IB or the HSC? Understanding the Difference

The International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma is a standardised two-year university preparation course undertaken in years 11 and 12 as an alternative to the HSC.

Established in Switzerland in 1968, the IB stresses critical reasoning and breadth of knowledge over specialisation and rote learning. Its raison d’etre is to prepare students for success in a globalised economy.

All diploma students must study literature and a second language, as well as an experimental science, mathematics, and a humanities subject. A sixth subject of their choosing — either from the creative arts or a second academic subject — is also required.

The unique aspect of the IB is seen in its three “core” elements: the Theory of Knowledge component, in which students study the nature of knowledge and its acquisition; the Extended Essay, a 4000-word independent research paper; and the Creativity, Activity, Service project, a learn-through-experience assignment in which students set themselves a significant personal challenge to surmount under the guidance of a supervisor.

Two practical aspects set the IB apart from the HSC. The IB exam mark is not scaled so there is no ceiling on the number of students who can achieve a perfect grade of 45, which converts to a 99.95 ATAR. Only 0.5% of HSC students can achieve the maximum ATAR due to scaling. And the IB diploma has no provision for vocational subjects.

When it comes to choosing between the HSC and the IB diploma, Redlands school, the first in NSW to offer the IB diploma in 1988, advises parents to take into account their child’s natural inclinations. The IB is better suited to “all-rounder” students due to the second language, maths and science requirements. As well, students will need to develop excellent time management and organisational skills to succeed to the best of their ability, the school says.

Trinity Grammar offers similar advice, saying that “between the HSC or IB there is no wrong answer. The decision should take into account a student’s interests and which course is better suited to them. Both courses offer rich opportunities for learning.”

In NSW, the IB diploma is only offered at select independent schools. For more information on the International Baccalaureate and participating Australian schools see the organisation’s website: http://www.ibo.org/

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