IB Diploma Program Frequently Asked Questions

IB Diploma Program Frequently Asked Questions
Dean Bevan

Grade 10 students at Seisen have begun their journey towards making their IB Diploma Program subject selections. 

A Google Form was sent out to all Grade 10 students and parents to gather any questions about the IBDP. Those questions have been answered in this post.

In January subject Information sessions will be conducted with Mr Bevan, HoD's and subject teachers. Students are encouraged to speak to Ms Lui the College Adviser and their teachers about courses they potentially may take. Final selections will be made in February. 

Dean Bevan


IB Diploma Programme Coordinator

Q) I heard that Mathematics AA HL is the hardest class in IB math. Is this true?

A) According to the DP Statistical Bulletin for the May 2021 exam session 24.7% of Math AA HL students scored a “7” worldwide compared to 16.9% of Math AI HL students.

However when considering these figures we need to take into account the number of students and the skill set of students enrolled in both courses. Here at Seisen it is common that students who take Math AA HL also take Physics HL are likely to pursue courses such as engineering at college. While the IB does not officially state that Analysis and Approaches is harder than Applications and Interpretations it is more geared towards those who are interested in Mathematics. Therefore some of the content is more theoretical and maybe difficult to access for some students. 

Be sure to speak to Ms Lui, your Math teacher and Mr Usher so they can advise you on the best Math course for you to take in terms of your ability level and planned university applications.

Q) What is the difference between Mathematics AA and AI? 

A) Generally speaking, the Analysis and Approaches (AA) course provides a classical approach to mathematics.

If you are eager to dive into the world of abstract theories and are keen on learning about the various types of proofs and methods we use to reach generalizations about the world around us then AA is the course for you.

In comparison, the Applications and Interpretation (AI) course provides a very different perspective to some of the same problems and concepts that are explored in the AA syllabus. If you enjoy maths, but would like to see the practical applications of mathematics in the world of finance and the natural sciences amongst others then AI is a better fit for you. If modeling brings you thrills in maths, then AI is for you.

The IBO suggests:
Math AA for students interested in mathematics, engineering, physical science and some economics.
Math AI for students interest in social sciences, natural sciences, medicine, statistics, business, engineering, some economics, psychology and design

Be sure to speak to Ms Lui, your Math teacher and Mr Usher so they can advise you on the best Math course for you to take in terms of your ability level and planned university applications.

Q) For Group 1 Subjects, what is the difference between 'Language and Literature' and 'Literature?' Is there a difference in difficulty? 

A) English is offered at Seisen as English Literature whereas Japanese is offered as Language & Literature.

The difference is that Lit students focus on 9-13 literary works whereas LangLit students focus on 4-6 literary works and a variety of non-literary texts. There is no difference in difficulty level, just the make-up of the courses.

Q) If you want to major in the sciences, would taking three STEM HL courses hinder your application if you're applying to universities in the US? 

A) No, many US universities are very well aware of the IB diploma program and the choices students have to make.

Not taking three STEM HL subjects will not affect your chances of getting into universities in the US. However, if you have decided to take, for example, IB Chemistry and Physics then later realise you are more interested in biomedical related courses, you are expected to pick up biology when you are at the university. Some universities will also have specific requirements for particular courses like Engineering, so you will need to look at entry requirements before making your applications. 

Q) Are you allowed to write your Extended Essay on any topic and how is it graded? What is TOK and how many times in a cycle do you have it? 

A) The Extended Essay will be based on one of the six subjects you are taking as part of the DP program.

For details on how it is graded please see the Extended Essay Handbook

Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is a course about critical thinking and inquiring into the process of knowing, rather than about learning a specific body of knowledge. It plays a special role in the DP by providing an opportunity for students to reflect on the nature of knowledge, to make connections between areas of knowledge and to become aware of their own perspectives and those of the various groups whose knowledge they share. It is a core element undertaken by all DP students, and schools are required to devote at least 100 hours of class time to the course. The overall aim of TOK is to encourage students to formulate answers to the question “how do you know?” in a variety of contexts and to see the value of that question. This allows students to develop an enduring fascination with the richness of knowledge. TOK classes meet twice per six-day cycle.

Q) Will there be any new classes offered next year compared to the classes offered this year (for example will there be music or computer science)? 

A) Potentially.

It depends on the level of interest from students, budgeting and scheduling considerations.

Q) Is the grading system the same as the one used for MYP (formative and summative assessments graded on a 1-8 scale), or is it entirely different? Is it common to get a perfect final IB score, or is there a percentage cap of how many students get a certain score? 

A) All IB courses, HL and SL, are graded on the IB 7-point scale: 

7: Excellent 
6: Very good 
5: Good 
4: Satisfactory 
3: Mediocre 
2: Poor 
1: Very poor. 

IBDP Grading

For detailed information on the DP grade descriptors per subject group click here.

Students can score a maximum of seven points per course, for a maximum subject score of 42 for their six courses.  Each subject has specific required assessment components. These assessment components include a combination of the following: 

Internal Assessments (IAs)

Individual projects completed by students under the supervision of their teachers. These are assessed by the teacher and then moderated by the IBO. 

External Assessments (EAs)

Individual projects completed by students over time under teachers’ supervision and assessed by IB examiners only. These include portfolios in arts subjects, the TOK Essay, and the Extended Essay. 

Exam Papers

Formal written examinations to be taken in May of the second year of the program. Group 1-5 subjects all have two to three Papers each.

A maximum of 3 points may be added to the total score awarded for the Extended Essay and TOK. The highest possible score for the diploma is 45 points. 

Grades for the Extended Essay and the Theory of Knowledge

A - Excellent performance
B - Good performance
C - Satisfactory performance
D - Mediocre performance
E - Elementary performance

The core points matrix

A 3 3 2 2
B 3 2 2 1  
C 2 2 1 0  
D 2 1 0 0  

There is no percentage cap on the amount of students that receive a perfect score but worldwide the amount of students that receive a perfect score is approximately 270 out of 167,000 students worldwide.

Q) I hear some people saying that they barely sleep, while others say they are getting at least 6 hours of sleep. Is this difference dependent on procrastination/productivity or their chosen subjects (and their levels)?

A) This is really on a case by case basis.

Some students are not best equipped to be successful doing the full diploma, this is why we offer three pathways here at Seisen. Others choose courses for which they do not have the capability to be successful at higher level (HL) due to over aspirational choices at university level. 

Q) I heard that Seisen does not calculate GPAs. Does this mean that we will not be able to submit them to universities?

A) Through discussions with our College Advisor, Ms. Lui, and numerous conversations with colleges and universities both in Japan and abroad, we have consistently found that many universities end up recalculating scores when schools report GPA.

In addition, they report that the IB 1-7 grades are a more reliable and calibrated reporting system. The IBO (International Baccalaureate Organization) completes checks every year in order to ensure the 1 to 7 grading is standardized. Furthermore, students can use the 1 to 7 scores from their predicted grades to set goals to improve their achievement and determine a college and university shortlist.

Traditionally, the GPA is calculated on a 4 point scale. Each school around the world is free to independently decide what they wish to include in determining their GPA calculation resulting in some schools adding weightings to certain Advanced Placement or DP Higher Level classes, which results in GPAs that end up being much higher than 4.0 with no consistent upper limit reported by schools. It is for these reasons that the use of GPA has become an unreliable indicator to be used for comparative purposes when considering higher education candidates across schools and therefore not a true reflection of student performance.

With our transcripts moving forward, instead of GPAs, we will be sharing the IB 1 to 7 criteria-based scores to send to colleges and universities. We are confident that this decision to move away from GPAs is a positive one, and will not in any way be a disadvantage for your child’s university or college application process nor limit their opportunities. 


Learn more about the IBDP at Seisen in my past blogs.

  1. What is TOK and why does it matter?

  2. How can I help my child succeed in the DP?

  3. IBDP Course Selection Timeline

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