Comparing IBDP and Cambridge A LEVEL

The international education programs which generate tremendous curiosity among the students and parents are run by the International Baccalaureate Organization and Cambridge International. We have addressed the inquiries related to both IB and Cambridge International individually and have written an article that contains a comparative assessment of both as well. However, a separate article providing a comparative assessment of the pre-university grades of both IB and Cambridge International called IB Diploma Program and A & AS level respectively is in order in our series of articles dealing with the curriculums in detail.


The Cambridge Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and Advanced (A level) is a qualification that is readily accepted in top universities of the world and so is IB Diploma. The academic rigor and diversity taken into account, IBDP are more amenable. A levels have something in common with the Indian boards of education in that it too divides the curriculum into streams—sciences, humanities, commerce. The schools in India following the Cambridge International curriculum—commonly known as IGCSE schools—can offer as many streams as they possibly can. It is a point that contrasts A levels with IBDP as in the latter there are no such bounds and thus a student can study a combination of sciences and humanities besides a second language. In A level, the number of subjects thus becomes lesser than in the IBDP.  IBDP has 6 subjects besides the ‘extended essay’, ‘Theory of Knowledge’ and ‘Creativity and Action’.

This definitely makes IB more rigorous and the school time and regularity may prove demanding. It does not imply that A levels are ‘easier’. They require an in-depth understanding of the subjects and assessment standards are demanding. A Levels have grades whereas IBDP has points allotted for each subject and the core subjects named above.

Teachers and instructors are trained and certified in the case of both Cambridge International and IB for teaching A levels and IBDP respectively. Although, it is notable that in the case of IBDP, the teachers are comparatively more involved and attuned to the needs of the students owing to the fact that they are privy to the curriculum designing and project mentoring.

Comparative studies have been conducted by academicians and organizations vis-à-vis both the programs and there are valuable insights that we would like to share with our readers.

Sources: There are several studies, conducted by various agencies, to be quoted from in the comparative assessment of IBDP and Cambridge A levels. The findings converge at several points that gives us a fair idea as to which program suits the need of the 21st century educational needs better. It must be said there is no such organized research conducted in India yet, or in South Asia for that matter, to help arrive at decisive opinions. So, we have to rely on the experiences of the west that have a plethora of studies that not only cover western countries but also countries of West Asia and Southeast Asia–with the latter ones we can identify better.

criteria of the studies conducted: The studies that were undertaken by various agencies and independent academicians have applied both common and specific criteria to adjudge both the courses and make a comparative assessment. Broadly, the aspects investigated include what both the qualifications demand from its pursuers, the subject combinations offered, comparative suitability for pupils with different future academic plans and interests and fitness for excelling in higher studies, the internationality of outlook of the students which implies the grasp of the social, cultural and geopolitical scenarios, In-depth understanding of the subject matter, research capabilities and development of inclination towards research, critical thinking, analytical capabilities and development of communication skills. It has to be said at this point that our enlistment is not exhaustive.

Findings and Assessment: The assessment based on most of the criteria stated above, arrive at conclusions that favor IBDP. However, it does not necessarily imply that the merit of A level students is depreciated. There are excellent A level students that enter the best universities in the countries including US, UK, Canada among others. But the IBDP was found more compatible with the needs of the 21st-century scholar. The IBDP gives a broader exposure, flexibility, research orientation, community and global understanding and ability of independent inquiry. And the assessment criteria are also found to be much more incisive than its Cambridge counterpart. About Cambridge A levels, it was found that when it comes to in-depth knowledge of the subject its students outdo their IB counterparts. Having said that, IB students were found to be equally if not more proficient in the understanding of the subjects and have an advantage of cross-disciplinary knowledge application abilities.

Conclusion: It must be said that the entire discourse can nearly be summed up as a comparison between the conventional and the evolved contemporary or even futuristic. It has been more than four decades since IB programs are in operation and their international outreach is more than that of Cambridge International, which is indeed older. Changes in the curricular design and assessment methods of the Cambridge programs have been periodically suggested and deliberated upon. About IB it has to be said that its programs—early years and pre-university—have been providing a frame of reference for the globalizing world.

Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

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