Question & Answers: GCSE system And IB


My son is in Year 10 in a leading British curriculum school in Dubai, pursuing his GCSE exams. He is a potential A star student as gauged by his grades achieved in internal exams and as per his teachers’ assessment in various core subjects such as Maths, Sciences (Physics, Chemistry & Biology), English and Economics. We have initiated discussions with him regarding his higher study options as well as possible future career choices. The options he seems to be inclined for are Medicine, Engineering and Law. I would like to know (a.) Should he continue in the GCSE system or should he switch to IB curriculum at higher level based on relative merits for these two system and (b.) Is there any career option for which IB has a definite advantage.


‘ To IB or not to IB ‘ is the question and you are not alone. With the plethora of curriculums available in Dubai along with increased competitiveness in university admissions makes it even more difficult to make the right choice.

To begin with, each curriculum has its own merit and there is no single ‘right’ curriculum. It is an extremely personal choice, unique to every student based on a host of issues and can be different even between siblings. A lot depends on your future plans – what and where do you want to study.

The International Baccalaureate is often considered the epitome of education. Its greatest highlight is its international recognition and acceptance, as it is an exceptionally globalized program. In the IB, your son will have to take up three High level (HL) and three Standard level (SL) courses, which must include Math, a science, English, and at least one foreign language. This offers comprehensiveness and breadth of curriculum but also means that he will be taking up more subjects on the IB than on the A levels. Apart from this, there are three vital components- Theory of Knowledge (TOK), a 4000- word extended essay and 150 hours of CAS (Creativity, Action and Service). These requirements mean that the IB goes beyond academia to include community service, research and extracurricular activities in its efforts to mould more ‘all-rounded’ students.

Should your son do the A-levels, three subjects is the minimum for him to be considered into the top UK institutions. Subjects are graded on a traditional A*-F scale. In the IB, subjects are graded on a scale of 1-7, for a total of 42 points. Including TOK, the extended essay and CAS hours, the maximum a student can score is 45.

The TOK and the extended essay involve large amounts of time spent in researching and working on a wide range of subjects. While the IB provides a broad-based, holistic education, the A levels are designed to help students focus on their individual chosen subjects on the course.

The rigor of the IB program must also be taken into consideration. It is an extremely challenging program due to its constant assessments and its holistic approach. Many students opt for A levels where they can focus on a few topics, especially if they do not want to jeopardize the chance of not doing well in a certain subject. The curricula is fairly similar, but the A level provides far greater insight in its courses.

As far as university admissions are concerned the IB’s impact on applications is a mixed bag. While the Ivy Leagues and top US colleges look at it more favorably than any other education system, in the UK only the elite institutions will give it more weight than the A levels. For instance, an institution such as LSE requires a minimum of 38 (out of 45) from the IB, or A*AA (with an A* in Maths).

If your son is planning to study in the US, the IB is without a doubt the choice to pursue. Not only is it a positive impact on his application, but also it will help prepare him for the US college system, which is fundamentally similar to IB, incorporating research and multiple disciplines. This &#39all-round&#39 aspect of the IB is seen extremely favorably by US colleges.

At this stage, all future career choices are guesses rather than certainties. The IB allows for a more foundational support for your son if he wishes to change jobs or is unsure of his career prospects, due to its comprehensive nature. However, the A-levels provide a more streamlined knowledge base, so should he decide in college that a certain course is not for him, he will find it difficult to change streams.

To summarize, the IB is an all-encompassing education that will help you develop yourself as a confident and a globally aware individual. The A levels will also serve you well, especially considering your current academic trend, as it will provide a more focused approach once you have chosen your subject of study. I guess you need to weigh your priorities and make your decision.

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