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A Levels vs International Baccalaureate: What are the Advantages?

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This post is brought to you in part by Epsom College.

Although every parent wants to help their child reach their full academic potential, it can be difficult deciding which school leaving qualification should be pursued.

There are arguments supporting the International Baccalaureate (IB) as well as A Levels, and because of this, it is hard to determine what approach will give the student the best competitive edge for entering their choice of university, as well as the most edifying educational experience.

To help clear up some of the confusion, it is first important to identify the main differences between IB and A Levels.

Overview of the International Baccalaureate and A-Level Curriculums

Students undertaking an IB curriculum typically study six subject groups. Three of these are at a high level (with more teaching hours devoted to them) and the other three at a standard level.

To complete the IB, the student must also complete a Theory of Knowledge Course (TOK), an extended essay, as well as a separate mandatory programme that emphasises Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS).

In contrast, the A-Level approach can really benefit students who have a passion for a particular subject or a desired career trajectory. Students undertaking the A level curriculum typically have the option of choosing three to four subjects from a list of more than 40.

The A-Level study programme is divided into Advanced Subsidiary (AS Level) and A2, with 50% of the student’s final grades coming from each of these. Critical exams as well as coursework are carried out in both AS and A2, though there can also separate endorsements for practical skills and the option of an Extended Project Qualification.

Whereas IB is graded on levels ranging from 7 to 1, A-Levels follow the standard and more widely-recognised A-E format.

Although there is much to be said about the IB system (particularly that it can favour students with a wide spectrum of talents) there are numerous advantages to choosing A-Levels. Here are some of the major reasons for taking A-Levels.

Advantages of Taking A-Levels

Less stress

Unlike IB, taking A-Levels leaves students more time for co-curricular and recreational activity (not to mention family time). Though some may believe that a more rigorous schedule of study might create a better outcome, the added stress levels this entails can be detrimental. This is why A-Levels are ideal for students who feel that balancing their study time with other subjects that they enjoy is conducive to acquiring better grades and enjoying a more enriching pre-university education.

Flexible options

Developments within the A-Level programme over the past few decades has made it just as wide-reaching in scope, satisfactorily challenging and edifying as anything IB offers. Much like IB’s Extended Essay component, A-Level students have the choice of pursuing an Extended Project Qualification.

Worth half an A-Level, this qualification gives students the ability to write about their choice of topic and acquire study tools that will serve them very well throughout their university years.

Stellar success

UK research has determined that students who pursue A-Levels are more likely to get into their first or second choice of university than their peers undertaking IB. Statistics gathered in 2011 showed that the success rate for A-Level students was 81% compared to the 69% success rate for IB Students.

Wider recognition

Universities throughout the United Kingdom, Malaysia and beyond continue to highly value the academic currency of A-Levels and its traditional grading system. In both Malaysia and the UK, the majority of applicants pursued A-Levels.

Higher specialisation

As touched on earlier, A-Levels better allows students to choose the subjects they are really passionate about and focus on them. For example, a student passionate about getting into a science-related field can choose two or three other science subjects while specialising in Maths. IB, by comparison, makes it mandatory for students to undertake a broad range of subjects.

One of the main criticisms leveled at A-Levels was that, unlike IB, the programme did not differentiate between top performers. However, the introduction of the A* grade at A-Level in 2010 now means that the highest-performing students receive the recognition they deserve.

This post was contributed in part by Epsom College in Malaysia.  You can find out more about Epsom at

"ExpatGo welcomes and encourages comments, input, and divergent opinions. However, we kindly request that you use suitable language in your comments, and refrain from any sort of personal attack, hate speech, or disparaging rhetoric. Comments not in line with this are subject to removal from the site. "


Sharon Bakar

Expat Go Malaysia “Some people associate books with education”. You don’t say!

It is a lovely photo (my favourite bookshop anywhere) but its placement implies that it is a library in an institution of learning.

Expat Go Malaysia

Hi Frederique Bascou Idri. Thanks. Yes, this is a Sponsored Story to help raise awareness of a school by giving one opinion. We identify all Sponsored Content through three parts: the author tag (i.e. Expat Go Creative), the first sentence (i.e. This is brought to you by…), and the category label (i.e. Sponsored Editorial). We’ve noted your point about the title, and we’ll take your feedback into consideration for future stories. Essentially, the story is meant to show why some perceive advantages with A Levels over IB, according to one perspective – our client, as indicated. However, we certainly welcome other opinions from businesses (via Sponsored Content, which helps fund our operations) or from professional writers (via Contributions, which we pay for). If you or people you know have an interest to contribute a story, you can learn about how to pitch a story to us here: We appreciate your input.

Frederique Bascou Idri

thanks for ur comment too…i understand some
people prefer A level but the title of the article IB vs A level is absolutely not right…it was just an article done to promote a school….and knowing many teachers who have done both, they will all tell you that IB is way more challenging and more rewarding for the future of our kids….

Expat Go Malaysia

Thanks for giving your input Sharon Bakar. Some people associate books with education, and it’s a nice photo. Thus, it was used to complement the article.

Expat Go Malaysia

Hi Frederique Bascou Idri. Thanks for the comment. Some people believe IB is better than A Levels, and some people believe A Levels is better than IB. This article is sponsored by Epsom College and outlines why some would prefer A Levels.

Expat Go Malaysia

Thanks for sharing Carole Thompson.

Edward Ong

This is a biased article written by someone who’s obviously pro-A Levels. I’ve been an IB instructor for 17 years and I can just as easily give you as many reasons as to why you should be doing the IB, if you care about personal development, rather than A Levels. It’s written by Epsom College Malaysia, which claims to offer ‘the best of British education.’ In short, it’s an advertorial.

Edward Ong

You’re welcome. Lots of these sneaky advertorials in Malaysia!

Expat Go Malaysia

Hi Edward Ong. Thanks for the feedback. Yes, this is an article sponsored by Epsom College, as indicated by the author field, first sentence on the page, and category tag labelled “Sponsored Editorial”. There are some people who prefer A Levels and some who prefer IB. This article outlines reasons why some people would prefer A Levels. If you’d like to write an article about IB, feel free to submit a pitch to us. Here are the details on our contributors page:

Edward Ong

Expat Go Malaysia Thank you very much for giving IB a fair chance.

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