Differences between AP and IB courses

Entering high school, students are introduced to AP and IB course options for college-level coursework. So, what’s the difference between AP and IB? What are the pros and cons for each? Keep reading!
ap and ib

In high school, students will have the opportunity to enroll in college-level classes. Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) are offered in many high schools across America. AP and IB classes attract students because of they allow students to earn college credit or place out of the introductory courses in college.   

Deciding whether you want to take IB or AP courses plays an essential factor in choosing a high school. Don’t worry, we’ll provide the most comprehensive information about AP and IB, what the differences are between them, and the advantages and disadvantages for each.   

Table of Contents


An AP course (Advanced Placement) is generally equivalent to a first-year university course but is taken in high school. AP courses are recognized by most US colleges and universities for credit. Additionally, more than 3000 universities in 22 countries have recognized AP courses. 

AP exams use a scoring system from 1 to 5. Candidates can get scores of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. Generally, scores of three or more are recognized for credit at universities, but there are several special circumstances. Some rigorous and selective universities only accept scores of 4 points or more, some even require an AP exam score of 5 to recognize the AP course for credit, and some universities do not accept AP scores.  

Advantages of AP courses

AP courses can increase GPA scores: the average AP course score can increase GPA points by 0.1 points. GPA is one of the top factors when considering students for admission to top universities in the United States, as it reflects the comprehensive learning ability of high school student.  

AP courses provide some of the best proof of student learning ability and future development potential. In the United States, students who can participate in AP courses are outstanding and have high learning ability. Since students must consider their professional direction in the future when selecting AP courses, prestigious universities can fully evaluate students’ capacity and preparation for their future considered profession from the courses the student selected. 

AP courses are also one of the important factors considered by top American universities when reviewing a student’s initiative for taking challenging academic courses. Since AP courses cover subjects in American college introductory courses, they are much more complicated than regular or honors high school classes. Therefore, top universities can judge a student’s confidence and ability to face academic challenges and deal with difficulties from whether they take an AP course as well as how many AP courses they take during high school.  

By earning college credits through AP, students can graduate early or take more rigorous courses in a subject they are interested in. More than 90% of colleges and universities in the United States and Canada grant course credit for AP scores. If you complete a certain number of AP course credits in high school, you may be qualified to graduate college between 1 and 3 semesters early. U.S University costs between $1,000 – $2,000 a credit. An AP course can be worth about three to six university credits, leading to substantial savings. 

How about the AP exam?

The test time for most subjects is 2-3 hours. Each test is divided into two parts: the first part is multiple-choice questions, and the second part is free-response questions. The test content will be different depending on the course. Candidates can choose to apply for exam subjects according to their actual needs and register for exams on the Collegeboard websiteCandidates will receive their AP scores before the end of June. 

The importance of AP

Why do we suggest students sign up for AP Program and get good grades?  

1) AP courses are challenging for students, so somebody who is up for the challenge can prove their learning ability.   

2) AP courses are highly recognized by American universities. AP courses, GPA, and test scores are important criteria for college admissions. American universities consider a student’s performance in AP courses and exams as one basis for measuring whether students are well prepared for university-level study.   

3) From an economic point of view, a high AP score equals university credits. Students can then shorten their college time and save expensive university tuition. 

How to choose the right AP course

Each student needs to consider that taking a high number of AP courses isn’t necessarily better. Instead of taking a bunch of AP courses and earning scores of 2 or 3 on the exam, it is better to concentrate on a few AP courses where you can earn you scores of or 5. AP courses should also align with your own interests, expertise, and own future major(s) / professional direction. If you have a dream university you would like to apply towe suggest going to the AP page on their official website to learn about the approved AP subjects and the required score for each one. There is really no standard answer for how many AP courses are appropriate for a student’s high school workload.   

How to choose AP courses according to my own interests and development direction?

  • If you are interested in economics, you can take economics. 
  • If you are good at science in high school, you can take mathematics, physics, biology, calculus, etc. 
  • If you are preparing to study business, you can take economics or statistics. 
  • If you are strong in liberal arts, you can choose the humanities.  

If you don’t currently have a clear plan for the future, you can choose calculus, English literature, and other courses included in basic liberal arts college education. Choosing AP courses in this way leads to the best outcome; you take classes in an area you’re interested in as well as being able to earn credit towards your future college degree. 

If there are no AP courses at my school, can I still take AP exams?

Generally speaking, universities will pay more attention to students taking AP courses at their high school. By taking AP courses at school, the final grades for the AP courses in the transcript represent students learning process. Universities will calculate students GPA based on the course’s difficulty.    

On the other hand, we understand that some schools do not offer AP courses. Although students do not take AP courses, they can still take AP exams. Although some schools do not offer AP courses – and that can be the determining factor for taking the AP exams, students should also consider their school’s reputation. For example, in the case of Phillips Exeter, even though it doesn’t offer any AP courses, this will not affect the students’ progression. The school itself has advanced course offerings that cover the content required to be successful on the AP exams. After finishing those courses, students can confidently take AP exams.    

Are there any awards for completion of AP projects and what are the standards?

Based on the number of AP classes taken, and scores on AP exams, the College Board also gives students some AP awards, such as: AP Scholar with Honor, AP Scholar with Distinction, State AP Scholar, National AP Scholar, National AP Scholar (Canada), National AP Scholar (Bermuda), DoDEA AP Scholar, International AP Scholar, AP International Diploma (APID). All these awards have different requirements, but the minimum requirements are a score of 3 or more on AP tests exams taken. 

What are the recommended AP reference books?
ap physics 1

The College Board has a very comprehensive introduction to AP courses, and there are free syllabuses online. Aralia Education also provides helpful resources for AP courses, for example, AP Physics 1.   

Try not to rely on AP exam guidance books. The problem with some reference books on the market is that they do not fully cover the syllabus and test structure. In addition, there are many errors and old information, which can easily mislead students.   

Consider buying the official College Board AP test prep books. Although the textbooks recommended by the College Board include a large amount of information, it will not be challenging to comprehend and understand the content. The knowledge points described are also explained thoroughly; therefore, the College Board books are far better most other tutorial books in the market   

Each student has his/her own method of learning, so we recommend you use the method most suitable for youBut it should be noted that students shouldn’t grind through AP courses for the sake of scores. Students should learn with the mentality that AP courses will play an essential part in their university life. If taking high school AP classes is just for rushing to get AP exam scores, there is no real understanding and mastery of the knowledge. The AP exam score is a short-term goal, but the knowledge will benefit you in the long-term, specifically by providing the knowledge base required in order to take higher-level courses during college.   

What are IB Courses?

The International Baccalaureate® (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) was established in 1968 by the non-profit international organization International Baccalaureate Organization. As of 10 December 2020, there were 7,232 programmes being offered worldwide, across 5,402 schools in 158 countries, for students aged 16-19. 

The International Baccalaureate Organization’s mission statement is to: develop inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people. By understanding and preparing for multiculturalism, they contribute to the creation of a better and peaceful world. Through the IB preparatory program, the school trains students in several areas: 

  • Have good breadth and depth of knowledge 
  • Flourish in physical, intellectual, emotional, and ethical aspects 
  • Learn at least two languages 
  • Excellent at traditional subjects
  • Explore the breadth and depth of the knowledge through unique curriculum  
Source: KIS International School
What is the curriculum of IB?

The curriculum of the IB diploma program consists of core concepts and six subject groups. The core of IB is to expand students’ educational experience and challenge them to apply their knowledge and skills. The three core elements included in the course are: 

  • Theory of Knowledge: in which students reflect on the nature of knowledge and on how we know what we claim to know. 
  • The extended essay, which is an independent, self-directed piece of research, finishing with a 4,000-word paper. 
  • Creativity, activity, service, in which students complete a project related to those three concepts. 
What are the six compulsory courses?

The six compulsory courses of the IB preparatory program are basically the same as the American high school curriculum. They are: 

  • Studies in language and literature 

Students need at least one language and literature subject. If students take two language and literature studies courses, they can get a bilingual diploma. The language and literature study subjects provide learning in 55 languages. 

  • Language acquisition 

Students can acquire and master a world language (the most common languages are Latin, Spanish, French, Chinese, etc.). Most IB schools will offer different levels of courses from introductory to advanced. 

  • Individuals and societies 

Available courses include business management, economics, geography, world politics, history, information technology in a global society, philosophy, psychology, social and cultural anthropology, and world religions. By studying any of these subjects, students will have a critical understanding and understanding of human experience and behavior, the environment in which humans live, the types of economic and social settings, and the history of social and cultural undertakings. 

  • Science 

The available subjects are biology, computer science, chemistry, design technology, physics, sports and health sciences, and environmental systems and society (interdisciplinary courses). Students explore the basic concepts, theories, models, and skills in various subject areas and develop their understanding of scientific methods. Students must also complete a science project that combines environmental, social, and ethics to apply scientific methods to solve global problems. 

  • Mathematics 

In order to meet the interests and ability level of different students, and the various university requirements, the IB preparatory program provides four levels of mathematics courses. 

  1. Analysis and Approaches Standard Level (SL) 
  2. Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches Higher Level (HL) 
  3. Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation SL  
  4. Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation HL 
  • The Arts 

Courses include dance, music, film, stage, and visual arts. The art courses aim to help students understand the dynamics characteristics of art, explore the diversity of art across time, space and culture, so students can express themselves with confidence. Students can also choose a second science, personal and social, or language subject instead of art subjects. 

Scoring system for IB Preparatory Programme

If the school offers IB courses, subject examinations will be held in May at the end of the term. IB uses both external and internal evaluation methods to calculate student performance. The primary way of external evaluation is through examinationssince exams have high levels of objectivity and reliability. Essays, structured questions, data answer questions, and text answer questions are used in IB exams.   

The internal evaluation method refers to teacher evaluation, which is often used in most IB courses. The aspects include: 

  • The oral work in the language. 
  • The fieldwork in geography. 
  • The laboratory work in the sciences.
  • Investigations in mathematics. 
  • Artistic performances.   

The IB score ranges from 1-7 points. Students can also get an additional 3 points through the theory of knowledge (TOK) and extended essay (EE) components. Students need to complete a minimum of 24 points to obtain the IB Diploma. The diploma shows each subject’s total scores, so the full score is (6 courses * 7 points/course + 3 additional points from TOK and EE) = 45 points.  

Students who gain a grade 3 or higher in studies in language and literature and a grade 3 or higher in an individuals and societies or science subject, completed in a different language, will also receive the bilingual diploma. 

So how many points do I need to receive for an IB course to be considered excellent?

Generally speaking, a score of 6 in an IB subject is a great result (which is also very challenging). In terms of the total score, if you can get a total score of 38-40 for your IB coursesthis is viewed very positively by university admissions teams.   

Benefits of taking the IB Preparatory Program

The IB Preparatory Program is a set of academically challenging and comprehensive university introductory courses that require students to have strong academic performance.   

According to statistics for many years, students who graduated from the IB Preparatory Program receive an 18% higher in acceptance rate to Ivy League universities. Outside of Ivy League, it’s 22% higher on average (International Insight Research Group). The students who took IB courses can look at problems from an interdisciplinary and transnational perspective. The understanding, creativity, and openness of knowledge and practical problems are better in students.   

So, if students school offers IB program courses, we encourage students to take the courses in order to reach their fullest potential. Students should try their best to take IB courses in the 11th and 12th grade.  

Of course, not every school offers IB courses. In the United States, 920 schools offer IB preparatory courses; more American high schools offer AP courses to provide high school students with opportunities to challenge academic difficulties and earn college credits in advance. 


In the process of university application, academic ability considerations accounted for 60%. The strong academics in AP and IB can strengthen students’ research, understanding, and independent learning ability, thereby increasing university admission probability.  

For example, where two students are taking the same class, but at different levels, where one course is AP, and the other course is a normal course. If the two students receive the same grades, the university admissions officer may prefer students taking AP courses.  

Another advantage is saving money. Whether it’s an IB Diploma or AP Exam scores, both AP and IB can be used towards course credit or higher course placement in colleges and universities. Of the two, AP exams are likely able to be used to transfer more credits, which saves a lot of tuition.  

AP and IB courses can expand a student’s academic capabilities. Generally, many high school students are not fully prepared for college-level work. After spending long hours of reading, independent thinking, doing research, and participating in various activities like labs or performances, AP and IB students can succeed in their college careers.   

Relatively speaking, between AP and IB, the IB system project is better than AP in terms of expanding aspects of student’s ability. This is why in the future, we believe some high schools will gradually move away from AP courses because they feel that AP focuses more on exam-taking abilities instead of holistic learning. 

Philosophy College preparation Education for a globalizing world
Goals, Outcomes Earn college credit in high school Earn a globally-recognized diploma
Curriculum Less focus on writing, Coursework is the only requirement Focused on writing and critical thinking. Second language requirement. Extracurricular requirement. Extended essay requirement.
Program Design No set program, students can take any number of individual courses Diploma program with set series of courses. Courses can be taken a la carte, but this will not result in a diploma
Exam Format Mostly multiple choice with a few writing portions Predominantly writing
Exam Cost Less expensive. No registration fee More expensive. Required registration fee
Exam Eligibility Open to anyone, including IB students, whether they’ve taken the corresponding AP course or not Must be enrolled in IB to take exams
Online Availability All courses available online Select courses available online, students can't earn diploma completely online

There are several differences between the AP and IB coursesPrimarily, their educational philosophy is different.  

AP courses are more concentrated and focus on specific subjects, while IB courses are more comprehensive. IB students can obtain the globally recognized IB Diploma Degree. However, students do not receive an internationally recognized diploma after the AP exam.  

Both AP and IB courses offer transferring credits. Schools have different rules and guidelines about how many credits that they can transfer. Therefore, before deciding to take any AP and IB courses, check with your college counselor in your high school. 

AP pays more attention to individual disciplines and is individually academic-focused. In the IB Diploma Programme, students need creativity and team collaboration, additionally, students are required to be involved in a certain number of hours of club and social activities, which is not needed by AP. 

Aralia Education is an online platform that connects students and teachers around the world. We offer small group and 1-on-1 tutoring sessions in standard academic, AP courses, and more. We’re currently opening up 4 new  online AP tutoring classes: 

Our AP tutors are inspired teachers and professors who are committed to student success. They are recognized in their field or are currently teaching at top high schools and colleges/universities in the US. List of instructors can be read HERE.

Students interested in receiving tutor sessions from us in any subject can register through the form in the top right of the page, or in the course pages.  Aralia’s AP tutors are inspired teachers and professors who are committed to student success. They are recognized in their field or are currently teaching at top high schools and colleges/universities in the US. 

Scroll to Top
Aralia Education Technology logo full


to register for classes and schedule with our teachers

By signing up, you agree to Aralia’s Privacy Policy & Terms of Use


Joining this list is one of them. We send weekly emails with updates about new courses, learning tips, and opportunities for 1:1 call with our consultants

By signing up, you agree to Aralia’s Privacy Policy & Terms of Use