IP Vs IB: 9 Questions You Were Too Afraid To Ask, With Answers By Parents

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Think your child will do well for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE)? After you celebrate the good results, you will need to choose the best school for your child — and this involves deciding on the best stream or qualification for your child to work towards.

For many parents, the most logical option is to pick the Integrated Programme (IP) stream over the O-Level stream, if your child can qualify for it. The six-year IP pathway was created for academically strong students to give them a broader range of learning experiences, in both academic and non-academic areas.

But for other parents, the choice could be less clear-cut. For instance, you might have heard horror stories about the IP being too tough, or perhaps you’re worried about the repercussions of the different pathways.

To help you out, we’ve rounded up answers for some basic questions on the IP, which you may have been too afraid to ask.

  1. I’m confused between the terms “IP” and “IB.” What’s the difference?

IP is short for the “Integrated Programme” — this is a through-train programme of six years for students aged 13 to 18, where they are not required to sit for the O-Levels. Integrated Programme or IP schools may lead to the A-Level exams or the International Baccalaureate (IB) exams.

If your child is eligible for the Integrated Programme or IP, the choice is really between an A-Level certification and the International Baccalaureate or IB diploma. These are the qualifications that you should read up on.

In general, the IB (International Baccalaureate) seems to require more research and writing, and some non-exam work is counted in the grades. The A-Levels are almost completely exam-based.

Note: This response was put together based on several KSP members’ replies.

  1. Can International Baccalaureate (IB) graduates enter local universities?

IB graduates can and do go to local universities, if their grades are good enough. But to my knowledge, quite a few choose to go overseas, more because they are in schools where a higher proportion of students opt to go overseas, and not because they can’t get into local universities. — slmkhoo

Note: You can read more about applying to the National University of Singapore with the IB diploma here.

  1. Do International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma holders have a poorer chance of getting into a local university?

In my opinion, the IB and A-Levels are well-received by local universities. In the IB diploma programme, there is lots of writing, independent learning, and research involved, as compared to the A-Levels. Every assignment is graded and builds up to your final score. This training is very well-suited for anyone who wishes to go for a PhD in the future. But if your child has been guided a lot since young, then it’s safer to continue with the A-Levels. — Teacherfelina

Note: More schools locally and abroad offer the A-Level curriculum, so it is better known. You can read a thorough comparison here.

  1. How much should we think about our child’s character when deciding between the A-Levels and the International Baccalaureate (IB)? For instance, should we consider whether they are good at handling exams, or prefer more project work?

Personal traits will make a difference. Of course, there are parents who feel that getting a child to follow a course that will make him push his boundaries is a good thing — that is a personal choice.

My two kids did A-Levels, but several of their church friends and my friends’ kids did the IB. From what I’ve seen, the IB requires more independent study and exploration, and more consistent work because of the graded assignments. Some kids do better with that, while others prefer to have a “big bang” at the end. Some kids prefer to have the option to take a wider spread of subjects and also don’t mind writing more essays (IB), while others want to focus on fewer subjects and may want to avoid essays as much as possible (Science stream A-Levels).

That said, it makes the most difference for kids whose traits are a little more marked. For most kids, I don’t think it makes all that much of a difference as they can be trained to cope reasonably well with either set of requirements.

More important will be a child’s preferred learning or work style. A smart kid will do well in either system, as long as he or she is able to work in the way that the system requires. — slmkhoo

  1. I’ve heard teachers say that you need to be a good communicator to thrive in the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. If my child doesn’t like public speaking or writing, will the IB be unsuitable?

This is true to some extent, as IB schools emphasise presentation skills, the crafting of project papers, and gaining familiarity with different presentation formats. The IB programme is probably not that well-suited for shy and introverted students who are more technical in nature.

From what my son tells me, he was able to do well even in subjects like Higher Chinese (which was a surprise to me) because of the heavier emphasis on oral versus written papers. Of course, they still need to sit for written exams, but the weightage for oral and presentation skills helps students who are comfortable with speaking up to do better.

However, I think students who may not have good communication skills should also try out for the IB programme if they have the growth mindset. It will help to stretch them outside of their comfort zones and to do projects that are outside of the usual academic areas. 

Note: This response was excerpted from our interview with an IB parent, which you can read in full here.

  1. In what way does the IB curriculum have a “broader” emphasis? What are some of the different things that IB students get to do, which may differ from students in the O-Level or A-Level streams? 

For example, in one of my son’s geography projects, he had to go around the heritage precincts with his teammates (to Little India, Kampong Glam, and Chinatown) and take photographs, document the unique points of each precinct, and describe how they’ve evolved as well as the possible tensions that may arise in each area. 

Some of his projects required him to write an essay, create a website, or deliver a powerpoint presentation. These projects also had to be properly researched, with the relevant citations included in the bibliography.

He also had a subject called “The World and Me,” which has a community element. For one of his projects, he worked with his teammates to reach out to foreign workers (who played volleyball in Kallang during the weekends), and help them to organise a volleyball championship. This community included Bangladeshi and Indian construction workers, Filipino domestic workers, as well as Filipino executives and other groups. [This project was carried out before the Covid-19 pandemic.]

For Years 5 and 6, there is a subject called the “Theory of Knowledge,” which requires students to write a 1,600 word essay and deliver a presentation on the topic of their choice.

Note: This response was excerpted from our interview with an IB parent, which you can read in full here.

  1. Are there any drawbacks to taking the International Baccalaureate (IB) at School of the Arts (SOTA), compared to being in the Integrated Programme (IP) at a “traditional” school like NJC?

My general impression—comparing these two schools alone—is that NJC (being originally a JC-only school) is excellent at producing good A-Level results. Whereas SOTA’s track record of producing high IB scorers is… somewhat lagging behind ACS(I) and SJI?

However, SOTA could probably offer much more industry-related talent enrichment, compared to NJC. The latter has a reputable Art Elective Programme and Music Elective Programme, but nothing close to SOTA or professional standards I believe. — zac’s mum

Note: Parents can read a round-up of Singapore’s IB results and how local IB schools stacked up against each other in 2020 and 2021.

  1. My child narrowly missed qualifying for the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme after Primary 6. How easy is it to transfer from the O-Level stream to the IB at the end of Sec 2?

I can only speak from personal experience, for my daughter who is now 15, so things may have changed. Her school offers both the IB and O-Level streams. Based on her academic results, she was shortlisted for a selection test to join the IB in Year 3 in her school, where she had to consider the current state of the world and her hopes for the future — and deliver a short presentation of her thoughts. There was also an essay component relating to current affairs, as well as a short interview. Whether or not this is easy or hard for a child would depend on a child’s interests, how mature and well-informed he or she is, and probably the quality and depth of your daily conversations with your child.

Note: This response was contributed by a KSP member who prefers to remain anonymous.

  1. My child can qualify for the Integrated Programme or IP, but prefers to do the O-Levels. Will we regret this?

My daughter did well enough in the PSLE [several years ago] to enter the IP in a couple of schools. But she loved her primary school and wanted to follow through to the affiliated secondary school. We took a chance and she narrowly missed the cut for the IP in her school.

Within her chosen school, my daughter was placed in one of the best classes in the O-Level track, and they too had opportunities to expand their horizons beyond textbook learning. (For instance, they took philosophy and robotics classes.) We were warned that we would regret missing out on the IP, but my daughter has been taking charge of her own learning, and she has gained confidence in her abilities. I’m happy with her progress, and I have faith that she can thrive where she is. She will take her O-Levels this year and we have no regrets.

Note: This response was contributed by a KSP member who prefers to remain anonymous. You can read another mother’s account of choosing not to take up the IP here.

The responses above have been lightly edited for length, accuracy, and clarity. Need more tips from parents, or have other questions to ask? Join our IP: IB Vs A-Levels discussion here!