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How Difficult is the International Baccalaureate?

When you tell someone that you’re considering taking the International Baccalaureate (IB), one of the first things they might say is, “The IB is hard! Are you sure that’s what you want to do?!” So, is the IB really that difficult? While commonly seen in countries like the US and Canada, it’s also it’s highly coveted in international schools in China and the rest of the world, appearing in educational institutes in 156 countries. If your school is offering the programme or you’re interested in taking it, here’s how you might want to start preparing.

The IB is intense

Part of the IB’s “difficulty” comes from its intensity. Studying the IB involves taking classes from six subject groups and must take at least three subjects at “Higher Level (HL)”. HL courses have at least 240 instructional hours, while “Standard Level (SL)” courses have at least 150 hours of instructional time. Both SL and HL courses span the two years of the DP. HL courses typically include additional elements that allow students to explore areas of interest in more depth. This is a clear indication for universities that if you can handle IB HL subjects, you’re likely to succeed at university. On top of these subjects, you’ll also need to write an extended essay and participate in Theory of Knowledge (TOK) and Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) classes.

The IB approach seeks to develop well-rounded students who can draw connections between the different subjects. This can be demanding. Students are pretty much required to be qualified “all-rounders” — aka good at most subjects. While this can be a challenge for some students, it is very well received by universities. So, it’s important to think about whether you are the kind of student who thrives on challenges from a variety of subjects or whether you might find it difficult to divide your time like this.

The amount of time you need to dedicate

It will take around 20-30 hours for you to finalize a draft of an assessment for one of your subjects. The same goes for writing your Theory of Knowledge essay and assessment. You also need to prepare for oral exams and presentations.

To get all of this work done, it’s likely you’ll need to work on the weekends along with the time you’ll dedicate during the week. On top of all your classes, you’ll need to plan to spend around 300 hours or more on coursework. This can all be a bit much if you’re not prepared for it. So, think long and hard if you’re the kind of person that is capable of this level of self-discipline.

The step up from Year 1 to Year 2

This is another part of the IB that is viewed as difficult. The IB course is two years long. During the first year, you’re mostly getting accustomed to the course. Year 2 involves focusing on completing the extended essay, the internal assessments, and more. All of these assignments, along with the final exams, can be a little overwhelming. For these reasons, it’s important to fully concentrate and focus during the first year, to take a little bit of pressure off in the second year.

I want to study the IB; how should I go about it?

The subject combination you choose is important — it’s a good idea to pick subjects you know you’re interested in so you won’t mind giving up your free time to study. However, regardless of subjects, the IB can still be tough if you’re not in the right mind for it. Luckily, IB teachers are typically very aware of the challenges this curriculum presents to students and are very good at offering the right level of support.

You must choose a competent school that offers the IB curriculum. Due to the demand for IB graduates at top universities, the IB curriculum’s popularity is certainly growing, with more and more schools offering it. This means you need to be extra careful when choosing an IB school.


With all this said, it’s important to note that succeeding in the IB curriculum does indeed open up an abundance of doors to future education and employment. If you think you have the self-discipline needed to succeed in an IB programme, then it is well in your interests to go after this esteemed curriculum.

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