IB vs AP

[International Baccalaureate versus Advanced Placement]

One of my former tutors asked me to describe the similarities and differences between these two secondary programs, so I thought I’d share.

In a nutshell, IB is a whole curriculum leading to the IB diploma and the AP program is individual exams leading to a score for each subject test you write. IB is perhaps better for European/International universities, whereas AP is probably favoured by American universities. Both are recognized in Canada. The IB is a 2 year, comprehensive program including an independent research essay. AP marks are based only on a single big (mostly multiple choice) exam in May. You don’t even have to technically be in a school that teaches AP in order to write the AP test; you just have to find a school at which to write it. To participate in the IB program, you need to be registered an IB school.

Any student can take advantage of the AP exams, including home schoolers, since registration in a particular course is not required. You can prep on your own with AP prep books from the bookstore/library and web resources. There is a school in Oakville, Ontario who welcomes home schoolers who would like to sit examinations on exam day, and they do not require any kind of official enrollment with the school.

Some other comparisons can be found here:

[some broken links removed, new links added Feb 2017]

PDF file on the Lee County Schools site

PDF file on Westerville K-12 (Ohio) site

PDF file on Zurich International School site

A more reasonable comparison, therefore, might be made between the SAT II Subject Tests vs. AP exams.

SAT Subject Tests (formerly called SAT II Tests) are the equivalent of high school exit exams wheras AP exams are the equivalent of first year university/college final exams. SAT Subject tests are almost exclusively multiple choice whereas AP exams include multiple choice and full-length (free response) questions. Both are subject-specific, meaning you can take one for history, one for chemistry etc. But, the level of study is different. Writing an SAT Subject Test is like writing a final exam for a 12U course whereas writing an AP exam is like writing a first year university/college final exam.

Both tests can be used for university admissions in Ontario in lieu of a high school diploma. The AP program is considered to be an “advanced” program, not available to all students. So, AP’s will never be required for university entrance. SAT Subject Tests, on the other hand, can be written as often and in as many locations as the General SAT Reasoning Test is held, and some schools may require SAT II Subject Tests for admission. (Talk to individual universities to see whether they will allow you to present AP scores instead of SAT Subject Test scores. In Ontario, where none of these tests are required of regular Ontario high school applicants, they likely will let you substitute; they just want to see a mark on some test from a home schooler. In the US however, where these tests are part of the regular admission process, they may not.)

AP exams, because of their advanced academic content, may earn you university credit if you score high enough. SAT Subject Tests will definitely not earn you university credit, but will instead be used to determine 12U subject-specific equivalent knowledge. If a home schooler take the “Top Six” then they will not need to take SAT Subject Tests because this knowledge will already have been evaluated. But, a home schooler may wish to take both the Top Six and AP exams because AP content goes beyond the Ontario Grade 12 curriculum and extends into university-level study.

Want to tell some folks about this post?