January IB Parent Education: Higher Level vs. Standard Level IB Courses

The nature of HL and SL courses

It is essential for any pre university education to equip students with the depth of discipline-specific knowledge and skills that they will need for their chosen academic and career paths. However, this must be balanced with the breadth needed to develop well-rounded students who can draw connections between the different disciplines. As such, the philosophy of the IB DP is that students should engage with a range of subjects while being able to explore specific areas of personal interest in greater depth. SL courses ensure students are exposed to a range of disciplines that they might otherwise opt out of, and HL courses allow students to spend more time with subjects they are more interested in by exploring options in addition to the SL core curriculum. In this sense, all DP courses, regardless of whether they are SL or HL, are integral to the programme.

Curriculum and assessment

Both SL and HL courses are meant to span the two years of the DP. SL courses are recommended to have at least 150 hours of instructional time, and HL courses are recommended to have at least 240 instructional hours. In most cases both SL and HL courses consist of the same educational aims, core syllabus and curriculum and assessment models. HL courses typically also include a range of additional elements designed to allow students to explore areas of interest within the subject in more depth. In this sense, SL courses are not watered down versions of their HL counterparts. The assessment criteria are equally demanding for both levels, and SL exams are marked and standardized with the same rigour as all IB coursework.

“Standard Level and Higher Level Courses.” IBO, IBO, 2015, https://www.ibo.org/globalassets/publications/recognition/slhl-brief-en.pdf.

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