How Difficult is IB Program? Let’s Find Out

Many high school students enroll in Advanced Placement and A-Levels because they aren’t as complex as the IB program. But how difficult is the IB program that so many students try so much to avoid it or drop out of the course later?

IB is difficult because it requires a lot of work. The four assignments, which are Theory of Knowledge, Internal Assessment, Extended Essay, and CAS projects, are so stressful, as they demand hours of reading, writing, and community service participation.

While the IB diploma program has its rewards, it’s the most difficult compared to alternative programs.

Key Takeaways

  • International Baccalaureate is a rigid education framework with a strict set of assessment criteria for every IB assignment.
  • The program requires a lot of work and offers students less free time. 
  • Many students opt not to enroll in IB and many that do drop out in the first year due to stress and program intensity.

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What’s in the IB Program?

First, let’s make sure you understand what the IB program is all about before we look at how difficult it is.

Ideally, IB is a comprehensive education framework developed to train and nurture high school students to become confident, caring, and knowledgeable people.

The program, which runs form a duration of 2 years, has a series of assignments that students must complete to earn a high school diploma. These are:

  • Internal assessments
  • An extended essay
  • Theory of Knowledge exhibition
  • CAS project
  • Theory of Knowledge essay

Teachers and IB examiners grade these assignments based on different criteria rooted on the organization’s academic guidelines.

How Difficult is the IB Program?

To explain how difficult the IB program is, we have to start by looking at the overall dropout rate.

Let’s take the 2020 stats, for example.

In that year alone, more than 170,000 students in 158 countries completed the IB diploma course. That number has gone up since to show just how popular the diploma program has become.

Yet despite its global reputation, and especially for being a strict and rigorous education framework, its intensity actually bothers students.

A study published on research gate reveals that students that enroll in the IB end up with significantly more stress than those who take the standard secondary program. Other researches show that, because of the difficulty of the course, the dropout rate has shot up to as high as 50%.

Many students who choose to stay in the program end up dropping out of IB in their first year. Others give up after a few months into the second year. Still, others hold on to the view that they had rather go for the secondary diploma instead.

Clearly, these numbers are scary. In fact, owing to its complexity, the enrollment to the program isn’t an option for academically weak students. Also, those who don’t have the interest to study hard subjects prefer AP to IB

IB Diploma Dropout Rate Explained

The dropout rate in the IB Program varies among schools, but it has consistently remained above 50% over the years.

Students often leave the program due to its perceived difficulty and stress levels, along with the substantial workload.

Some students opt out of the program within the initial days. Approximately 7 out of 15 quit within the first year. Others decide to discontinue their participation after about a year and a half.

In our study, we found that IB is a complex and challenging program that demands patience, hard work, and discipline, and many students aren’t willing to make such sacrifices. The few that stay in the course often attest to the program’s long-term benefits in college.

What Makes IB Diploma Program Difficult

IB is challenging because it encompasses six subjects.

Students have the freedom to choose whatever subjects they want to study, provided their selection follow the established guideline.

Specifically, one has to study three subjects at Standard Level and three at Higher Level. One will have to write up to 5 internal assessments and sit for exams for each of the subject.

It doesn’t end there.

Every IB student must write a Theory of Knowledge essay, complete CAS project, do a ToK exhibition, and submit a 4,000-word extended essay.

All these demand significant effort, and struggling in one or more can adversely affect one’s overall score. As discussed in the student forum, the breadth of subjects is a key factor contributing to the program’s difficulty.

Why We Think IB is a Difficult Program

Here’s why we think IB is as difficult as the rate of dropout shows it is:

1. IB’s Workload is Insane

You read that right, and you won’t have room for procrastination as you enter the second year of the program. You will have to: 

  • Dedicate 20 hours to Theory of Knowledge essay.
  • Spend 30 hours working on your internal assessments.
  • Invest 40 hours on extended essay, which includes three reflection sessions with a supervisor.
  • Spread 150 hours over the two-year period to work on CAS.
  • Dedicate 30 hours to complete the Theory of Knowledge exhibition.

That’s a lot of work for one person, but you must complete all that to earn a diploma.

2. Advanced Placement is Easier

Based on the research we conducted and the data that we have, many students enroll in Advanced Placement because it’s easier than IB. See the table below:

1.StructureHas a strict structure with a systematic examination standardIs flexible with no established global standard for its candidates
2.FocusFocuses on depth and thus requires more elaborate studiesThe program focuses breadth instead of depth
3.ActivitiesStudents must take CAS and Theory of KnowledgeThe program doesn’t have extracurricular activities
4.KnowledgeDoesn’t focus on retaining facts but stresses on critical and analytical thinkingIt places more stress on embracing knowledge and facts

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