IB Diploma Program vs. A-Level: Choosing the Right Path for Higher Education at schools in Singapore

Choosing the Right Path for Higher Education at schools in Singapore

When it comes to preparing for higher education, students at schools in Singapore have a plethora of options to choose from. Two popular choices are the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP) and the A-Level curriculum. Both pathways offer rigorous academic programs that aim to equip students with the skills and knowledge necessary for success in university and beyond.

The intention of this article is to provide a comprehensive comparison of the IB Diploma Program and A-Level curriculum, focusing on their differences in content, assessment methods, university recognition, and suitability for different career paths. By understanding these distinctions, students can make an informed decision about the educational path that aligns best with their aspirations.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP)


The international baccalaureate Singapore is a two-year educational program designed to provide students with a well-rounded education that goes beyond traditional subject-based learning. It aims to develop students who are intellectually curious, culturally aware, and equipped with the skills needed to thrive in a rapidly changing world. The program places an emphasis on fostering international-mindedness and intercultural understanding.

Core Components of IBDP programme

The IBDP consists of three core components that complement the subject groups and enrich students’ educational experience:

  1.     Theory of Knowledge (TOK) Course: The TOK course encourages students to question knowledge claims, explore different ways of knowing, and critically analyse the nature of knowledge itself. It challenges students to think critically, consider different perspectives, and understand the strengths and limitations of different areas of knowledge.
  2.     Extended Essay: The Extended Essay is an independent research project that allows students to explore a topic of their choice in-depth. It provides an opportunity for students to develop research skills, engage in critical analysis, and produce a substantial piece of academic writing. The Extended Essay helps students develop skills that are valuable for university-level research and prepares them for independent inquiry.
  3.     Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) Activities: CAS activities provide students with opportunities for experiential learning outside the classroom. These activities encompass creative pursuits, physical activities, and community service. CAS encourages students to develop new skills, engage in teamwork, and contribute positively to their communities. It promotes personal growth, self-reflection, and a sense of social responsibility.

Breadth and Depth of IB Diploma at schools in Singapore

One of the distinguishing features of the IBDP is its emphasis on breadth and interdisciplinary learning. Students are required to choose subjects from six subject groups: languages, sciences, mathematics, humanities, arts, and an additional subject of their choice. This ensures that students develop knowledge and skills across a range of disciplines, fostering a well-rounded education.

The interdisciplinary approach of the IBDP encourages students to make connections between different subjects and explore the intersections between them. For example, a student studying history might explore the social and economic implications of historical events or examine how scientific advancements influenced political decision-making during a particular period. This interdisciplinary approach enables students to develop a holistic understanding of various topics and prepares them for the complex challenges of the modern world.

Importance of Skills Development with International Baccalaureate Singapore

The IBDP places great importance on the development of skills that are essential for success in higher education and beyond. Throughout the program, students are encouraged to engage in critical thinking, analysis, and reflection. They develop research skills through the Extended Essay and learn to evaluate sources, synthesise information, and present their findings effectively.

Independent learning is a key component of the IBDP. Students at Singapore international school are encouraged to take ownership of their education, set goals, manage their time, and seek guidance when needed. This fosters self-motivation, self-discipline, and a sense of responsibility for their own learning.

The IBDP also promotes an international perspective. Through the study of different cultures, languages, and global issues, students develop an understanding of diverse perspectives, appreciate cultural differences, and cultivate empathy and respect for others. This global outlook prepares students to be active global citizens and navigate the increasingly interconnected world.

Read also: Differentiated Instruction: Meeting The Needs Of Every Student

A Level curriculum


A-Levels, short for Advanced Levels, are subject-based qualifications offered in the United Kingdom and several other countries, including Singapore. A-Levels are typically undertaken after completing secondary education and are considered a pre-university qualification. They provide a pathway for students to specialise in specific subjects and gain in-depth knowledge and skills in those areas.


One of the distinguishing features of the A-Level curriculum is its emphasis on specialisation. Unlike the IB Diploma Program, where students study a broad range of subjects, A-Levels allow students to focus on a smaller number of subjects, typically three or four. Students have the flexibility to choose subjects based on their interests, career aspirations, and intended university course.

This specialisation enables students to delve deeper into their chosen subjects, studying them at an advanced level and exploring them in greater detail. By focusing on a narrower range of subjects, students can develop a high level of subject-specific expertise, which can be advantageous for pursuing specialised degrees or careers.

In-Depth Study of A levels

A-Levels offer students the opportunity to study subjects at a higher level of complexity and depth compared to their secondary education. The curriculum delves into advanced concepts, theories, and applications within each subject. This allows students to develop a thorough understanding of their chosen subjects and develop the analytical and critical thinking skills required for higher education.

A-Levels often involve more rigorous and demanding coursework, including in-depth analysis, problem-solving, and extended writing. This depth of study helps students build a strong foundation of subject knowledge and prepares them for the academic challenges they may encounter at university.

Comparison of Assessment Methods

  1. IBDP Assessment: The IBDP employs a combination of internal and external assessments. Internal assessment tasks, such as essays, laboratory reports, and oral presentations, are graded by teachers within the school. External examinations, conducted by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), assess students’ understanding through structured questions, essays, and other formats. The balance between internal and external assessments allows for a comprehensive evaluation of students’ knowledge and skills.

  2. A-Level Assessment: A-Levels primarily rely on terminal examinations held at the end of the two-year program. These examinations are marked externally by examination boards and assess students’ understanding and knowledge of the subject material. The examination-focused nature of A-Levels places significant emphasis on students’ ability to demonstrate their knowledge through written examinations.

University Recognition

  1. IB Diploma Program: The IBDP enjoys widespread recognition and acceptance by universities worldwide, including those in Singapore. Its international reputation often grants international baccalaureate Singapore students’ favourable consideration during the university admissions process. Universities appreciate the IBDP’s focus on critical thinking, research skills, and independent learning, which align well with the expectations of higher education institutions.

  2. A-Level Curriculum: A-Levels also have a strong reputation and are recognized by universities globally. In Singapore, local universities often consider A-Level results as part of the admissions process. The A-Level curriculum’s emphasis on subject-specific knowledge provides students with a solid foundation in their chosen fields, making it suitable for students with clear career aspirations or those pursuing highly specialised degree programs.

Comparison for Suitability for Different Career Paths

  1. IBDP: The IBDP’s broad-based education and interdisciplinary approach make it suitable for students who wish to keep their options open or pursue careers that require a well-rounded skill set. The program prepares students for a range of career paths, including those in international relations, humanities, social sciences, or global business. The IBDP’s international perspective and emphasis on intercultural understanding can also be advantageous for students interested in careers that involve international work or collaboration.

  2. A-Level Curriculum: A-Levels are particularly beneficial for students with specific career aspirations or those who want to specialise in a particular field. The in-depth knowledge gained through A-Levels can be advantageous for careers that require expertise in areas such as medicine, law, engineering, or other specialised professions. A-Levels provide a solid foundation for further study in these fields, ensuring students are well-prepared for the demands of their chosen careers.


The choice between the IB Diploma Program and A-Level curriculum depends on individual preferences, learning styles, career goals, and university admission requirements. The IBDP offers a broad-based education with an interdisciplinary approach, fostering a well-rounded skill set and an international perspective. On the other hand, A-Levels allow for specialisation in specific subjects, providing in-depth knowledge and expertise in chosen fields. Ultimately, students studying at top schools in Singapore should carefully consider their interests, aspirations, and the expectations of their desired university programs to make an informed decision about the educational path that best aligns with their goals and strengths.


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