By Sarah Frei, Head of Admissions and External Relations at Brillantmont
Two of the most popular academic programs for Grade 11/12 students globally are Advanced Levels (A Levels), which are the national examination of England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the International Baccalaureate (IB). Most international schools will offer either of these two curricula for 16-18 year olds.
Here at Brillantmont, our students have the choice of an American High School Diploma with SAT / AP or studying for A Levels. But why do we recommend this programme over the IB and what are the main benefits for our students?
A Levels versus IB: what is the difference?
Both educational programmes give students the chance to further their learning once they pass compulsory school age, with the aim of preparing them for work or university. There are plenty of benefits to both the IB and the A Levels. However, there are some key differences including learning and exam structure, subject choice and the level of intensity of study required.
With IB, students take on a programme that includes a number of fixed elements. They will study six subjects: First Language, Second Language, Humanities Science, Mathematics, Art / Extra subject. Three of the subjects must be studied at a higher level.
There is also an academic core, which includes Theory of Knowledge, an Extended Essay and students have to do CAS (Creativity, Action, Service).
On the other hand, A Levels, which are completed over a period of two years are split into two sections: AS Levels and then A Levels. AS examinations may be taken at the end of the first year and the full A Levels completed at the end of the second year. The AS Levels are a qualification in their own right, and accepted by many employers, though most universities require three full A Levels for entry.
Students taking A Levels choose a number of subjects in which to specialise, usually three or four. At Brillantmont, a choice of traditional subjects is offered covering humanities, sciences and arts. It is important to note that students choose the subjects they enjoy and wish to study. They are under no obligation to study a subject simply because it belongs to part of the programme, as is the case with IB.
For example, an A Level programme can consist solely of science and mathematical subjects or of more arts-related subjects. This stands students in good stead when they go to university, since they already have a deep and focused understanding of their subject.
This freedom of choice allows students to excel in their chosen subjects rather than feeling burdened down by a subject they don’t enjoy and may not be particularly good at, but need to continue. Furthermore, numerous opportunities exist for Community Service and Service Learning at Brillantmont. Students participate by choice, not by obligation!
Brillantmont has a 100% record of university admission among our students. Many of those who take their higher level exams at our international school will go on to study at prestigious universities and colleges around the world.
Many leading educational establishments accept both the IB and A Levels when admitting students. However, the A Level qualification is formally recognised under the Bologna Accords - meaning that attaining sufficient A Level grades should allow access to almost any university of the student’s choosing. This includes Ivy League universities in the US, and Oxbridge. On the other hand, IB grades are accepted only at the college or university’s discretion, depending on individual policy.
At university, students will focus solely on their chosen specialisms, either as a single core subject (such as law or medicine, for example), or as part of a combined course with multiple disciplines. Either way, they will be concentrating on the subject areas they know best.
By studying for A Levels, students begin to prepare for this intensive learning style. They break away from the all-round knowledge base which secondary/high school education offers, and which the IB furthers. They learn instead how to put their efforts into a specific subject and to excel in their knowledge and application of that topic.
Why Brillantmont offers A Levels
Our students study for their A levels as part of their 11th / 12th Grade education, as opposed to taking the IB. We feel this gives students a better opportunity to prepare for university, as they start to specialise in a small selection of subjects. As a small school, we personalise our teaching and we want to simulate students so they are encouraged to reach their full potential. Particularly able students can even take extra A Levels and might leave our school with 4 or 5.
Despite the heavy workload, A Levels offer slightly more opportunity for free time and extra activities. The practical elements of the IB especially the CAS components, take up more study time overall, whereas much of the A Level syllabus is focused on individual study and exam preparation. We feel this gives students the chance to pursue their own interests and become more responsible for their own learning.
We see a fantastic pass rate for the A level course, plus some incredible successes amongst our students. A Levels are perfect for students who know what they want to be, and who are ready to start working towards their goals. We feel academic life at Brillantmont starts to nurture this ethos in our students, and by the time they reach Grade 12, they are clearly focused on the subjects that matter to them.
If you are interested in taking A Levels at Brillantmont or enrolling a younger student in our international boarding program, please contact our team today. We are here to answer your questions and provide further information.