The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive changes to schools around the world, and IB has worked to adapt to those changes. In this guide to IB changes for 2021, we answer the following questions:
- What will the 2021 IB exams be like?
- Will students even be taking IB exams?
- Will students still receive IB diplomas? Will colleges still accept IB credit?
- How can students prepare for IB exams during the pandemic?
What Are the IB Changes for May 2021?
In February, IB announced the options IB schools have for the May 2021 IB exams. There are three main paths schools can choose from. Note that it is the school that chooses, not individual students. So, if you're a student at an IB school, you won't get to decide if you're taking a written exam, going the non-exam route, or deferring exams. IB has already begun contacting schools to learn which route they'll take, and schools are expected to make their decision by the end of March.
Option 1: Written ExamsFor the May 2021 IB exams, schools can hold traditional written IB exams for IB students. According to IB, a January 2021 survey indicated that 71% of IB schools reported the ability to hold traditional exams in May, so most schools are expected to choose this option.
Option 2: Non-Exam Route
For schools unable to hold written exams, there is also a non-exam option. For this route, IB will use a combination of grades students have already received for the course, as well as teacher-predicted grades, to determine students' scores. For example, say most of your scores in your mathematics class are 5s and 6s. Your teacher would note that's where you're currently scoring, and then they'd make an estimate of how they'd expect you to score on an IB exam, possibly using other information to make their decision. For example, you might have made a lot of improvements recently and/or your teacher knows you're struggling with additional challenges due to the pandemic. That could cause them to round your scores up to a 6. They'd submit that information to IB, who will make a final decision as to what your IB score will be. (Though it'll likely be a 6 or very close to it.)
In explaining their grading system, IB states, "IB will recommend generous guidelines within which teachers will be asked to submit their predictions. Where teachers feel these predicted grade distributions are not aligned with student performance, the IB is developing a process that will allow schools to request a different grade distribution and provide evidence that supports their claim. This will form part of the predicted grade process in February and March."
Option 3: Deferring Exams
IB Schools also have the option of deferring their May 2021 exams until November 2021 or May 2022.
What Will IB Exams Be Like This Year?
If your school decides to take the exam route and offer written exams, the written exams themselves will keep the format and content they've had in previous years. There may be changes in terms of where you take the test in order to follow social distancing guidelines, but that will be determined by your school.
If you'll be taking a test that includes an oral language assessment, the IB is advising teachers to conduct these using video calls. The IB recommends that students receive the questions/abstract, be monitored as they review the information for a set amount of time, then conduct the assessment via video with their teacher.
If your exam was meant to have a listening component, the IBO has delayed the implementation of listening components for IB language exams to 2022.
If you're supposed to give a presentation for DP theory of knowledge (TOK), extended essay (EE) and global politics HL internal assessments, IB recommends students give these using a video conference tool such as Zoom or Skype.
As for grading, IB is taking steps to ensure that students receive grades as close as possible to what they would have received had education not been so disrupted. This includes using past score averages and trends to ensure students aren't penalized by lower average exam grades in 2020 and 2021. In explaining how they will award grades, IB states:
Basically, the IB is doing their best to ensure grades are fair and take the external circumstances of the pandemic into account so that students who take IB exams this year don't receive lower grades, on average, compared to previous years.
How Will These Changes Affect IB Diplomas?
IB is doing their best to make sure IB students still receive IB diplomas, even if their coursework and final exams have been disrupted. Students who complete the IB diploma requirements will receive their diploma, even if some of their courses were virtual and/or their school chose the non-exam route for 2020 and/or 2021 IB exams. IB is still awarding diplomas and will continue to do so, despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Will Colleges Still Accept IB Credit?
Yes, the vast majority of colleges have been and continue to keep their same IB credit policies despite the changes due to COVID-19. As a random sampling, here are the webpages for Georgetown University, the University of California system, University of Central Florida, and Cornell University stating they will still accept IB credit the way they have in years past.
In general, colleges try not to penalize students for circumstances beyond their control (such as global pandemics). It wouldn't be fair for students to not get IB credit because of massive upheaval to education systems, and students are still learning in their IB classes, so colleges that have previously accepted IB credit will continue to do so, whether your high school goes the exam or non-exam route.
How to Prep for IB During COVID
IB exams are known for being tough, and taking them during a pandemic doesn't make them any easier. However, the basic tips still apply: being prepared will help you feel more confident, and it will likely give you a better shot at getting a high score. Follow these three tips to prepare for your IB exams.
#1: Know Which Route Your School Is Taking
As we mentioned earlier, students don't get to decide whether they'll go the exam route or the non-exam route for IB tests. That's a decision IB teachers/administrators at your school will make, and everyone at your school will follow the same route. About three-quarters of IB schools have indicated they'll go with the exam route, but that doesn't necessarily mean your school will. Expect the decision to be made sometime in March and, as soon as you know, begin your plan of attack. If your school is going the exam route, then you'll prepare for IB exams the way you normally would. If your school is going the non-exam route, that means it's especially important to do well on all IB projects throughout the rest of the year, as your teacher will use those grades to give a predicted score that'll factor into your final IB score.
#2: Create a Study Schedule
The pandemic has caused upheaval in most people's day-to-day lives. You likely spent some of the school year learning virtually and had to figure out how to learn over a screen in your own house. With all of these changes, it's more important than ever to create a study schedule to help you be prepared for IB exams. Planning out a schedule early on helps you see how much time you'll need to devote to IB preparation, and it can make you more likely to stick to studying when the time comes. How many hours and weeks you want to devote to studying is up to you, but we recommend creating a schedule where you study at the same times each week. This makes it more of a habit and increases the likelihood of you sticking to it.
#3: Ask for Help When You Need It
This year was tough for a lot of students. You had to adapt to new technology, new ways of learning, and the pandemic might have caused other challenges for you outside the classroom. Teachers understand how difficult it has been for students, and they want to do what they can to make things easier. So ask for help when you need it! The sooner you ask for help, the better. With virtual or hybrid learning, it's especially easy to get very behind in a subject because you're not interacting as much as you would in a classroom. That means that, when you find yourself struggling with IB material, ask a classmate or your teacher for help. Doing this early and often will prevent you from being overwhelmed with work you don't understand.
Summary: IB Changes 2021
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, IB is offering three options for IB schools for 2021 IB exams:
- #1: Normal written exams
- #2: Non-exam route
- #3: Deferring exams to fall 2021 or spring 2022
Most schools have indicated they'll still be holding written exams. If your school chooses to take the non-exam route, your teacher will estimate what your IB exam score would have been based on your other class grades, and they'll submit that information to IB, who will then award a final score. Note that it is schools that decide which route to take, not IB students.
IB is still awarding diplomas, even for students whose schools have chosen the non-exam route, and colleges are still following their standard procedures for accepting IB credit, regardless of which exam route a student's school has chosen. So although this school year has likely been full of challenges, you will still receive the diploma and credit you would have in a regular year.
Are you hoping to squeeze in some extra IB classes? Learn about the IB courses offered online by reading our guide.
What classes do you need to take to get an IB Diploma? Learn all about IB curriculum by reading our guide on IB diploma requirements.
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.