Understanding the IB Grading System

Mohamad Damaj
6 min read

Understanding the IB Grading System

The IB program can be a bit overwhelming and confusing at the start, especially with the transition to a whole new system that essentially decides where we go for the next 4 years. So, how much you score on the IB program is usually a major part of university admissions. Hence, you might be curious (and maybe even a bit stressed) about how the grading works. But don’t worry, I’ll break it all down for you. I'll go over how your exams and assessments are graded, what grade boundaries and scaling are all about, and share some tips to help you aim for those high scores. Let’s dive in!

How IB Exams and Assignments are Graded

So firstly, how exactly does IB give us our grades? The grading system is a mix of two things, external and internal assessments, each playing a crucial role.

External Assessments: The external assessments are your big final exams which are usually held in May or November, depending on where you are. They’re standardized, which means that every IB student around the world takes the same exams (split by time zones). These are then shipped out and marked by IB examiners from various countries. Each subject typically has multiple papers (like Paper 1, Paper 2, and sometimes Paper 3).

Internal Assessments (IAs): These are the projects, experiments, research papers, and essays you do throughout the course. These are graded by your teachers, but to keep things fair and consistent, a few samples from your class are sent to the IB to be regraded. This means some of your work is reviewed by external examiners to ensure your teacher’s grading aligns with international standards. In the case of the grades not aligning, then the whole class will either receive and increase or decrease in grading.

Extended Essay (EE) and Theory of Knowledge (TOK): These two are core components of the IB Diploma that are worth 3 points from your overall grade. These two are a must for every IB diploma student and must be submitted and passed to receive your diploma. The EE is a 4,000-word research paper on a topic you choose, and it's graded externally. TOK includes an essay, called the TOK essay, and a presentation, called the TOK exhibition. These two focus on the student’s ability to think critically about knowledge itself.

Understanding Grade Boundaries and Scaling

The IB uses a 1 to 7 scale for grading each subject, with 7 being the highest obtainable on a subject. So, in the diploma program with 6 subjects, the maximum number of points achievable is 42; however, the 3 points from the TOK and EE make the total 45. Here’s how it breaks down:

Grade Boundaries: The grade boundaries decide your grade on a scale from 1 to 7. However, to grade the students on a 1 to 7 scale, the final grade must add up to 100%. This is done by assigning percentages to each assessment. Taking physics as an example, 20% of the final grade is given to internal assessments which are the scientific investigation, and 80% to external assessments which is 36% Paper 1 and 44% Paper 2. After the exams are marked, the IB sets boundaries based on the overall performance of students on each paper. This means the boundaries can shift slightly each year. For example, one year you might need 80% for a 7 in a subject, but if the exam was particularly tough in the year after, the boundary might drop to 75%.

Some General Tips

Now, let’s talk about how you can aim for those top grades. Here are some practical tips:

  1. Know the Criteria: Each subject has specific assessment criteria. Make sure you understand what examiners are looking for. You can do this by looking at mark schemes and grading checklists.
  2. Study Routine: Study each topic or sub-topic at the time of taking it, and if you don’t fully understand it and the class is moving too fast, then review it during your vacations or breaks.
  3. Practice: This is arguably the biggest one. Solving and practicing will help you get familiar with the exam format and improve your time management. Review the mark schemes to understand how answers are graded.
  4. Effective Time Management: Balance is key. Make sure you allocate enough time to each subject, focusing more on areas you find challenging while still reviewing your stronger subjects.
  5. Focus on Internal Assessments: Internal assessments can significantly impact your final grade. Start them early, follow the guidelines closely, and aim for high-quality work.
  6. Prioritize Well-being: Lastly, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Regular breaks, a healthy diet, exercise, and enough sleep are crucial. A well-rested mind is far more effective than a burnt-out one.

Everything Together

The IB grading system can seem daunting at first, but once you break it down, it’s quite manageable. Remember, it's a mix of internal and external assessments, each with its own set of criteria and processes. Pay attention to grade boundaries, as many IB students are used to acing their school exams in previous years, so it can sometimes feel demotivating when you don’t see the grades you expected on your exams, but once you compare them to the grade boundaries you’ll feel a lot better. Most importantly, focus on consistent study habits, seek feedback, and take care of your well-being. With the right approach, you can aim high and achieve the grades you’re striving for. Good luck!