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IB Grades Explained

IB Grades Explained

11 min Read|June 12 2024
|Written by:

Charles Whitehouse


The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a rigorous academic programme offered to students in over 150 countries around the world. It is known for its high standards and challenging coursework, and the grading system can seem daunting at first. However, once you understand how the IB grading system works, it becomes much easier to navigate. In this article, we will take a closer look at the IB grading system, what constitutes a good IB score, which subjects are the easiest and hardest, and much more. Whether you're a current IB student or just curious about the programme, this article will provide you with all the information you need to understand the IB grading system.

The IB grading system explained

The IB diploma grading system is a crucial aspect of the programme, providing a comprehensive and detailed assessment of a student's academic abilities. The IB uses a unique system of grading that awards scores on a scale of 1 to 7 in each subject, with 7 being the highest possible score. The IB grading system takes into account a variety of factors, including coursework, exams, essays, and other assignments.

In addition to subject grades, students are awarded points for completing the IB core, which consists of the Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge, and Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) requirements. The core components can earn students up to an additional 3 points, adding to their final score out of 45.

The IB grading system uses a set of criteria to assess a student's performance in each subject. These criteria vary depending on the subject and are designed to measure a student's understanding of the material and their ability to apply critical thinking skills to real-world problems. The IB grading system also places a strong emphasis on coursework and other assessments throughout the two-year programme, rather than relying solely on final exams. This allows students to demonstrate their understanding of the material in a variety of ways and provides a more holistic view of their academic abilities.

Overall, the IB grading system is designed to be challenging and rigorous, rewarding students for their hard work and dedication. While achieving top grades in the IB programme requires a lot of effort, the programme is designed to prepare students for success in college and beyond. Universities around the world recognise the high standards of the IB programme, and many offer advanced standing or course credits to students who have earned high IB scores. Understanding the IB grading system is crucial for any student hoping to excel in the programme and achieve their academic goals.

What is the average IB grade?

According to data from the IBO, the average worldwide international baccalaureate score in 2020 was 31.34 points out of a maximum of 45. This represents a slight increase from the previous year's average score of 30.93 points. The IBO notes that the average score can vary significantly depending on factors such as location, school, and individual student performance. However, it's important to note that the IB grading system is designed to be challenging and rigorous, and achieving top grades requires a lot of hard work and dedication. According to the IBO, only 13.5% of students who took the IB in 2020 achieved a score of 40 points or above.

IB grade distributions

Source: IB Diploma Programme Statistics

What is a good IB score?

A good IB score is subjective and depends on individual goals and aspirations. However, a score of 30 or above is generally considered to be a good IB score. A score of 30 points places a student in the 50th percentile, meaning they performed better than 50% of all IB candidates worldwide. Achieving a score above the average demonstrates strong academic abilities and dedication to the programme.

Achieving the top grade of 45 in the IB programme is extremely rare. In fact, in 2020, only 238 students worldwide (0.3% of all IB candidates) achieved a perfect score of 45 points. This indicates that the IB grading system is designed to be challenging and rigorous, and achieving top grades requires a lot of hard work and dedication.

It's important to note that a good IB score is just one aspect of a student's overall academic profile. Universities and employers also consider other factors such as extracurricular activities, essays, personal statements, and letters of recommendation.

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Which are the easiest and hardest IB subjects?

Determining the easiest and hardest IB subjects is subjective and varies from student to student. The most popular IB subjects worldwide in 2020 were Mathematics, English, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.

In terms of average scores, the IBO reports that the highest-scoring subjects in 2020 were English Literature and Mathematics, with average scores of 5.56 and 5.32, respectively. The lowest-scoring subjects were Mathematics Studies and Film, with average scores of 3.28 and 3.69, respectively.

It's important to note that a subject's level of difficulty can also depend on a student's individual strengths and weaknesses. For example, a student who excels in Mathematics may find it easier than a student who struggles with the subject. Although, with the right resources and help from a good IB Maths tutor, any student can achieve a top grade.

Moreover, IB subject difficulty can also vary depending on the level of the subject. The IBO offers three levels of difficulty for most subjects: Standard Level (SL), Higher Level (HL), and Studies Level (SL). HL subjects are generally considered to be the most challenging, followed by SL and then Studies.

For more information, read our articles on the easiest IB subjects and the hardest IB subjects!

What is a 7 in IB equivalent to?

The IB programme is graded on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being the highest achievable score. A score of 7 indicates that a student has demonstrated exceptional knowledge and understanding of the subject matter.

In terms of UK qualifications, a score of 7 in an IB subject is equivalent to an A* at A-Level. Similarly, in the United States, a score of 7 is equivalent to a 5 on the Advanced Placement (AP) exams.

Universities around the world recognise the high standards of the IB programme and value the skills and knowledge that students gain from it. In fact, according to a study by the Higher Education Statistics Agency in the UK, IB students are more likely to attend and succeed at top universities than their peers who have taken other qualifications.

Have a look at our comprehensive set of IB Study Notes and IB Practice Questions, developed by expert IB teachers and examiners!

What is a good core points score?

In addition to the six subjects, the IB diploma programme also requires students to complete three core elements: the Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge (TOK), and Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS). These core elements are worth a maximum of 3 points each, bringing the maximum diploma score to 45.

A good core points score is subjective and depends on the student's individual goals and university aspirations. The average core points score worldwide in 2020 was 1.53, with a maximum score of 3.

While a high core points score is not necessary to obtain the IB diploma, universities often look favourably upon students who perform well in these areas. For example, the University of Cambridge states that a good core points score is "at least 2, ideally 3."

Moreover, the IBO reports that students who achieve high scores in their core elements are more likely to attend and succeed at top universities. In a study of US IB diploma holders, the IBO found that those who scored the maximum of 3 points in their core elements were more likely to attend a top 20 US university and graduate with a higher grade point average (GPA) than those who scored lower in their core elements.

How many people fail the IB?

The IB programme is undoubtedly challenging and requires a significant amount of time, effort and commitment to succeed. While the pass rate for the IB varies from year to year and from school to school, the overall pass rate for the May 2022 session was 86.11%, according to the IB website. This means that approximately 14% of students who sat the exams did not pass, which means they did not get at least 24 points or they failed some other compulsory part of the programme. This figure includes students who did not complete the programme or did not sit all of their exams.

The reasons for failure can vary from student to student, but some common factors include inadequate time management, lack of motivation, and insufficient preparation. Moreover, some students do not need the full Diploma for their future plans, so may not dedicate themselves to it. The IB programme is a rigorous academic programme that requires a high level of dedication and focus, and students who do not take their studies seriously may struggle to keep up with the workload. Additionally, the programme can be particularly challenging for students who are not comfortable with independent learning, as the IB places a strong emphasis on self-directed study and research.

Graph showing the IB pass rate, 2018-2022.

Source: ‘The IB Diploma Programme and Career-Related Programme Final Statistical Bulletin: May 2022 Assessment Session’, International Baccalaureate

Is it hard to pass the IB?

Passing the IB programme requires a significant amount of effort, dedication and hard work. In order to pass, students must meet the minimum requirements set by the IB, which include passing the assessments in each subject and completing the core components of the programme

To receive the full IB Diploma, students must earn a minimum of 24 points out of a possible 45 points. However, this is just the minimum requirement, and most universities require a higher score for admission. According to the IB website, the average diploma score for the May 2022 session was 32.00 out of 45 points.

While the IB programme is challenging, it is also highly rewarding and provides students with valuable skills and knowledge that can be applied in university and beyond. With the right mindset, motivation and support, passing the IB is achievable for all students. Some students who find it difficult may take the help of IB tutors and find it that passing the IB is not as hard as it seems.

If you utilise the best IB resources to supplement your preparation, then it is not that hard. Here are some resources for the major components of the IB:

How hard is it to get 45 in IB?

Scoring a perfect 45 out of 45 in the IB Diploma Programme is an impressive achievement that requires dedication, hard work, and ability. In the May 2022 session, only 772 students out of 173,000 candidates worldwide achieved a perfect score, according to the IB website. This equates to a rate of just 0.87%.

To achieve a perfect score, students must excel in all six subjects and score the maximum of 7 points in each, as well as earning an additional three points from their combined TOK and EE grades. In addition, students must demonstrate exceptional research, analytical, and critical thinking skills in their extended essay and theory of knowledge.

While a perfect score is undoubtedly difficult to achieve, it is important to remember that the IB is designed to be challenging and rigorous. Even if a student does not achieve a perfect score, the knowledge, skills, and experience gained from the programme can be highly valuable and can prepare them for success in university and beyond.

An expert IB English tutor from IB First said:

“While getting 45 points feels like the ultimate success while you’re doing the IB, it doesn’t matter that much afterwards. As long as you get a score that’s high enough to get you into the university or job of your choice, that’s what really matters.”

In order to achieve high points in your IB, it is recommended to go through the exam papers, here are some sample papers for some of the popular IB subjects:

IB to A-Level and AP conversion

The IB diploma programme is recognised by universities around the world and is often considered equivalent to other high school qualifications, such as A-Levels in the UK and Advanced Placement (AP) exams in the US. However, due to differences in the curricula and grading systems, direct conversion between these qualifications is not always straightforward.

In the UK, UCAS provides conversions between IB scores and A-Level grades. According to UCAS, an IB score of 38 or above is equivalent to three A-Levels at grades AAB, while an IB score of 32 is equivalent to three A-Levels at grades BBB. For information, read our article comparing the IB and A-Levels.

Similarly, the College Board, which administers the AP exams in the US, states that an IB score of 30 is equivalent to an AP grade of 3, while an IB score of 38 is equivalent to an AP grade of 5. Read more about the IB vs AP.

Have more questions about the A-Levels or AP? Our expert A-Level tutors and AP tutors are here to guide you about each of the curriculum and to help you decide which is the best one for you.

What IB score is needed for Harvard and Ivy League?

Harvard University requires students to maintain a minimum IB score of 40 in order to stand a good chance to get admission into Harvard University. However, it is important for IB students to score at least 38 points and above if they are aiming for an Ivy League school. Successful candidates usually have a predicted score of 38 and above to get admission in Ivy universities. US universities don’t release official cut-off scores for the IB Diploma. Yale states that "there is no minimum test score or GPA needed to be admitted," but that "most admitted students score 38-43 points on the IB Diploma."

It is also important to note that competitive universities like Harvard emphasise higher level (HL) IB subjects. Candidates should aim for a 6s and 7s for each HL subject.

What IB score is needed for Oxford and Cambridge?

The University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge have a highly selective admissions process and receive a large number of applications each year. For this reason, they often set high academic standards for applicants, including those applying with an IB diploma.

According to the University of Oxford, the typical IB offer for undergraduate courses is between 38 and 40 points out of a possible 45. This means that most successful applicants are likely to achieve at least these scores or higher. Most offers tend to also require 766 at HL, with a grade 7 in a specific subject.

However, it's important to note that offers may vary depending on the course and level of competition. For example, highly competitive courses such as medicine and law may require higher scores than the typical offer. Additionally, some colleges or departments within Oxford may have their own specific requirements or preferences.

Similarly, the University of Cambridge states that "most successful applicants achieve at least 40-42 points in the IB." This means that while a score of 40 or above is not a guarantee of admission, it is typically necessary to be competitive in the admissions process.

If you're interested in applying to UK universities as an IB Student, contact our Oxbridge tutors who will completely guide you about everything you need to know.


Can I retake IB exams to improve my score?

Yes, students have the option to retake IB exams if they wish to improve their scores. However, it's important to consider the implications of this decision. Retaking exams means investing additional time in preparation, which could coincide with other academic commitments. Additionally, the retake might delay the submission of final scores to universities if the student is in the application process. Therefore, while retakes are possible, they should be strategically planned.

How does the IB grading curve work?

Unlike some educational systems, the IB does not use a grading curve. Instead, students' results are determined by their performance against set standards. These standards are designed to assess the extent to which students have mastered the academic skills required by the Diploma Programme courses. This means that a student's grade is not influenced by the performance of their peers, but solely by their own achievement against the established criteria.

What's the passing score for each IB subject?

Each IB subject is graded on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being the highest. To pass an individual IB subject, a student typically needs to score a 4 or above, but this can vary depending on the specific requirements of the Diploma Programme. It's important to note that passing the IB Diploma requires meeting additional criteria beyond individual subject scores, including completion of core components and a minimum total score across all subjects.

Where can I find IB study and revision notes?

At TutorChase, we offer a comprehensive collection of free revision notes and questions answered by expert tutors, explore them here:

How are IB internal assessments graded?

IB internal assessments are graded by teachers and then a portion of them are moderated by the IB organization to ensure consistency. These assessments contribute to the final course score alongside the external assessments. The nature of internal assessments varies by subject but can include oral work in languages, fieldwork in geography, laboratory work in the sciences, investigations in mathematics, and artistic performances.

Can I change my IB subjects after starting the program?

Changing IB subjects after starting the program is possible but it's subject to the school's policies and timetable constraints. It's important to consider the implications of such changes, as they might affect the balance of your study program and the workload for different subjects. Always consult with your IB coordinator before making such decisions.

How does the IB Extended Essay topic affect my score?

The Extended Essay is an independent research project on a topic chosen by the student. It's graded externally and contributes up to three points to the total score for the IB Diploma. The choice of topic can affect the score in that it should be in a subject that the student is taking in the Diploma Programme and the student is expected to show a deep understanding and insight into the topic.

How does the CAS project impact my final IB grade?

The Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) project is a core component of the IB Diploma Programme but it does not contribute to the final grade. Instead, it's a pass/fail component based on the completion of a range of activities and a final reflection. Despite not affecting the grade, it's a mandatory part of the program and failing to meet the CAS requirements can result in not receiving the IB Diploma.

How do universities view retakes in the IB program?

Universities generally understand that students may choose to retake certain exams to improve their scores. However, the policies on accepting retake scores can vary by institution. Some universities may consider the highest score, while others may take the average. It's recommended to check the specific policies of the universities you're interested in.

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Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

Charles Whitehouse

Written by: Charles Whitehouse

Oxford University - Masters Biochemistry

Charles scored 45/45 on the International Baccalaureate and has six years' experience tutoring IB and IGCSE students and advising them with their university applications. He studied a double integrated Masters at Magdalen College Oxford and has worked as a research scientist and strategy consultant.

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