Does the IB really lead to higher GPA in university? This is what researchers found

Is the IB all it's hyped up to be? Source: Shutterstock

The consensus looks set in stone – the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) is the best pre-university curriculum that prepares students for university. Higher education institutions are apparently enamoured by IBDP students, and the IB’s website states its syllabus is a distinct set of subjects that aims to train students in university-level skills, like citation writing and critical thinking.

Surveys also show that IBDP students do better than their peers who pursue other pre-university qualifications. Figures from the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency in 2016 found that IB graduates were 57 percent more likely to be enrolled at one of the top 20 UK universities, with  “significantly greater likelihood” of earning a first-class honours degee, compared to those who took the traditional A-level route.

DP students were also found to be better equipped to succeed at university than A-level students, according to the 2017 Survey of University Admissions Officers. More than 80 university admissions officers at various universities across the UK and 20 from the US surveyed said IBDP students did best in “encouraging independent inquiry”, “developing self-management skills” and “nurturing an open mind”.

But how true is this? Are these findings applicable to IBDP students all over the world?

Research from several universities in the Asia-Pacific in 2017 may shine some light on this matter. Studying the post-graduate outcomes of DP alumni at three leading universities in the region – two universities in East Asia (University A and University B) and one university in Australia (University C) – researchers found no “significant difference” in academic performance between IBDP alumni and their non-IBDP counterparts at University B in East Asia and University C in Australia.

Similarly, there was no “significant difference” in the change of GPA between these two groups of students over time when controlled for student entrance exam score and certain student characteristics (eg. international vs local students, whether students graduated from disadvantaged secondary schools).

There were exceptions to this, in which being an IBDP graduate turned out to be a significant predictor of GPA: Faculty of Business & Economics in the 2012 cohort and Faculty of Arts and
Social Sciences in the 2014 cohort.

“In contrast to these two cases, the IBDP status was not a significant predictor,” the report wrote.

“These findings are at odds overall with earlier reports that IBDP students are better prepared for university than non-IBDP alumni. For example, Conley et al. (2014) found that IB students fared better in university mathematics courses than non-IB students, while the HESA study in 2016 reported that they were more likely to obtain first-class degrees than non-IB alumni.”

A possible explanation for these survey findings could lie in how university admissions teams score the IBDP versus other curriculum scores or grades. It is possible, according to researchers, that universities may have set really high admission requirements for IBDP graduates, explaining why they perform better than other students while at university.

The admissions systems’ scoring of pre-university grades are “about right” if IBDP students perform “at the same level” as non-IBDP graduates, it adds.

One area where IBDP graduates do trump their non-IBDP peers is in the acquisition of 21st-century skills. This refers to qualities like Cultural Sensitivity, Global-mindedness, Critical Thinking, Leadership, and Time Management.

The research found that IBDP graduates “seemed to be most confident in their capacity” for these. This is probably due to IBDP experiences leading to successful skill-based learning outcomes, though it did recognise that it could be due to the characteristics of their schooling environment or family background, as well as from “internalising” IB branding about progressive and holistic educational approaches.

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