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Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB)  are high school programs designed to provide students with rigorous college-level courses in order to prepare them for future collegiate endeavors. One of the reasons many students are drawn to these programs is because they offer tests at the end of the school year for students that complete any of their courses which can essentially grant the students college credit if they score high enough ( AP: typically score of 3 or higher and IB : typically score of 5 or higher). These programs also provide students with a challenging yet stimulating environment where they can grow in ways that far extend their high school academic lives.

On the surface level, these programs seem very similar and they are initially, however once one is fully integrated into the programs, there differences are clear but still work together to provide you with a well-rounded academic experience. Here are some of the ways where AP and IB differ and how these differences turn out to be quite beneficial. These are all based on my personal experiences with AP and IB and since every program is different, please do not assume that all that I say will apply directly to your program, though I will try  my best to remain neutral.

Program Options

The IB program offers two different ways for students to participate. A student can either be an IB Diploma candidate or an IB certificate candidate. In order to be a Diploma candidate, one must commit to having a schedule that is pretty much limited to solely IB courses and must earn 28 or more points on all of their tests combined and must also complete CAS and EE requirements. An IB certificate candidate is not limited to a specific amount of courses and can take a combination of AP, IB, CP, and Honors. This way of participation is much like participation in the AP program. An AP student can take as many AP classes as they please and only have the test score requirements they (and prospective colleges) place on them.

Course Structure

When it comes to the structure of the courses, both classes are definitely information packed, however AP classes tend to go at a faster pace since the classes are consolidated into one semester, meanwhile in IB, many of the classes are split into two parts. Due to my school’s quarter system, an AP class only lasts for a fall or spring semester while an IB class can take up to a full school year. This effects the way these courses are taught because an AP teacher only has 4-5 months  to prepare you for the AP test while an IB teacher may have up to 9 months.

However, due to the extra amount of time, IB classes are still just as information-packed as AP classes. Another structural component of the programs is that in an AP class you can typically expect to focus on mainly just the subject at hand, while in an IB class there is often an integration of skills gained from other courses outside of the specified subject.For example, in my IB Biology class we often do Theory of Knowledge (TOK) assignments that combine our knowledge of biology with conceptual ideas that one may explore in an IB TOK course. This difference in the structure is very useful because there are study habits from AP courses that help you learn how to study a specific idea that will help you while studying for an IB Course and the integration approach of an IB Course when used in an AP class will help you become a multi-dimensional learner that can have strengths in multiple subjects.


The final AP test and IB test differ in multiple ways. An AP test is usually broken down into two sections. Th first section is a multiple choice section containing anywhere from 40-100 questions depending on the test subject, with most of the tests falling between 50-80 questions. The time given also varies but typically falls under an hour or an hour and a half for the first MCQ section. The second section of the tests consist of a writing portion in the form of essay or free response questions which also have about 120 minutes of time allotted for the section in which students can decide how much time they spend on each specific FRQ or essay.

IB tests are broken down into papers. Paper 1 is a multiple choice portion which usually contains less questions than the AP MCQ section with about 30-40 questions instead. Paper 2 is the portion containing free response questions, data based questions, etc. These questions tend to be more numerous than the AP section 2 portion and can range from 1 to 8+ points per question. An IB test often has an Internal Assessment component in which the student performs a specific long-term project that is graded by the teacher and testing officials. When it comes to studying for both of these tests, one can study for multiple choice questions AP style by memorizing facts, concepts, and processes while FRQs should be studied IB style by being able to reproduce concepts and processes by hand in a way that shows a clear understanding and not just a memorization of facts.

Both of these programs are excellent and participating in both is a great way to prepare for the various course structures and teaching styles you will experience when you enter college!

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