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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

AP vs IB

AP vs IB

Everyone has that one friend who takes the Advanced Placement (AP) and repetitively whines about it. You try to explain CAS, the EE, the IAs, everything that is involved in the two year walk through hell that is the IB, to them, but to no avail. The idea that another program holds a candle to the IB is hard to accept while experiencing the intense day to day workload at WIS, but is the AP really any easier?

Most 11th and 12th graders firmly believe that the IB is incredibly difficult, more so then any other program, including the AP. When asked about the most stressful component of the IB program, WIS senior Max Roman explained, “Just the amount of work, and the fact that I’m going against kids across America that are taking the AP, and like in colleges, they’ll be like oh, AP, IB same thing, haha. Or something like that. I’m just ending up at the same colleges as everyone else but suffering more.” When asked to describe the IB in two words, he replied “painful death”.

According to Prep Scholar, the Advanced Placement program is “run by the College Board (the makers of the SAT). … [It] allows you to take courses at your high school, which can earn you college credit and/or qualify you for more advanced classes when you begin college.” Students can choose from 38 AP classes to take to get college credit.

The IB website, with its usual clarity, explains that the program “offers an education for students from age 3 to 19, comprising of four programmes that focus on teaching students to think critically and independently, and how to inquire with care and logic”. The IB offers 33 courses, including TOK, although many, such as Business Management or Anthropology, are not available at WIS.

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For some more in depth information, we talked to Meredith Moore, who has been teaching both IB Chemistry and Psychology at WIS for three years and taught AP Psychology and Chemistry at Roland Park Country School in Baltimore, Maryland for six years. When asked about the main differences between the programs Moore stated that, “In the broad sense, AP is more directed at content, while IB is more directed at understanding. … In AP psych it’s 100 multiple choice questions and two short essays, but the essays aren’t asking you to compare and contrast or critique the knowledge that you’ve learned … So, all it is is definition, application, definition, application, definition, application. …  So it’s really not asking you how to think critically of the work, of the studies that you would have to know.”

Moore also indicated that the curriculums in science subjects correspond more between the IB and AP than for human science subjects. She explained that, “AP chem coordinates more to Standard Level chemistry. There are definitely some additions, because AP chem happens in one year and it’s a lot. Definitely the IA project and stuff like that is just IB related, but there’s no organic chemistry, there’s no spectroscopy. The two major things in standard level that we have in the senior year, they won’t have in the AP chemistry curriculum.”

This comparison of the chemistry curriculums, combined with the fact that AP students take, on average, 2-3 AP classes on once, indicates that the IB is indeed harder then the AP. Basically, the content covered in senior year is not included in the AP curriculum, it’s approximately the same material as we cover in SL IB chemistry in junior year. The class doesn’t touch on the difficulties of the HL chemistry curriculum, and let’s not forget the fact that we have to take six IB classes at once instead of having the choice of how many classes/exams we take.

However, when Moore explained differences in teaching the two programs, it seemed like AP might present more challenges for students. She explained that, “for AP, you’re on that train, and if you don’t get it, tough love. You can’t just be like, ok, we’re gonna stop and pause and really think deeply about this and make sure everyone understands the contents. So, like, I don’t have a buffer day in AP, I just keep going.” It seems as though the AP might move more quickly, but again, students take less AP classes than IB classes.

Overall, Moore implied that the IB requires a higher level of thinking and learning ability than the AP does. The IB, she elaborates, requires students to “critically think, and analyze, and talk about research, and see the patterns, … [and use] higher level order processing skills. Some people are ready and need to be challenged at that level, and others aren’t necessarily there”.

James Bourke, an Economics and TOK teacher at WIS, was able to give a slightly different glimpse into the worlds of AP and IB having taken AP classes throughout high school. Having both experience as an AP student and an IB teacher, Bourke simply calls the IB “rich” while the AP is “overhyped”, partly as the “thinking involved [in the IB] is more sophisticated that of the AP”.

Regarding the tests themselves, Bourke recalls the AP economics test being multiple choice, lacking the “evaluative thinking and engagement with policy” that is highly apparent in the IB economics course and exams.

In addition to the tests being different in the AP and IB programs, Bourke emphasizes the different priorities and “cores” of the programs. He states that the IB core, which is based on TOK (Theory of Knowledge, often compared to a Philosophy course), is a “really unique opportunity and experience for students to engage with deep thinking that I think the AP does not have in it”, while further explaining that TOK creates a “lens to view all of your other subjects in”.

Along with other specific attributes like TOK, students in the IB program engage in the year-long “Extended Essay” where AP students engage in a “Capstone Project”. From his point of view, Bourke believes “the Extended Essay remains a more rigorous research project than the AP sort of equivalent”. The IB Extended essay is defined as “a research paper of up to 4000 words, giving students an opportunity to conduct independent research or investigation on a topic that interests them (IB)” while the AP Capstone Project is “an innovative program that equips students with the independent research, collaborative teamwork, and communication skills that are increasingly valued by colleges” (AP).

Similar to Moore, Bourke agrees that the AP setting is made up of a
“multiple choice, content-mastery approach” where this “teaching to the test approach” causes the program to adopt a more narrow conception. Whereas in the IB setting, Bourke explains the assessments are structured with a much more in-depth focus where higher-order thinking is demanded, engaging students in evaluation to compare multiple perspectives and arguments”.

With an example, Bourke highlights how the IB History source-papers (part of the Paper 1 exam) seeks the students to undertake the role of a historian while the equivalent AP source-papers “push you more into ‘do you understand what they’re saying?”, again signaling how much more sophisticated the IB is.  

It is clear Bourke personally prefers the IB over the AP, even explicitly agreeing that the IB is “better”, yet tops off his claims with: “Take it all with a suitable grain of salt.”

From the perspectives of a teacher who has taught the AP and one that has participated in the program, one clear message comes through: the IB is more critical-thinking and analysis oriented than the AP, and requires a higher level of processing. While the AP does cover a lot of course material, comparable to that of a standard level class in a year, it focuses mostly on memorization and the IA, EE, and TOK components of the IB have no equivalent in the AP. With all this information in mind, we feel comfortable saying that AP students don’t have nearly as much to complain about.

By Holden Davitian and Marta Maliszewska

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