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UCAS & The IB

Over the past few weeks, Tim, EliteIB’s Director has been travelling around Europe, the Middle East and the UK meeting students, families and educators within the International Baccalaureate world.

The talk he has been hosting is called “The IB & UCAS – Making The Most of Your Choices.” The ‘choices’ here are two-pronged, firstly ensuring that your IB subject selection aligns with your degree choices, and equally that you carefully select both your degree subject and universities.

Here, Tim talks about his experience dealing with UCAS from an IB perspective

My journey

I went through the UCAS application process back in 2004, and through Elite IB Tutors I have been lucky enough to support students, predominantly in the science areas, through their UCAS applications for many years since. A lot has changed since 2005. As an EU resident, my university fees were £1,000+ per year, and I had the luxury of 6 choices, rather than 5.

With university prices on the rise, more students globally applying to the UK every year, and with now only 5 UCAS choices, the process shouldn’t be taken lightly, and as with anything, the more you know, the better placed you are to make an informed decision. We have compiled this useful matrix which allows you to compare major degree entry requirements at the UK’s top 50 universities.

Selecting your subjects

When it comes to the IB, selecting your 6 subjects is tough enough – your school may enforce their own requirements to allow you to take certain subjects, whilst classroom timetabling and teaching quality all come into play. On top of this, it is down to you to investigate whether certain universities have specific subject requirements alongside a total IB score. For example, did you know that to study Economics at LSE, you require a 7 at Higher Level Maths?

When selecting your subjects, you must strike a balance between enjoying what you are learning whilst ensuring you aren’t missing out on key course entry requirements. Think you’d like to study medicine? Make sure you’re taking HL Chemistry and Biology, and on track for at least a 6 in both.

The above offer teachers, parents and students an opportunity to analyse which system is better for them when considering their chosen university and career path. Perhaps a more empirical system can be adopted, by looking at the numbers. For example:

How does UCAS view the IB?

This brings up the important discussion as to how the IB stacks up against A-levels, and how you can ensure you use the IB’s strengths to your advantage. The table below shows a rough comparison of how the new UCAS weighting pits IB students against their A-level peers.

Confession: I have never sat an A-level exam. But in my early tutoring career, I reviewed many exam papers, and I think the A* = 7 points @ HL comparison is quite fair. The grading breaks down slightly after this, but there are a couple of points which I find confusing, and potentially ill informed:

1.) 3 @ HL = 12 points, which is the same as an A for your Extended Essay. Anyone who has worked hard for 2 years at an HL subject only to perform poorly in their exam will know that the hourly commitment alone means a 3 @ HL. This merits far more points than an A-grade for EE.

2.) The SL weightings generally seem undercooked. 28 points for a 7 at HL (in a subject such as Maths Standard, which is only marginally ‘easier’ than A-level Maths) appears slightly underweighted.

Bearing this grading weighting system in mind, as far as UCAS is concerned, 36 points does not necessarily equal 36 points, depending on your grade breakdown at HL vs. SL. Confusing, I know! Ultimately, these UCAS weightings are there to serve as a barometer for universities to compare a plethora of applications arriving on their desks from all around the world, and it is the total IB predicted score, and not the UCAS tally that you should focus on. To learn more, it is always worth playing around with the UCAS tally calculator.

Despite a couple of anomalies, I would argue that UCAS “gets” how difficult the IB is, but that universities are still playing catch up. This is improving year on year as more and more IB students apply through UCAS. The old UCAS weighting system effectively said that 45 points was the same as 5 A*s and an A at A-level. I know a few 45 pointers, but have never met anyone with 5 A*s and an A at A level. Moreover, the IB’s consistency in approach offers a robustness that A-levels have lacked over recent years – the introduction of the A* and the extended project all smack of a search to offer more diversity and move away from what is viewed as quite a staid educational programme. While these seem like good ideas, and are viewed by many as an attempt to replicate the IB structure, the recent changes to AS-levels are very confusing, for students and schools alike.