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How is the IB graded? Everything You Need To Know

With insights on SL vs. HL courses, grading criteria, and university admission significance, it's a one-stop guide for students aiming to maximise their IB performance.

Max Milstein
Manager Apex Tuition Australia
November 22, 2023
min read

The International Baccalaureate (IB) scoring system can be quite daunting for students and parents who are new to it. However, understanding it will be crucial to your success in the IB. In this comprehensive guide, we will dive into the fundamentals of IB scoring, subject-specific nuances, the role of assessments, and strategies to optimise scores so that you are 100% ready for the IB diploma.

Key Takeaways

  • The IB scoring system is criterion-referenced, with students scoring on a scale of 1-7 across six subject groups.
  • Both internal and external assessments contribute to the final IB grade, along with TOK and EE components.
  • IB scores directly influence university admission decisions, so strategic preparation is essential.
  • Effective study strategies, time management, and exam preparation can help students achieve higher IB scores.


The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) is an academically challenging pre-university curriculum, renowned for its rigour and global portability. With assessments bench-marked across 140 countries, the IB scoring system provides a consistent standard for comparing student achievement.

As IB scores play a pivotal role in university admissions, it is vital for students to understand how the system works and how to maximise their potential scores. This guide provides a comprehensive overview of key topics related to IB scoring, equipping students with the knowledge to unlock their best performance.

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IB Scoring System Fundamentals

What is the IB Scoring System?

The IB uses a criterion-referenced scoring system to evaluate student work across all subjects. This means student work is assessed against predefined standards, rather than norm-referenced grading where students compete against each other (like the VCE).

Scores are awarded from 1 (lowest) to 7 (highest) based on how well students demonstrate their knowledge, understanding, and skills. Specific criteria are defined for each grade level.

The score required to get a seven varies from subject to subject and depends on the subject’s difficulty. Each year these boundaries may change slightly.

Components of the IB Score

An IB candidate's total score is calculated using results from multiple assessment components.

For most subjects, 75% of the IB score comes from external assessments or examinations taken at the end of the two-year programme. The remaining 25% is derived from internal assessments completed during the course.

In addition to scores for six subject areas, students receive grades for TOK and EE. These core components can contribute up to 3 additional points towards the total IB score.

Components of the IB Score

What is the difference between SL and HL?

In the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program, students are required to take courses at both Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL). The main difference between SL and HL courses lies in their depth and complexity. HL courses are more comprehensive and intense, typically requiring a greater number of instructional hours and more in-depth study than SL courses.

Students in the IB Diploma Program must choose six subjects: three at HL and three at SL, although they can opt for four HL and two SL subjects if desired. HL courses usually entail 240 teaching hours, whereas SL courses require 150 hours. This difference in instructional hours reflects the additional complexity and breadth of content in HL courses.

The exams for HL subjects are generally longer and more challenging, often featuring more complex questions that test in-depth knowledge and understanding. In contrast, SL exams are shorter and focus more on the fundamental aspects of the subject.

At the end of the day though, a 7 in an HL subject is effectively the same as a 7 in an SL subject. To maximise your score, it can be really important to pick your subjects correctly.

Scale of Scoring: 1-7 Grades

Here is a brief overview of how the 1-7 IB grade boundaries are defined:

  • 7 - Consistent and thorough understanding of the required knowledge and skills, and the ability to apply them across a wide range of complex contexts.
  • 6 - Consistent and thorough understanding of the required knowledge and skills, and the ability to apply them in familiar and some unfamiliar contexts.
  • 5 - Reasonable understanding of the required knowledge and skills, and the ability to apply them effectively in familiar contexts.
  • 4 - Limited achievement against the standard specified for the course, with some understanding of the required knowledge and skills.
  • 3 - Very limited achievement against the standard specified for the course.
  • 2 - Little or no achievement against the standard specified for the course.
  • 1 - No achievement against the standard specified for the course.

Additional Points: How They Work

Up to 3 additional points are awarded for combined performance in TOK and the EE:

  • A in both TOK and EE = 3 points
  • B in both TOK and EE = 2 points
  • C in either TOK or EE = 1 point
  • D or E in both TOK and EE = 0 points

These bonus points push the total possible IB score to 45 points.

Scoring Scale

Understanding The Different Types Of Assessments

There are two main types of assessments in the IB (with nuances for each subject):

  1. Internal Assessments (IA): Internal Assessments are curriculum-embedded tasks completed during the course. These enable students to demonstrate subject-specific skills. Work is graded first by subject teachers, then samples are moderated by external IB examiners to standardise scores across schools. Moderation ensures consistent global benchmarks.
  2. External Assessments: take the form of final exams administered at the end of the IB programme. These are graded externally by IB examiners. Questions may be short answers, structured essays, data-analysis problems, or multiple choice.

Grading Criteria for Different Subjects

While exact requirements vary by subject, assessment criteria fall into categories like:

  • Knowledge and Understanding: Recall, describe and define key concepts and processes.
  • Application and Analysis: Translate knowledge into new contexts, make comparisons, and analyse data.
  • Synthesis and Evaluation: Draw connections between ideas, justify a stance, and formulate arguments.
  • A variety of skills: Quantitative reasoning, laboratory techniques, and writing skills.

Moderation and Standardisation of Scores

To ensure common standards worldwide, student work is moderated. A sample of each IB teacher's assessments is reviewed by external examiners and may be adjusted to align with global benchmarks.

Moderation ensures IB scores have the same meaning across schools in different countries. This allows universities to compare applicants.

Subject-Specific Scoring

While IB subjects are assessed on the same 1-7 grade scale, the specific requirements and assessments vary across disciplines.

Group 1: Language and Literature

Subjects in this group (e.g. English Literature and English Language and Literature) emphasise textual analysis and understanding literary works in context. Both written and oral skills are evaluated.

Group 1: Language and Literature Matrix

Internal assessments

For both SL and HL, the IA consists of an Individual Oral (IO) which counts for 30% of the final grade at SL and 20% at HL. This assessment involves:

  1. A recorded conference lasting approximately 15 minutes.
  2. Students must discuss a global issue presented through an extract from one non-literary text and one literary work studied in class.
  3. The assessment includes a 10-minute prepared response and a 5-minute question-and-answer session with the teacher.

External Assessment

For Standard Level students, external assessments comprise 70% of the final grade, including:

  • Paper 1 (Textual Analysis): 35% of the final grade, 1 hour and 15 minutes long. Students analyse one of two non-literary texts.
  • Paper 2 (Comparative Essay): 35% of the final grade, 1 hour and 45 minutes long. Students choose one of four questions to write a comparative essay based on two works studied during the course.

For Higher Level students, external assessments make up 80% of the final grade, including:

  • Paper 1 (Textual Analysis): 35% of the final grade, 2 hours and 15 minutes long. Students analyse two non-literary excerpts from different text types.
  • Paper 2 (Comparative Essay): 25% of the final grade, 1 hour and 45 minutes long. Students choose one of four questions to write a comparative essay based on two works studied.
  • Written Task: 20% of the final grade. This task involves writing a 1200 – 1500 word essay based on one literary work or a non-literary body of work studied.

Group 2: Language Acquisition

For foreign language subjects, students are assessed on their comprehension, writing, speaking and reading skills. Higher scores reflect increasing fluency and accurate application of grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.

Group 2: Language Acquisition Matrix

Internal Assessment (25%)

Individual Oral (12-15 minutes)

  • SL: Consists of a 15-minute preparation of a visual stimulus relating to one of the five themes, a 3-4 minute presentation, a 3-4 minute follow-up discussion with the teacher, and a 4-5 minute general discussion addressing at least one additional theme.
  • HL: Involves 20-minute preparation of an extract of up to 300 words (or equivalent in other languages) from the two literary texts studied, followed by a 3-4 minute presentation, a 3-4 minute follow-up discussion, and a 5-6 minute general discussion covering at least one of the five themes.

External Examinations (75%)

Paper 1: Productive Skills (Writing)

  • SL: 75 minutes to complete one writing task from a choice of three, with a word count of 250-400 words for French and German or 500-800 words for Japanese (or equivalent in characters).
  • HL: 90 minutes for the task with a word count of 450-600 words for French and German or 600-600 words for Japanese (or equivalent in characters).

Paper 2: Receptive Skills

  • Reading (25%): 1 hour for both levels, with comprehension texts based on three written texts from the five themes.
  • Listening (25%): SL students have 45 minutes and HL students have 1 hour to answer comprehension questions based on three audio texts related to the five themes.

This structure ensures a balanced assessment of language skills, encompassing both spoken and written proficiency, tailored to the level of study (SL or HL).

Scoring in Group 3: Individuals and Societies

Subjects in this group (like History, Geography, Business Management and Economics) evaluate understanding of real-world issues through Application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of knowledge.

Group 3: Individuals and Societies

Internal Assessment

  • Both SL and HL: Students undertake a research investigation on a historical topic of their choice, developing and applying historian skills by selecting, analysing, and evaluating a range of source material and considering diverse perspectives. This assessment requires students to search for, select, evaluate, and use evidence to reach relevant conclusions. The time allowed for this is 20 hours, and it accounts for 25% of the SL grade and 20% of the HL grade.

External Assessment

Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL)

  • Paper 1: Candidates answer four structured, short-answer questions on the prescribed subject studied (1 hour, 30%).
  • Paper 2: Candidates must answer two extended response questions, one on each topic studied. Each topic has a selection of 6 questions(1.5 hours, 45%).

Higher Level (HL) only

  • Paper 3: Candidates must answer three extended response questions. There are two questions set for each section (2.5 hours, 35%).

Scoring in Group 4: Sciences

Science subjects measure knowledge of scientific facts, concepts, and techniques. Higher scores reflect analysing complex content, evaluating methodology, and forming evidence-based conclusions.

Group 2: Sciences Matrix

Internal assessments

  • Common Structure for Biology, Chemistry, and Physics: The IA format is the same across these subjects. Students must conduct an individual investigation based on a research question, which can involve hands-on practicals, simulations/modelling, or database analysis. The IA, which constitutes about 20% of the final grade, should be 6-12 pages long and is graded out of 24 marks. The criteria include Personal Engagement (2 marks), Exploration (6 marks), Analysis (6 marks), Evaluation (6 marks), and Communication (4 marks).
  • Sports, Exercise and Health Science: Students undertake individual investigations, also accounting for 20% of their final grade.

External Assessment

Biology, Chemistry, and Physics

SL and HL:

  • Paper 1: Multiple-choice questions (1.5 hours for SL, 2 hours for HL, 36%).
  • Paper 2: Data-based and short-answer questions, with extended-response questions (1.5 hours for SL, 2.5 hours for HL, 44% for SL, 36% for HL).

Sports, Exercise and Health Science


  • Paper 1: 30 multiple choice questions (0.75 hours, 20%).
  • Paper 2: Data-based questions, short answer questions, and one extended response (1.25 hours, 35%).
  • Paper 3: Short answer questions on two option topics (1 hour, 25%).


  • Paper 1: 40 multiple choice questions (1 hour, 20%).
  • Paper 2: Data-based questions, short answer questions, and two extended responses (2.25 hours, 35%).
  • Paper 3: Short answer and extended-response questions on two option topics (1.25 hours, 25%).

Scoring in Group 5: Mathematics

Mathematics courses assess mathematical knowledge, concepts, and techniques. Higher scores reflect comprehension of complex concepts, and the ability to apply knowledge to solve abstract problems.

Group 5: Mathematics Matrix

Internal Assessments

For the IB Mathematics courses, both Analysis and Approaches (AA) and Applications and Interpretation (AI), at both Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL), the internal assessment (IA) is consistent across all courses. The IA is a mathematical exploration of the student’s choice. The IA, which constitutes 20% of the overall grade, is evaluated based on the following criteria:

  1. Mathematical Presentation - focuses on the conciseness, clarity, and coherence of the investigation.
  2. Mathematical Communication - assesses the use of appropriate mathematical terminology, notation, and symbols.
  3. Personal Engagement - evaluates the student's independent thinking, creativity, and personal investment in the topic.
  4. Reflection - involves analysing and evaluating the investigation, discussing limitations, and comparing different mathematical approaches.

Regarding the external assessments, which make up 80% of the overall grade, the formats differ between SL and HL for both AA and AI courses. The external assessments for these courses are as follows:

Mathematics AA and AI SL:

  • Paper 1: Consists of short-response questions.
  • Paper 2: Contains extended-response questions.

Mathematics AA and AI HL:

  • Paper 1: Includes short-response questions.
  • Paper 2: Comprises extended-response questions.
  • Paper 3: For HL students, there is an additional Paper 3, which is a more advanced examination, typically involving more complex and in-depth questions. The specifics of Paper 3 for AA HL were not obtained, but it generally follows a similar advanced format to that of AI HL.

For Mathematics AA HL and AI HL, Paper 3 consists of two questions in a "closed" investigation format, and a graphics display calculator (GDC) is required.

It's important to note that the specific topics and focus areas within these papers can vary between the AA and AI courses, with AA focusing more on subjects like algebra, geometry, and calculus, while AI emphasises statistics, probability, and functions.

Scoring in Group 6: The Arts

Subjects in the Arts evaluate skills specific to the discipline. Assessments measure creative thinking, problem-solving, analysis of artworks, and technical abilities.

Group 6: The Arts Matrix

Due to the unique nature of each subject in the Arts, there is a bit of variety in the structure and type of assessments. But overall, all the Arts subjects follow a similar pattern:

  • IA (typically around 40% of the overall mark): These typically involve practical and creative tasks. Students engage in performances, presentations, or project portfolios, showcasing their skills, creativity, and understanding of the subject.
  • External Assessments (typically around 60% of the overall mark): These usually focus on analytical, research, and reflective skills. Students write essays, conduct research projects, or analyse specific aspects of their art form, often comparing different styles or genres. These assessments test students' ability to apply their knowledge and understanding in a broader context.

Both types of assessments are designed to evaluate a range of competencies in each artistic discipline.

The Other IB Core Components

Beyond the six subject groups, TOK and EE add up to 3 additional points towards the IB score.

Theory of Knowledge (TOK): Scoring Essentials

TOK is an interdisciplinary course that gets graded based on a 1600-word essay and an oral presentation:

  • Essay (67%): Graded externally on understanding knowledge issues and critical thinking.
  • Presentation (33%): Graded internally, then externally moderated—assesses formulation and communication of ideas.

TOK is scored using the letter grades A-E, which convert into points that count towards the total IB score.


The Extended Essay (EE): Grading Breakdown

The EE is an independent research project culminating in a 4000-word essay. It develops research and academic writing skills.

Assessment criteria include:

  • Formulating a focused research question
  • Selecting, evaluating and synthesising relevant sources
  • Structure, organisation and presentation
  • Critical analysis and evaluation of arguments
  • Formal academic writing style

Like TOK, the EE gets letter grades A-E that contribute points to the IB total.

Essay writing

Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) and its Impact

CAS involves engaging in creative pursuits, sports/fitness activities, and community service. It mandates 18 months (150 hours) of participation.

While CAS does not contribute points, it is a mandatory diploma requirement. Completing CAS is essential for attaining the IB qualification.

IB Score and University Admissions

With their rigorous reputation, IB scores can strengthen university applications. However, admission requirements differ across institutions.

Converting your IB score to ATAR for University Admissions in Australia

Before 2023, you would receive your IB score out of 45 and this was converted to an ATAR. Year to year there were minor changes in the conversion but largely stayed the same.

However, in 2023, there has been a rather large change to this system which applies to students applying for tertiary study in 2024. Ultimately this change involves a finer-grained conversion of IB scores, incorporating decimal points to differentiate between students with the same overall IB score.

Previously, the conversion from IB to ATAR in Australia was based on the overall score out of 45, with no consideration for the nuanced differences within the same score. For instance, this scoring method didn't differentiate between students within the same grade band. For example, a student who just barely achieved a grade 6 (the lower end of the grade 6 band) was perceived the same as a student who was just one mark away from scoring a 7 (the higher end of the grade 6 band).

Starting from the admissions for 2023 onwards, the International Baccalaureate has provided more detailed data, allowing for a more accurate mapping of IB scores to a Combined Rank. This includes accessing scaled total marks for each subject, offering more conversion points and detailed information about diploma students. As a result, students will receive a whole number score upon completing the IB Diploma, as well as an IB Admissions Score from UAC (or the tertiary admissions center in their state if outside NSW and the ACT) that adds decimal places based on average performance within each band of their subject results. For example, a student may receive a diploma score of 41, and an IB Admissions Score of 41.75.

The new IBAS (IB Admissions Score) table illustrates this change with decimal point scoring. For instance, a score of 45.00 converts to an ATAR of 99.80, while a slightly higher 45.25 results in an ATAR of 99.85, and a 45.50 corresponds to 99.95, the same as a perfect score of 45.75. To see the conversion table, you can find it here.

IB Admissions Score Table

This refined conversion system aims to provide a fairer comparison between IB and state curriculum students. It was introduced following criticism that IB students had an edge over their counterparts in the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) when their results were converted into ATARs for university applications. This overhaul is intended to provide a more accurate and fair representation of students' achievements, ensuring that the tertiary rankings reflect their true academic performance.

Understanding University Requirements For International Universities

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma is recognised globally and can offer significant advantages for students applying to international universities.

  1. Global Recognition: Unlike country-specific programs, the IB Diploma is recognised by leading universities around the world, placing students on the global stage. This global recognition means that wherever you sit your IB exams, the results are understood and valued by admissions officers across different countries. However, the extent to which the IB is valued can vary by region; for instance, it's highly regarded by US universities, perhaps more so than by UK universities.
  2. Credit and Advanced Placement: Many top universities, especially in the US, offer credits or advanced placement for high scores in IB courses. This can be a significant advantage for IB students, allowing them to potentially bypass introductory courses or earn credits towards their degree, ultimately saving time and tuition costs. For example, universities like the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, and New York University offer course credits for high scores in higher-level IB subjects.

However, unlike Australian universities that mostly care about your score (or ATAR), there may be other factors universities consider overseas:

  1. Personal Statement or Essays: Universities often require a personal statement or essays where students can express their interests, experiences, and motivations for choosing a particular course or university.
  2. Letters of Recommendation: Letters from teachers or counsellors that highlight a student's academic and personal qualities are important.
  3. Extracurricular Activities: Involvement in sports, arts, volunteer work, or other extracurricular activities can demonstrate a well-rounded personality and strong time management skills.
  4. Interviews: Some universities conduct interviews as part of the admissions process, either in person or virtually.
  5. Standardised Test Scores: Apart from the IB, some universities may also consider scores from other standardised tests like the SAT or ACT.
  6. Language Proficiency: For non-native English speakers, proficiency in English, often demonstrated through tests like IELTS or TOEFL, is crucial.
  7. Portfolios or Auditions: For certain programs like art, music, or design, portfolios or auditions can be a key part of the application.

Maximising Your IB Score

Maximise your IB Score

Effective Study Strategies

  • Take organised, handwritten notes summarising key concepts aligned to the IB curriculum
  • Answer past paper questions to improve exam technique
  • Participate in study groups to collaborate and discuss content
  • Create visual aids like diagrams, flashcards and mind maps
  • Practice writing structured essays within the time limits
  • Mark essays using IB rubrics to internalise assessment standards

Time Management and IB Exam Preparation

  • Follow a consistent study schedule and avoid procrastinating
  • Ensure adequate time for assignment completion and revision
  • Plan study periods of 40-50 minutes with breaks to maintain focus
  • Be aware of syllabus coverage to identify gaps in knowledge early
  • Complete timed full-length practice exams in exam conditions
  • Ensure sufficient sleep, nutrition and self-care to manage stress

Utilising Resources: Teachers, Tutors, and Online Materials

  • Consult teachers regularly to clarify doubts and get feedback
  • Consider private tutoring to target weak areas and polish exam technique
  • Leverage online repositories of notes, past papers, and study guides
  • Read exemplary essays and internal assessments to understand standards
  • Access IB-recommended textbooks and resources for each subject

Maximising IB Performance with Apex Tuition Australia

Apex Tuition Australia provides customised tutoring and mentoring programs to help Australian students excel in the IB Diploma. Our tutors have achieved an average ATAR of 99.60 in the IB. They know exactly what it takes to succeed.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How is the IB Diploma score calculated?

The IB score is calculated based on a combination of internal and external assessments across six subjects, each graded on a scale of 1-7, contributing to a maximum of 42 points. Additionally, up to 3 bonus points are awarded for the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) and the Extended Essay (EE). Internal assessments are marked by teachers and then moderated externally, while external assessments are final exams graded by IB examiners. The total maximum score achievable is 45 points, with 24 points generally required to earn the IB Diploma.

What is the difference between IB Diploma Score and IB Admissions Score (IBAS)?

The IB Diploma Score is the total points a student earns from their International Baccalaureate (IB) exams, with a maximum of 45 points. It combines scores from six subjects, TOK, and EE. The IB Admissions Score (IBAS) is a refined metric used in Australia, converting the IB Diploma Score into a more detailed ranking with decimal points. This fine-grained conversion helps in university admissions, providing a more nuanced comparison between students, especially when converting IB scores to an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). The IBAS offers a more precise assessment of student performance for university applications.

What is a good IB Score?

There is no universal 'good' IB score. Competitive scores for top universities generally range from 38-42 points. However, requirements vary across institutions and programs. Checking university admissions data provides helpful benchmarks.

Can I retake IB exams to improve my score?

IB allows retaking up to 3 exams in subsequent exam sessions. This offers an opportunity to improve scores for university admission potentially. Registration deadlines apply for retake exams.

How is the IB score different from other curricula?

The IB Hexacore structure provides a broad, multifaceted foundation. Criterion-referenced grading applies global benchmarks. Combining internal and external assessments allows for a holistic demonstration of skills. TOK and EE develop critical thinking and research capabilities.

Can I get my score re-marked?

Yes, students can request a re-mark of their IB exam scores and IAs. This process is known as "Enquiry Upon Results" (EUR). If a student believes there has been an error in the marking of their exams or their IA, they can request a re-evaluation. This process involves a complete re-mark of the exam by a senior examiner. However, it's important to note that this can lead to a change in the score, either higher or lower, or it may remain the same. The request for a re-mark usually involves a fee, and it must be initiated through the school's IB coordinator.

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