The International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme is a rigorous curriculum for talented and motivated students. Although it’s challenging and time-consuming, it offers many rewards. For example, students receive a well-rounded and in-depth education, excellent preparation for college, and—in many cases—extensive college credit.
Earning the IB Diploma requires navigating a series of exams, essays, and projects. Although it can be intimidating, about 80 percent of students who complete the IB Programme also earn the IB Diploma. In this fundamental guide, we’ll tell you the scores you need in order to earn the Diploma, how the tests are scored, and some key information about IB tests.
IB Tests: The Basics
IB students take exams in subjects such as English literature, mathematics, a foreign language, a social science, and an experimental science (Physics, Chemistry, or Biology). Students may also take a course (and the corresponding exam) in the arts, or they may substitute for another course in one of the five previously listed areas.
IB tests measure the skills and knowledge students have acquired during the IB Programme. They also determine whether students qualify for the IB Diploma. The diploma is not a requirement for high school graduation.
IB students qualify for an IB Diploma if they complete Diploma Programme Core requirements and earn at least 24 points on IB tests.
However, students will not qualify for the diploma if they:
- Score a 1 in any subject
- Score more than two 2’s in any subject
- Score more than three 3’s or lower in any subject
IB tests are writing intensive, with an emphasis on essays and short answer responses that require critical thinking. They evaluate skills like creative problem solving, analytical thinking, and evaluating and constructing arguments.
Many tests include both a standardized written exam and an internal assessment supervised by the course teacher. Internal assessments consist of mathematical investigations, oral examinations in languages and literature, labs in science classes, fieldwork in geography, artistic performances, and other portfolios and projects.
HL and SL Subjects
IB courses and their exams are classified as Higher Level (HL) or Standard Level (SL). HL courses are more in-depth than SL courses and signify a greater time commitment, although the same general content is covered.
Generally, HL exams are more challenging than SL exams. Students are expected to be more adept at applying their knowledge of the subject area. Scoring is the same for both levels.
SL subjects include 150 teaching hours, while HL subjects require 240 hours. Students must take at least three of their courses at the higher level, and may take no more than four at HL. In many cases, the school decides for the students which courses will be HL and which will be SL, based on the curriculum and schedule offered.
When Are IB Tests Taken?
Typically, IB students take their exams in May of senior year. Schools may also elect to participate in a November test session. Internal assessments begin during the second semester of junior year and conclude around February of senior year.
The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) does allow students to take a maximum of one or two standard level exams at the end of junior year, but this is up to each school’s IB coordinator.
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How Are IB Tests Scored?
For each IB subject area (six total), students receive a score ranging from 1 to 7. To earn the diploma, students must achieve a score of at least 24 points. Both the final written examination and internal assessments are considered in the scoring. Internal assessments are either assessed by external evaluators, or graded by the teacher and moderated by the IBO.
To moderate a teacher’s grading, the IBO requests the assessments of several students selected at random. The moderator grades the assessments and compares their grades to the teacher’s grades. If the teacher’s grades are too lenient, all student scores are adjusted downward. If the teacher’s grades are too harsh, all student’s scores are adjusted upward.
IB uses “grade descriptors” to determine how many points a student earns in each subject area. This is similar to a rubric.
For example, to earn a 7 (maximum score) in language and literature, a student must demonstrate “excellent understanding and appreciation of the interplay between form and content in regard to the question or task; responses that may be convincing, detailed, independent in analysis, synthesis and evaluation; highly developed levels of expression, both orally and in writing; very good degree of accuracy and clarity; very good awareness of context and appreciation of the effect on the audience/reader; very effective structure with relevant textual detail to support a critical engagement with the thoughts and feelings expressed in the work(s).”
A student who earns a 1 (minimum score) demonstrates “very rudimentary knowledge and understanding of the question or task; responses that are of very limited validity; very limited powers of expression, both orally and in writing; widespread lapses in accuracy and clarity; no awareness of context and appreciation of the effect on the audience/reader; very rudimentary structure within which the thoughts and feelings of the work(s) are explored.”
Up to 3 extra points may be awarded for the Diploma Programme Core elements: extended essay, Theory of Knowledge (TOK) essay/presentation, and Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS) hours. The extended essay and TOK essay are evaluated by examiners appointed by the IBO. The highest possible score for the IB Diploma is 45 points.
Diploma Programme Core Scoring
To earn the diploma, students must fulfill the Diploma Programme Core requirements mentioned above: extended essay, TOK essay/presentation, and CAS.
The TOK essay/presentation and extended essay are each scored individually, and they can earn students a total of 3 points toward the diploma.
Extended essays are 4,000-word essays on a topic of interest to the student. They combine research, synthesis, analysis, and developing an argument. Examiners appointed by the IBO assess the extended essay on a scale of 0-34. The student then receives a score related to a band:
- A = Work of an excellent standard
- B = Work of a good standard
- C = Work of a satisfactory standard
- D = Work of a mediocre standard
- E = Work of an elementary standard (Note: A grade of E on the extended essay disqualifies a student from receiving the IB Diploma).
TOK essays/presentations are evaluated according to the same scoring range and grade bands as the extended essay. (Again, a level E disqualifies a student from receiving the diploma.) The presentations are recorded via video and assessed internally, while the essays are externally graded by IBO-appointed examiners.
Based on the overall grades obtained on both the extended essay and TOK, students receive a maximum of three points. For instance, a student who scores a level B on TOK and a level C on the extended essay is awarded two points toward the diploma.
Students must successfully complete CAS requirements to earn the diploma. This involves a variety of projects, including volunteer work, totaling 150 hours. However, no diploma points are awarded for CAS hours.
When Do IB Scores Come Out?
The IBO releases scores for May exams on July 5th of the same year.
For tests taken in November, the IBO releases scores on the following January 2nd, two months after the exams.
Students can typically access the scores online one day after they are released to schools.
How Do You Check Your IB Score?
You check your scores on the IB candidate’s results website. Type in the individual PIN provided by your school’s IB Coordinator, then click on the Results tab.
Scores are posted at staggered times based on time zones. If you check and don’t see your scores yet, you might just be a little too early!
What If You Think Your IB Score Was Unfair?
You have the option to challenge any scores that you feel are unfair. But you should know that it’s an expensive process, and it can potentially result in your score being lowered instead of raised.
The process is known as Enquiry Upon Results (EUR). First, you must talk to your IB Coordinator and ask them to contact the IBO on your behalf. Written consent from you or your legal guardian is required. Once the IBO has completed the EUR process, they communicate the results to the IB Coordinator. If the grade is changed, it will also be updated on the candidate’s result website.
There are several types of EURs. You can request to have externally evaluated materials (like an exam or the extended essay) re-assessed by individual component or for all components within a subject. Afterwards, you can order a report on the re-assessment.
You may also request to have externally evaluated materials returned to you so you can review the markings and feedback. Another option is to request the re-moderation of all internal assessments for a specific subject, like labs for your Physics class or projects in a foreign language.
If you are still unsatisfied, you can request an appeal from higher up in the IBO. Depending on what type of EUR you request, costs range from about $50 to almost $300 per request. Further appeal costs extra. On the plus side, your fee(s) is returned if your grade changes as a result of the enquiry.
What IB Scores Do Colleges Accept?
Every college has their own policies about awarding credit for IB classes. The best place to learn about an individual school’s credit policies is on their website. You can also Google “IB credit policy [name of school]” if you’re having trouble finding the right page.
Here are a few examples:
- Stanford University awards credit for HL exams only, usually requiring a 5 or higher. Some subjects, like Physics, require at least a 6.
- The University of Florida awards credit for a 4 or higher on both HL and SL exams.
- University of California (UC) schools award a year of credit to students who earn the diploma with a score of 30 or higher. Additional credit is awarded for scores of 5 or higher on HL exams.
- MIT typically does not award credit for advanced coursework. However, students who earn a 7 on certain exams, like Physics and Mathematics, may receive some credit.
As you can see, policies vary widely. In some cases, you can earn a year or more of college credit with high IB test scores and/or your IB Diploma. This saves you a lot of time and money as you work toward your degree.
How to Request IB Score Transcript
IB score transcripts are not sent directly to students, but you can request to have them sent to colleges. Before score results are released, you can request to have score transcripts sent to six universities free of charge. Typically, your IB Coordinator must make this request for you.
How to Request IB Diploma
If you earn the IB Diploma, you will receive it from your school. If the diploma is lost or damaged, you can request a placement through the Request for Results Service page (the same one you use to send score transcripts).
Currently, you can only request a replacement within 6 months after receiving your results. You must provide proof of identity, and the process takes up to 28 days.
Final Thoughts: IB Scores
The IB testing process sounds a bit complicated, but your IB Coordinator and your teachers will guide you through it. When it comes to scoring, the main thing you need to remember is that you’ll need at least 24 points to get your diploma.
For each of the six subject areas, you earn between 1-7 points. These points are awarded based on how well you’ve demonstrated your understanding of the subject, plus your ability to apply your knowledge. For each subject area, you’ll take a written exam and complete internal assessments such as oral exams, essays, and other projects.
You can earn up to three additional points by performing well on your TOK project, TOK essay, and extended essay. And if you aren’t happy with your scores, there is a review/appeal process.
You should also keep in mind that the IB Diploma is not required for graduation. It’s an extra honor for students who successfully complete their exams. It looks good to colleges, and it can help you earn a substantial amount of credit at many schools. If you apply yourself throughout the IB Programme, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about your IB test scores—you’ll be extremely well-prepared!