Which subjects do I have to take for the IB DP? How many subjects do I need to study at Higher Level? When are IB DP exams held? Moving into the IB Diploma Programme can be an intimidating thought but knowing what to expect can really help.
The IB Diploma Program is typically completed over a two academic years. For the majority of those that take the IB it starts in August/September of Year 1, rolls all the way through a second calendar year, and finishes with exams in April/May of third third year. So, if you started in September 2023, your last exam would be in April/May 2025.
Note there is also a smaller January cohort for the IB DP. Students that started the IB DP in January 2023 would finish their last exam in November 2024.
In the UAE the vast majority - if not all - students follow the September to April/May programme, and so that is the reference point we use for the remainder of this article.
The IB DP is usually undertaken by students in Grade 11 and 12 (Year 12 and 13), when students are typically between the ages of 16 and 18.
While the IB Middle Years Program (MYP) offers a smooth transition, being aligned in terms of the attributes of the IB learner profile and pedagogical approach, completion of the MYP is not a requirement for students entering the DP. Many UAE schools do not, in fact, offer the MYP, instead having students complete GCSEs and transition into the IB DP in Year 12. Schools will require particular grades for entry into DP subjects, particularly for those at Higher Level (HL).
The IB DP requires students to study a broad range of subjects. Subjects are grouped in six categories, with students required to select six subjects in total, one from each of groups 1-5, and the sixth subject from either Group 6 or a permitted substitute from one of the other five groups. The six subject groups are: Studies in Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Experimental Sciences, Mathematics, and The Arts.
Of these six subjects, three to four of these must be taken at Higher Level (HL), with the remaining two to three at Standard Level (SL).
The IB Diploma ‘Core’ elements are as essential part of the IB Diploma Programme. The DP Core is divided into three sections: Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS), and The Extended Essay (EE).
Students will select their IB DP subjects during Grade 10/Year 11, usually between December and January, depending on the school. Many schools will provide support on this in the form of information sessions for students and their parents, as well as meetings with career counsellors and information guides.
The International Baccalaureate Organisation recommends that students spend time reviewing universities and degree programs that interest them, and identifying the entry requirements that are stipulated, when selecting their IB DP subjects. It also recommends that students work with school guidance counsellors when considering their distribution of Higher Level (HL) and Standard Level (SL) subjects.
Students will receive information on their courses as part of their DP introduction sessions, including an assessment calendar. With six subjects, as well the DP Core Components, there is a considerable amount of work to complete and deadlines to work towards. Many students will find this to be a tough transition from GCSEs or the MYP (the IB DP is known as challenging for a reason). With school staff on hand to offer advice and support, and a strong work ethic and forward planning from students, the DP is entirely achievable.
Burcu Isik Keser, DP Coordinator at GEMS International School Al Khail, advised that getting organised is key:
“Since timing is very crucial in the DP, students must start to prepare assessments (internal and external) in line with their content and evaluation criteria after the introductions.”
Alessandro Capozzi provided some guidance on getting into a productive study routine:
“It is important to plan a timetable for when you will review your notes and resources to practice recalling it and seeing what you need to go over again. To do this, plan a timetable around lessons and in evenings, keep sessions short at the start, building more time in as you go. Space out revision of topics to make sure you are not comfort working (reviewing too soon after a lesson or in one block).”
Students will be introduced to the CAS programme, which should take around 18 months in total, usually concluding in January of DP Year 2. This will begin with an information session and first meeting with the student's CAS advisor. Students will document their CAS experiences and reflections throughout, using an online system called ManageBac.
The Extended Essay (EE) is a key component of the DP Core and takes the form of a submitted written piece of work of up to 4000 words. This project is designed to develop high-level independent research and writing skills, as well as intellectual discovery. The initial steps of students reviewing the EE criteria, exploring and selecting topics, and connecting with their EE supervisors typically take place in term 2 of the first year of DP.
The Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course has an internally assessed component, which takes the form of an exhibition. This typically takes place in the third term of DP Year 2. For this, students choose three ‘objects’, as well as one of the 35 IA prompts, and use these to demonstrate how TOK concepts manifest in the real world.
Before DP Year 1 comes to a close, it is a good idea to get prepared for the step up in workload that Year 2 will bring. Burcu Isik Keser advised:
“Since DP Year 2 is highly intense, with university applications, final submissions of IB coursework, revisions, mock exams, studying and preparation for final exams, it is highly recommended to prepare coursework, receive feedback from advisor teachers and record CAS experience regularly in DP Year 1 to avoid feeling overwhelmed in DP Year 2.”
Shortly after the summer break, students will be required to begin submitting their final coursework. Coursework submission dates are typically between November and January.
As well as subject course work, deadlines for CAS, the TOK essay and final EE submissions are during this period.
Burcu Isik Keser explained that after the final submissions, DP students fully focus on final revision, mock exams and final exams. He advised that students may need support during this period in particular:
“Receiving social and emotional support is very important to reduce the pressure of DP Year 2. That can happen through family conversations, talking about successes, failure and development, finding balance with CAS, socialising with friends, eating healthily, sleeping well, exercising and working smart.”
While there is also a November exam season, most DP final exams are sat in April-May of DP Year 2 for students in the UAE. Together with internal and external assessments from throughout the year, these exam scores are used by the IB to arrive at a grade from 1-7.
IB DP exam results are released internationally in early July (6th July in 2022). This is hopefully a time for celebration, however if results are lower than expected, students can request a grade appeal. The International Baccalaureate Organisation states:
"If a candidate would like the IB to re-mark their work, they should approach their school’s DP coordinator to discuss available options since he/she would need to place the request on the candidate’s behalf. Please note that this service is not free of charge and it is the coordinator’s duty to inform the candidate (and/or legal guardians) of the fee involved. The IB will not accept requests for re-mark from candidates or their parents/legal guardians directly."