biology, chemistry and physics
  • Group 5: mathematics and computer sciences, including two Standard Level courses (mathematical studies and mathematics standard) and two Higher Level courses (mathematics Higher Level and further mathematics Higher Level)
  • Group 6: the arts, including visual arts, music and theatre.

Students must study one subject from each of groups 1 to 5. Their sixth subject may come from Group 6, or be a second choice from one of the other groups, or be an authorised school-devised syllabus.

IB Diploma students will normally study three of the above subjects at Higher Level and three at Standard Level.

All IB Diploma students also complete the Diploma Core: this consists of a course in epistemology called Theory of Knowledge and a 4,000 word academic Extended Essay; both of these elements are graded. Students also complete a programme of Creativity, Activity and Service during which is not examined but is tracked internally through a reflective journal.

  • Level 3

Level 3 - acceptable as a group qualification satisfying general HE entrance requirements.

As two-year linear courses, higher level subjects are comparable with A levels and standard level with AS Level  


The grades awarded for each subject range from 1 (lowest) to 7 (highest) at both Higher and Standard Level.

The IBO does not identify pass grades in individual subject courses but does require a minimum of 24 points in total to be awarded to achieve the Diploma.

The award of the Diploma is subject to a number of conditions which are detailed below.

Students are also awarded up to three additional points their combined results in the Diploma Core, consisting of Theory of Knowledge and the Extended Essay. These components are marked on an A to E scale and then converted to numerical points through the application matrix.

The highest total that a Diploma programme student can be awarded is 45 points. (42 from six subjects plus three from the Core).

The IB Diploma will be awarded to a candidate provided all the following requirements have been met:

  • CAS requirements have been met.
  • The candidate’s total points are 24 or more.
  • There is no “N” awarded for theory of knowledge, the extended essay or for a contributing subject.
  • There is no grade E awarded for theory of knowledge and/or the extended essay.
  • There is no grade 1 awarded in a subject/level.
  • There are no more than two grade 2s awarded (HL or SL).
  • There are no more than three grade 3s or below awarded (HL or SL).
  • The candidate has gained 12 points or more on HL subjects (for candidates who register for four HL subjects, the three highest grades count).
  • The candidate has gained 9 points or more on SL subjects (candidates who register for two SL subjects must gain at least 5 points at SL).
  • The candidate has not received a penalty for academic misconduct from the Final Award Committee.

For all subjects, there are three or four assessment components, with one of them being internally assessed coursework.

The examination papers take a variety of forms, short answer, structured response or essay type questions but there are also data analysis papers, text commentary papers and case study papers. Multiple-choice questions are used in paper 1 in the Sciences.

Some subjects have a component that is written in school and then externally assessed.

The Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge essay are produced under coursework conditions and are also externally assessed.

Externally assessed work is marked by examiners around the world, whose marking is moderated by sample re-marking. All assessment is by marked through e-marking.

Moderation by sample re-marking is also applied to internal assessment.

Grade award meetings are held by the senior examiners for each subject to determine final grade boundaries on a component basis.

Contribution of assessment components to overall grade

Points from Standard, Higher and Core subjects are added together to make the Diploma points score.

The maximum possible Diploma points score is therefore 45. Candidates who gain at least 24 points, subject to certain conditions relating to the distribution of grades, are awarded the Diploma.

The contribution of assessment methods to overall marks varies across subjects. For example, geography at Higher Level involves an external written examination covering core theme (25%), an external written examination covering optional themes (50%) and a field work report of 2,500 words which is internally assessed (25%). 24% of the assessment for chemistry is carried out as an experimental investigation which is marked by the student's classroom teacher and externally moderated.

Resit arrangements

Students can retake IB subjects in their entirety in either November or May.

Candidates have a maximum of three examination sessions in which to obtain the Diploma.

Guided/notional learning hours
IB Diploma (Ofqual register): 2405 hours
Higher Level Courses (Ofqual register): 360 hours
Standard Level courses (Ofqual register): 225 hours
Core (extended essay 50, Theory of knowledge 100, CAS 150): 300 hours
Guided/notional learning hours notes

240 teaching hours IBO documents

UCAS Tariff points

IBO Certificate in Higher Level

Grade Points
H7 56
H6 48
H5 32
H4 24
H3 12
H2 0
H1 0

IBO Certificate in Standard Level

Grade Points
S7 28
S6 24
S5 16
S4 12
S3 6
S2 0
S1 0

IBO Certificate in Extended Essay

Grade Points
A 12
B 10
C 8
D 6
E 4

IBO Certificate in Theory of Knowledge

Grade Points
A 12
B 10
C 8
D 6
E 4


Key issues for UK HE admissions

Many universities making offers specify both an overall IB point score (or range) and specific points to be achieved in higher level subjects.

A number of universities are now setting the same total points entry requirement for every subject with differing points to be achieved in the higher level subjects.

DfE equivalences published in the 16-19 Accountability Measures indicate that 45 points is equivalent to 5 A* at A Level, 24 points is equivalent to 5 Ds. In the higher level individual courses 7 is equivalent to A Level A* and 3 equivalent to E. In the standard level individual courses, 7 is equivalent to AS Level A and 3 equivalent to E.

IB statistics show that average point scores and pass marks have remained consistent over time (2012 average grade 29.8, 2016 30.0)

About 79% of Diploma students internationally are awarded the Diploma each examination session.

In the May 2016 exam 0.27% of candidates achieved 45 points whilst 7.3% achieved 40 or more.

Internationally 67% of IB students attend state schools; however in the UK the current figure is 40% (May 2016).

Timing of assessments/results for learners

There are two examination sessions per year, in May and November.

IB results are published on 5 July each year (May exam session) and 5 January (November exam session) .

Qualification dates notes

This qualification is current. The basic structure of the Diploma Programme (six subject groups with three additional core requirements) has remained unchanged since its introduction

Reporting and certification information

For summary statistics of the Diploma Programme examination session, and comparisons with previous years, see IB’s latest statistical bulletin on the IBO website

These statistics show that internationally the average IB point score and pass mark have remained consistent over time.  Details are available in the World Statistical Bulletin (see above).

Further information

The UK network of schools and colleges offering the IB Diploma (IBSCA) publishes an annual guide for universities, available at

All the statistics in this profile have been provided by the IBO. The IB publishes an annual world statistical bulletin following each exam session, which is available at

For more details visit