AP vs. IB, which is better?


Cory Ives

In the competitive world that is school, students often look for ways to gain an edge over their fellow students. This often includes partaking in rigorous courses such as those offered by the International Baccalaureate Program (IB)  and Advanced Placement Program (AP). These programs differ  significantly, leaving students  with the question: “Which one is better?” There are many pros and cons to each, and it’s important to be educated in each of them to know how you should proceed with your educational future.

  First, the AP program is much more popular in the U.S. than IB. AP is the most successful educational program in the U.S. with about 70,000 schools offering its program in 2012 whereas the IB Diploma Program is offered by only 918 schools nationwide.

  A misconception about this difference in popularity is that colleges will value students who take AP more than IB because of its reputation and widespread implementation. However, almost every college weighs both programs at an equal level.

  But, the difference in popularity of the programs does have an impact on its perception. Unfortunately, the relatively small IB program is less known by colleges and admission officers. This means that some colleges won’t be fully educated on the IB Program and they might not give it credit where it is due. Some colleges do not give any credit for IB at all and some give it less credit than AP courses. However, it’s important to understand that this is a very small minority of colleges. One must research the college credit allotted for each program before selecting colleges to apply to.

  On the bright side, ignorance of the IB program is drastically decreasing. More and more colleges are educating themselves on the IB program and are providing college credit for those who pass IB tests. So, the IB’s reputation and presence within college admissions is quickly improving year after year.

  Another aspect of the relatively small IB program is its rarity. With a very small percentage of high schools offering the IB Diploma program, students who earn this achievement set themselves apart from other students. “When a university sees a student that did the full (Diploma Program), it will make you stand out. Even compared to a student that was loaded up with AP classes,” said Corban VanDam, the IB program and AP program coordinator for West Ottawa. This rarity can give you an edge over students who take conventional, yet rigorous courses. For some colleges, students with the IB Diploma are given priority admissions over all other students. This doesn’t stop at college admissions either, IB Diploma holders are often given priority in scholarships, honors programs, and internships. Make sure to research which specific opportunities provide this priority.

  Also, the two programs differ in which fundamentals of education they encourage. The IB program places a high emphasis on writing, critical thinking, and life preparedness. “If we’re studying a war or conflict in history, then we have to think like a historian, not just know facts and figures about the war, but really think and examine ‘Why did it happen? What were the causes? How did peace come about?’” VanDam said.

  Because IB focuses more on critical thinking and writing, IB exams aren’t mainly multiple choice. Rather, students are asked to write a response to a certain prompt. These exams are graded by humans, not computers. Although this makes tests less objective, it makes the results more representative of the student’s grasp of a subject. Graders can directly judge the student’s ability through the content of their writing instead of leaving room for chance to affect results, such as guessing on the multiple choice.

  Also, the IB program requires a large research paper and a creativity, action, service (CAS) project be completed to earn the diploma. The research paper is described as “an independent, self-directed piece of research, finishing with a 4,000-word paper” by the official IB website. This taps into the IB focus on writing and its application to day-to-day life in careers. The CAS project is split into three parts. A creative project, such as learning a new piece of music, an activity project, such as learning to rock climb, and a service project, such as setting up a special-olympics basketball league. This taps into the IB focus on critical thinking by making students independently organize and execute their own projects.

  The AP program on the other hand focuses more deeply on memorization, analyzation, and college preparedness. “The mindset is let’s put kids where they are learning at a higher level…The goal is to prepare students for college,” VanDam said. There is no required research paper or CAS Project, but there is a very strict and structured curriculum. To prepare for  AP exams, students must learn certain principles, formulas, methods, or equations. This often means that in-class activities are dictated by having to meet these requirements. So, there is little room to fit in lessons or activities that aren’t going to be on the AP test.

  AP exams are primarily comprised of multiple choice with a few free response questions. This makes the grading process more efficient and objective, and is still proven to test student aptitude accurately. It still somewhat leaves results up to chance by leaving a lot of room for guessing, but is still difficult enough and long enough to make this worry obsolete.

  It may seem like AP is just trying to make students memorize information just to pass a test, which isn’t going to affect student’s futures very much, but this isn’t the case. Rather, the curriculum is designed to make students as prepared for college as possible. Everything from the curriculum, work load, pace of learning, and final exams are all tailored to make sure students are prepared for success at the college level. This is the primary goal of the AP program.

  Another advantage of the AP program is that it provides unlimited freedom for students to choose their schedule. Students can take whatever AP classes they want to, whenever they want to.

  On the other hand, the IB Diploma Program has a very structured and pre-determined schedule that students are required to take to earn the diploma. Students must take an IB English class, an IB foreign language class, an IB history class or Business Management, an IB science class, an IB math class, and an IB art class each year of their 11th and 12th grades to earn their diploma. The IB art class can be substituted with Business Management of IB Physics. They are also required to take a semester of Theory of Knowledge per year. This leaves little room for students to customize their own high school education and really divulge themselves in what they’re interested in. This is because the IB program takes more of a liberal arts approach to schedule choice.

  But, because of the little freedom in schedule choice, the IB Diploma students are grouped together in their schedules. They became a very close-knit community and develop friendships with each other because  they have so many classes together.

  Finally, each program takes a different approach to education. The IB program takes a holistic approach when teaching subjects. Instead of taking one subject and learning only about that subject, IB classes like to associate and integrate other subjects into their learning of a subject.

  AP, on the other hand, focuses on a subject and analyzes it more in depth than IB does. AP does associate learning across subjects, but not as deliberately as IB courses do. Usually, learning in AP classes is fixated on a certain subject and rarely diverts attention from it.

  Obviously, there are many pros and cons to both the AP program and the IB program. There is no uniform favorability of one or the other. It is always an individual choice. One must research and choose what is best for themselves to make the best decision for their future.