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IB SUBJECT COMBINATIONS AND SCORING SYSTEM; if you are a new student to apply in the IB educational system or a Parent with an aim of sending your child to the International Baccalaureate pathway, then this article is for you. Irrespective of the level Choosing subject combinations that genuinely keep your options open is trickier than you might think.

Choosing your subject combination for the IB has far-reaching consequences for your path to university and beyond. When universities around the world assess applicants, while admissions review the grades achieved for the individual Higher Level (HL) and Standard Level (SL) subjects, they also consider the suitability of the subject combination for the course being applied to. While such a subject combination does provide suitable preparation for many arts and social sciences courses at the University.

Like the A Levels, the IB subject combination framework aims to balance between depth of specialisation and breadth of knowledge. Thus, IB students are able to choose between subject groups, such as language, sciences, mathematics, humanities, and arts.

Students have to choose a minimum of 6 subjects, which correspond to the subject groups:

Group 1: Studies in language and literature

  • Language A: literature
  • Language A: language and literature
  • Literature and performance (also Group 6) 

Group 2: Language acquisition 

  • Language B
  • Language ab initio
  • Classical languages 

Group 3: Individuals and societies 

  • Business and management
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • History
  • Information technology in a global society
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Social and cultural anthropology
  • World religions (SL only)
  • Environmental systems and societies (also Group 4) 

Group 4: Sciences 

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Design technology
  • Environmental systems and societies (also Group 3)
  • Physics
  • Computer science
  • Sports, exercise and health science (SL only) 

Group 5: Mathematics 

  • Mathematical studies SL
  • Further Mathematics HL
  • Mathematics SL
  • Mathematics HL 

Group 6: The arts 

  • Music
  • Theatre
  • Visual arts
  • Dance
  • Film
  • Literature and performance (also Group 1) 

If students do not want to take an arts subject from Group 6, then they must choose a second subject from Group 1 to 5.

Out of a total of six subjects, students must take three subjects at Higher Level (HL), while the rest should be taken at Standard Level (SL).

On top of the six subjects, students must complete three mandatory core elements, which cannot be chosen:

  • The extended essay:  The student has to embark on an independent research project of their own choice, which culminates in the completion of a 4000-word paper..
  • Theory of knowledge: TOK challenges students in their thinking of ‘what is knowledge?’ and ‘how do we know what we know?’, assessed based on an oral presentation and 1600-word essay.
  • Creativity, activity, service (CAS): The student must complete a project which encompasses elements of creativity (arts or other activity requiring creative thinking), activity (physical activity such as sports), and service (unpaid voluntary work that benefits the community). It is not formally assessed, but students are expected to reflect and show evidence of them achieving the learning outcomes.

Leaning towards studying STEM at university?

It would be important to take at least 2 and, ideally, 3 of these subjects:

  • Biology, Chemistry, or Physics
  • Mathematics
  • A second science from Group 4

Many students who apply for science or maths courses at Cambridge take three of these subjects at HL. This makes for a more competitive application. However, if you decide on only taking two, then here are some suggested combinations:

  • Biology and Chemistry
  • Chemistry and Physics
  • Mathematics and Physics

Planning to study Medicine at university?

The minimum requirement is Higher Level Chemistry and at least one Higher Level subject from Biology, Mathematics, and Physics.

Thinking of pursuing Engineering at university?

You should take Mathematics and Physics at Higher Level, and Further Mathematics is highly recommended.

Planning to take Physical Sciences at university?

It is mandatory to take Higher Level Mathematics and Physics, while Chemistry or Further Mathematics is recommended.

* For courses that require Further Mathematics at A-Level, note that the combination of IB Higher Level Maths and IB Higher Level Physics will cover this.

Considering the Arts and Social Sciences at university?

The route through Higher Level options is less rigid than the sciences and maths courses. Choosing one or more of these few subjects to study at Higher Level will help with your academic pursuit in this field:

  • Language A Literature
  • A Language B option
  • History
  • Mathematics

Planning to study Economics at university?

Students who plan to study Economics must take Higher Level Mathematics. It is recommended that Further Maths is taken as well.

These are some other Higher Level subject choices that will complement the subjects mentioned above:

  • An additional Classical language
  • Economics
  • Further Mathematics
  • Geography
  • Philosophy
  • The Sciences: Biology, Chemistry, or Physics

Scoring system

The IB diploma is graded out of a total score of 45. The total mark for each of the 6 subjects is 7, with 4 indicating a pass. TOK, EE, and CAS are graded for an additional of 3 additional points in total. Together, the 45 marks is computed accordingly:

7 x 6 subjects + 3 = 45

By taking the passing mark for the 6 subjects, the overall passing mark is 24 points.

Some students who choose to take 7 subjects instead of 6 will have their top 6 subjects computed into the overall grade.

It will be very important to have a strong reason or goals while choosing a particular subject which carries your entire aim of education or what to do in the future and not the matter of how good the subjects are good or interesting.


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