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Thinking about Sixth Form?

Updated: Jan 8, 2020

This month we focus on the crucial last two years of school and whether your child is being educated in the UAE or the UK we look at making the right choice for the 6th form for your child in terms of curriculum and looking at studying for 6th form in the UK.

Choosing a 6th Form Curriculum - IB vs A Level

How do you know which one best suits your child?

Here we look at the differences between A Levels and IB and give some guidance on making good subject choices.

A Levels

All A Level subjects are now a two year linear programme with final exams and no course work. Whilst the AS is still available as a stand-alone qualification it no longer counts towards the overall A Level grade.

A Levels require a student to choose 3 or 4 subjects to be studied over the two years. Whilst picking subjects they are good at is a good rule of thumb, when making these choices it is also wise to think about how subjects combine to open up different degrees and career paths. For Medicine for example it is necessary to have two sciences and Chemistry is high on the list of most Medical schools. For Economics at many top universities, Further Maths is important for a competitive application. Whereas for some future pathways the subject combination is less important than the final grades. (Student profiling)

A Levels also open up a range of subjects that may not have been on offer before and this gives students a chance to broaden their interests and try something new. It is important to explore these options to see how they may open up other interests and combine with more traditional subjects.

For many students is the transition from GCSEs to A Levels can be a bigger leap than they may have expected. Many schools will require a minimum of a 6 or 7 at GCSE before allowing a student to take on a particular A Level subject.

A Levels remain the gold standard of the British education system and are highly regarded world wide. They are academically rigorous, designed to stretch students and encourage them to think critically and be able to evaluate information. University requirements but an Oxbridge offer would typically be around 2A*s and 1 A grade and Russell group universities would be looking for around 3 A grades although this can vary from course to course.

International Baccalaureate Diploma IB

The IB DP is a more broadly based programme where each student is required to take 6 subjects from a specified range of disciplines which include, Maths, English, a Language, a Humanity, a Science and the option to take an Arts course. Three subjects are selected to be taken at Higher Level and the remaining three can be taken at Standard Level. In addition an IB student will take 3 additional modules in Theory of Knowledge, an Extended Essay and a CAS programme which focuses on community and service. Whilst some students thrive on the breadth on offer for others the thought of continuing with subjects they are not keen on can be very challenging.

The style of teaching IB is also quite different with much more focus on creating independent learners and enquiring minds. The students are expected to undertake independent research and work collaboratively in groups to share their learning.

Oxbridge offers for IB students would typically be above 40 (the top mark for IB is 45 and approximately 1% of IB students achieve this.) Russell group universities are looking for between 35- 38 depending on the subject and will regularly specify that Higher Level grades need to be 6’s or 7’s. The global average IB score is 28 points.

When making subject choices it can be useful to think about the following guidelines:

  • The best approach is to select subjects that the student will enjoy studying as they are more likely to get good grades.

  • Talk to the teachers as they will have the experience to know if the student will be capable of thriving on the course.

  • Just because they did well in a particular GCSE subject does not mean it will be more of the same – look through the syllabus to see what it covers before making a final decision.

  • Explore new subjects available at A level, such as Psychology or Law, that are not available at GCSE and may be of interest or provide a pathway to a university course.

  • The facilitating subjects are always a safe choice for students who are unsure what they want to do. These include Maths, the Sciences, History, Geography, Languages and English Literature.

  • Universities recommend that a student studies a breadth of subjects and avoid comparable topics where the curriculum is similar, such as Economics and Business Studies.

  • Choosing more than one ‘soft’ subject, such as Film Studies, Graphics, Textiles, Media, Photography and PE, can inhibit university options and are best studied in combination with a couple of more traditional ‘hard’ subjects.

  • The traditional academic subjects remain the most popular choices for students, with Maths studied by 12% of students, History by 6% and Biology by 8% in 2018 and for students aiming high, they are always more respected by Oxbridge and Russell Group universities.

The good news is that all of these qualifications are globally recognised at universities across the world and some of them are credit bearing for courses in the US.

Call Carfax Education to find out how student profiling can help you make confident subject choices: 0097144385276

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