AP and IB, two small acronyms that have a big influence over the lives of students.
With only a handful of international schools in Singapore, the choices for expats are minimal but varied. The distinctions between these schools are widely known to expats looking for the right choice. The most obvious of these differences is in the school systems. A widely debated, and very heated, argument is the comparison of Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB).
According to many, this is a reason to choose SAS over UWC, one of the better-known IB schools in Singapore, or vice versa. But how much do students from either schools really know about the other? This varies from person to person, but seems to be on the minds of students from both schools.
Some students made a conscious decision to attend an AP school, as opposed to an IB one.
Senior Kiana Baghaie said her parents chose an AP school as opposed to an IB one. “I used to go to an IB school but my parents decided that SAS, being an AP school, would be more beneficial for college in the States.” This decision was fueled by wanting to go to college in America, where AP is prefered, at times.
In comparison, IB seems to be a significant factor in choosing UWC for high school. Siya Dayal, a 2014 graduate of UWC who is heading to the University of Birmingham, feels this way. Because she was in UWC since 8th grade, she always knew she would have to go through IB. This was an unspoken thought from middle school onwards.
“If I had a choice back then, I would have still chosen to go to an IB school. I have a lot of friends who’ve been in both the UK and US after high-school, and IB really prepared them for university.” Dayal emphasizes how rewarding taking IB has been, stating that in hindsight, it was important for her future.
When asked about the differences between IB and AP, students of one system know very little but the other. Baghaie says that from what she’s heard, IB is more difficult.
“Both [courses] are challenging; you can’t really compare them. All I know about IB is that they have required service, an extended essay, and three required higher level courses.”
Dayal confirms this aspect of the IB curriculum. “The workload is not just based on academics, because we are expecting to do a lot of other things such as service and sports. We need to be part of society as a whole. We also have an extra subject, Theory of Knowledge, which teaches us to question knowledge and what we consider true.”
Ayla Bhattal, currently a senior at UWC, attended SAS for her freshmen year. She adds that being a well-rounded student is a part of being in IB. “IB requires you to be the one involved. To succeed you have to take the initiative. You either fail or succeed, depending on whether you put in the effort.”
Like Dayal, she agrees that the workload is not exclusively academic. “We are given so many different types of assessments, translations, speeches, commentaries.”
Due to an intensely-varied workload, IB students feel an equally intense pressure. Tristan Grigg, a junior at SAS, often sees his friends at UWC offer criticisms of the program on social media. “I see Facebook posts all the time with people complaining about taking IB,” Grigg said.
Dayal said that her peers and the student body often look down on those taking other programs. “The general consensus is that anything else, other than IB, is is the easy way out. People are condescending towards people who take other programs, like A levels.” A levels are the primary system of education in the UK.
Within SAS, students agree that competition is fierce. Baghaie said, “At SAS there is huge competition with grades. Through GPAs and tests, and the closer we come to college admissions, people are trying to work a lot harder.”
As pressure increases, tensions between peers seems to increase too. Grigg shared a similar sentiment. “In AP classes the competition is high. People ask questions and compare grades all the time.”
Students from UWC feel this pressure too, especially in social circles. “Competition depends on who you associate it and who you hang out with,” Siya stated. “In that sense, there’s a lot of competition within friend groups. I definitely saw this when student awards were given out, according to subject.”
The IB system has two-year courses, something that SAS students feel could be incorporated. Baghaie said that, “Classes like AP Bio could afford to be a two year course, since one year isn’t enough time. My friends who took it last year felt like they ran out of time.”
Bhattal, giving a UWC perspective, agrees that this is beneficial for students. “Our courses are more spaced out so it gives us more time to get good at them.”
UWC students, though, feel that classes are too focused on the final IB exams. This leads to gaps in knowledge, according to whatever is or isn’t on the final test. Bhattal feels that this is something that could be changed. “All classes are geared towards us taking the IB test. Whatever isn’t on the final test, is not taught to us.”
When it comes to a comparison, students found it difficult to evaluate both schools. As many of them stated, it is hard to compare,and rank, two systems that are so different. Students agree that both AP and IB could afford to make changes, but ultimately, as senior year comes to a close, it is worth going through the system.
Bhattal said that this is true of both AP and IB, having attended both schools. “You have to be tuned in to the world around you. In the end, it’s so rewarding.”