SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

What Is the IB Curriculum? What Are IB Diploma Requirements?

Posted by Dora Seigel | Jun 2, 2019 2:50:00 PM

International Baccalaureate (IB)



If you're reading this article, I assume you know a little bit about the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. If not, I encourage you to read our other article What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program? before reading this article. As a brief refresher, the IBO started this program in the 1960s to be a rigorous, internationally recognized diploma for entry into universities that students all around the world could earn.

In the US today, there are 873 IB Diploma Programme High Schools. At these schools, some students complete the full IB curriculum in pursuit of an IB Diploma (which I will explain in-depth below).

At some of the schools, students are allowed to take a couple of IB classes without being enrolled in the full IB curriculum (ask your local IB school’s IB coordinator if this is permitted, find their contact information in our article Complete List of IB Schools in the USA, by State).

As an IB Diploma Recipient, I'll discuss what it entails to complete the full IB curriculum and receive your IB Diploma.


What Are the Main Components of the IB Diploma Programme Curriculum?

There are two main components of the IB Curriculum: the class requirements and the core.


The Class Requirements:

To earn an IB diploma, you have to take courses from six subjects, one each from groups 1-5, and either one from group 6 or a substitute from one of the other groups.

  • Group 1: Language A: literature, Language A: language and literature, and Literature and performance.
  • Group 2: Classical languages, Language B, and Language ab initio
  • Group 3: Business management, Economics, Geography, History, Information technology in a global society, Philosophy, Psychology, Social and cultural anthropology, World religions, and Global Politics
  • Group 4: Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Design Technology, Environmental systems and societies, Physics, and Sports, exercise and health science
  • Group 5: Mathematical Studies SL (known as Math Studies), Mathematics SL, Mathematics HL, and Further Mathematics HL
  • Group 6: Dance, Film, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts

For a full list of courses from each group with descriptions, check out our article on The Complete List of IB Courses and Classes. You must take at least 3 at a higher level (study 250 hours instead of 150 hours). Each class culminates in an exam. IB tests are graded on a scale of 1-7 with a 4 considered passing. For more information on this grading scale/score criteria, check out the IBO’s website.




The Core

To complete your diploma programme, you also need to complete what is known as the core in addition to the class requirements above. The core consists of 3 components: a class known as Theory of Knowledge, an essay known as the Extended Essay, and a project known as Creativity, Action, Service.

Theory of Knowledge/TOK: This is a class that is a mix of philosophy, and IB says that the class "encourage[s] students to reflect on the huge cultural shifts worldwide around the digital revolution and the information economy." This class makes you think about what is important to you and think about big world issues.

I LOVED this class! I think your teacher is critical to enjoying the class, and Mr. Fresco, you are the best! For the class, there is no exam. Instead, you write a paper and give an oral presentation. You can take it online through Pamoja Education.

Extended Essay/EE: A 4,000-word mini-thesis. You choose a topic that needs to be approved by IB (which is not very difficult). You get an advisor (an IB teacher preferably at your school, although you can also get access to one at another school through the Pamoja Education).

Write about something you enjoy because you will be spending a lot of time on it. I loved British theatre and ended up writing mine about a revolution in post-WWII British theatre. #theatrenerd. I really encourage anyone who pursues an IB Diploma to take the Extended Essay seriously. I ended up receiving a full-tuition merit scholarship to USC’s School of Dramatic Arts program, and in my interview for the scholarship, I spoke passionately about my Extended Essay. I genuinely think my Extended Essay helped me get my scholarship.

Creativity, Action, Service/CAS: A three-part project that forces you to get involved in extracurricular activities.

  • Creativity, getting involved in something creative, learning an instrument, acting in a play, writing a short story, etc. As long as you can argue it is creative (since you have to do a report), you can use it as your creativity part. I acted in a few plays, which counted for my creativity hours.
  • Action: Generally sports-related activity, sports in a wide sense (could be anything outdoorsy like rock-climbing or hiking). I played on my school’s varsity tennis team and that counted for my activity hours.
  • Service: Think of this as traditional community service, you can volunteer to feed the homeless, host a fundraiser for brain cancer research, host a drive to collect prom dresses for Becca’s Closet, etc.

Are Those All the Requirements to Get Your IB Diploma?

No, you also need to hit certain score markers on your exams in order to get the diploma. You must score 24 points or more between all of your IB exams to get a diploma. If you score 24 points or more, you will receive your diploma if:

  • All CAS requirements have been met.
  • There is no "N" awarded for theory of knowledge, the extended essay, or a contributing subject.
  • There is no grade E awarded for theory of knowledge and/or the extended essay.
  • There is no grade 1 in any subject/level.
  • There are no more than two grade 2s awarded (SL or HL).
  • There are no more than three grade 3s or below awarded (SL or HL).
  • Overall, there are no more than three grades 3 or below.
  • At least 12 points have been gained on higher level subjects (for candidates who register for four higher level subjects, the three highest grades count).
  • At least 9 points have been gained on standard level subjects (candidates who register for two standard level subjects must gain at least 5 points at standard level).
  • The final award committee has not given the candidate a penalty for academic misconduct.





How Difficult Is It to Meet These Standards?

Well, the international IB Diploma Rate (The Diploma Rate is determined by the percentage of the students who receive IB diplomas out of those who were diploma candidates) is only 80%. So, about 20% of students, who complete the IB Curriculum outlined above, do NOT receive an IB Diploma.

Also, the IB Diploma Rate varies drastically between schools (some have 95% diploma rates while others have less than 5% diploma rates), so I recommend contacting the IB school you are considering attending to find out their specific diploma rate. For more information on this, check out our article on Complete List of IB Schools in the USA, by State.


What’s Next?

Trying to figure out what extracurricular you should do? Learn more about participating in Science Olympiad, starting a club, doing volunteer work, and joining Student Government.

Studying for the SAT? Check out our complete guide to the SAT. Taking the SAT in the next month? Check out our guide to cramming.

Not sure where you want to go to college? Check out our guide to finding your target school. Also, figure out your target SAT score or target ACT score.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

Raise Your ACT Score by 4 Points (Free Download)


Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Dora Seigel
About the Author

As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.

Get Free Guides to Boost Your SAT/ACT
100% Privacy. No spam ever.

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!