The IB Diploma – an alternative senior program

Each Australian state and territory has its own Year 12 Certificate. What is the IB Diploma alternative and who should choose to study it?

IB diploma an alternative senior program
Cluey Learning Wednesday, 21 August 2019

In New South Wales, the Higher School Certificate (HSC) is awarded.  Victoria has the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), with the other states having similar awards: TCE (Tasmania), SACE (South Australia), WACE (Western Australia), QCE (Queensland). The Northern Territory has a Certificate of Education and Training (NTCET), while the Australian Capital Territory presents the ACT Year 12 Certificate.

According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics, around 85 per cent of students complete Year 12. The vast majority of these undertake one of these state-based courses of study. However, a small (but increasing) number of Australian students are now opting for an alternative program – the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma.

International Baccalaureate IB Diploma Program Logo

What is the IB?

The IB’s main point of difference is that it’s a global program of study.  The IB Diploma course is offered at more than 5000 schools in 156 countries around the world. There are currently 73 schools in Australia offering the IB Diploma. Most of these are independent schools, but some government schools now also offer the IB as an alternative program.

The IB program is a two-year course covering Years 11 and 12. The Diploma awarded to successful candidates is a recognised qualification for university entry in all Australian states and internationally.

The IB subject groups

The prescribed IB curriculum is different to the Australian state-based programs, where students are able to focus on particular discipline areas in their senior years. The IB aims for a broader (but less specialised) focus, in that students pick one subject from each of six different subject groups:

Studies in Language and Literature

Most Australian students elect to study English Language and/or Literature from this group.

Language Acquisition

This requires students to study an additional language.

Individuals and Society

The options in this group include History, Geography, Global Politics, Business Management and Psychology.


Students usually select from Physics, Chemistry, Biology or Sports Science.


There are various levels and forms of Mathematics subjects of which students must choose one.

The Arts

Dance, Film, Theatre, Visual Arts and Music are the options for students in this sixth group of subjects.

Of the six subjects selected, at least three of the studies are undertaken at Higher Level (240 teaching hours across the two years) with the remainder at Standard Level (150 teaching hours).

Additional components

In addition to the six subjects studied, there are three other components that must be successfully completed to be eligible for the IB Diploma.

The first of these is a 4000-word Extended Essay in a field of the student’s choice, which is completed with regular feedback from an academic supervisor.

The second is a common study of the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) where ways of thinking are explored, with assessment comprising written and oral responses.

The final component of the IB Diploma is for students to undertake Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) outside the classroom. The first two strands allow students to gain credit for artistic output and physical activity, while unpaid and voluntary community service are required for the remaining strand.

Who should study the IB?

The IB is not for everyone. The withdrawal rate during the two-year program tends to be higher than for the state-based programs, as the workload can be considerably greater. The inability to specialise in senior subject discipline areas (such as Maths/Science or Humanities) is a drawback for many. There are also additional examination fees required. As it stands, the low number of schools offering the IB in Australia means access to the Diploma course is limited.

However, there are some students who find the IB suits their needs ideally. They are scholars who enjoy having the rounded global education covering a range of subject areas. The two-year program provides an extended academic program for those who thrive on such a challenge. That the Diploma is recognised for university entrance around the world opens up many tertiary options for IB graduates, who also find that their domestic ATAR score for Australian universities is higher than it might have been for a state certificate course.

IB Tutoring

Although we don’t offer tutoring for the IB Diploma, at Cluey Learning we cater for all students seeking help with Maths, English or Chemistry, creating personalised learning programs to cover any gaps in a students knowledge.


Dr Selina Samuels
Education expert

BA(Hons), LLB, PhD, MEd

Cluey Newsletter

Our expert tips. Your inbox.

Follow us on Facebook