What is the IB Diploma Programme?

The Diploma Programme (DP) is a rigorous pre-university course of study designed for students in the 16 to 19 age range. It is a broad-based two-year course that aims to encourage students to be knowledgeable and inquiring, but also caring and compassionate. There is a strong emphasis on encouraging students to develop intercultural understanding, open-mindedness, and the attitudes necessary for them to respect and evaluate a range of points of view.

The course is presented as six academic areas enclosing a central core. Students study two modern languages (or a modern language and a classical language), a humanities or social science subject, an experimental science, mathematics and one of the creative arts. Instead of an arts subject, students can choose two subjects from another area. It is this comprehensive range of subjects that makes the Diploma Programme a demanding course of study designed to prepare students effectively for university entrance. In each of the academic areas students have flexibility in making their choices, which means they can choose subjects that particularly interest them and that they may wish to study further at university.

Normally, three subjects (and not more than four) are taken at higher level (HL), and the others are taken at standard level (SL). The IB recommends 240 teaching hours for HL subjects and 150 hours for SL. Subjects at HL are studied in greater depth and breadth than at SL. In addition, three core elements—the extended essay, theory of knowledge and creativity, activity, service—are compulsory and central to the philosophy of the programme.

Through the DP, schools are able to develop students who:

  • have excellent breadth and depth of knowledge
  • flourish physically, intellectually, emotionally and ethically
  • study at least two languages
  • excel in traditional academic subjects
  • explore the nature of knowledge through the programme’s unique theory of knowledge course.

Please click on a heading below to reveal the relevant information:

What are the benefits of the IB Diploma Programme?

International research shows that there are many benefits to studying the Diploma Programme including:

  • It is an internationally recognised qualification that enables entrance into thousands of universities worldwide
  • There is more time devoted to learning than to assessment
  • It is a broad and balanced curriculum, valuing all subject groups, promotes research an inquiry skills and extra-curricular involvement
  • DP students are better able than their peers to cope with demanding workloads, manage their time and meet the expectations placed on them, according to one study
  • Analysis of DP students in Canada, the UK and the USA found that the DP’s extended essay improves students’ approach to learning in higher education
  • 72% of students taking the DP in China attend one of the world’s top 500 universities, according to a 2013 study.

Read more about the benefits of the IBDP here: https://ibo.org/research/key-findings/dp-key-findings/

How is the Diploma Programme different to the SACE?

The SACE is a two-stage program offering a range of subjects. As students study the SACE, they will gain valuable literacy and numeracy skills in each of the disciplines offered, be challenged to think critically and creatively, problem solve, develop entrepreneurial skills and build upon their intercultural and ethical understanding.


IB Diploma Programme

South Australian Certificate of Education 


Written by the International Baccalaureate Organisation.


Written by the SACE Board of South Australia.


Studied over two years?


Yes, but subjects can be taken at only year 11 level, or year 12 or both.


Yes, for all subjects (80% of total grade)

Yes, for some subjects (30% of total grade)


Subjects graded out of 7, with the Core graded out of 3.
Total grade converted to a score out of 45.

Subjects graded from A to E

Depth of Study

All subjects can be studied at two levels Standard Level (SL), equivalent to 150 teacher hours over two years and Higher Level (HL), equivalent to 240 hours over two years.

SACE subjects vary in depth and challenge depending on whether they are studied at year 11 (Stage 1) level of year 12 (Stage 2 level). There is variation across subjects too.

Qualification Recognition

Recognised worldwide by thousands of universities
More universities are offering credits to IB students to recognise the depth of study in DP subjects and allow them the study alternative subjects within their degree.

Recognised within Australia

University Entrance

Yes, all over the world

Yes, you obtain an ATAR that can allow you to enter universities within Australia

Values extra-curricular learning?

Yes, through the CAS programme.

Yes, through the recognition of other learning e.g. VET, community programs.

Compulsory components

Must study six subjects over 5 or 6 subject groups, including a second language. Must study the core (TOK, CAS and EE)


Must study five subjects (or equivalent at year 12 level)
Must study the Research Project
Must complete PLP, half year of Maths and full year of English at year 11 level

Support for students with medical conditions, learning difficulties or psychological conditions?

Yes, called “inclusive Access arrangements”

Yes, called “Special Provisions”

The Core

The International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) is responsible for writing and determining the requirements of the DP curriculum.

A compulsory part of the DP curriculum is the DP Core. Comprised of three components, the DP core aims to challenge students to apply their knowledge and skills and to broaden their experience beyond the subject groups.

Theory of Knowledge (TOK)

A unique subject to the IBDP, Theory of Knowledge teaches students to reflect on the nature of knowledge, how we know and what we claim to know. The following details are taken from the IBO website:

How is TOK structured?

As a thoughtful and purposeful inquiry into different ways of knowing, and into different kinds of knowledge, TOK is composed almost entirely of questions.

The most central of these is “How do we know?”, while other questions include:

  • What counts as evidence for X?
  • How do we judge which is the best model of Y?
  • What does theory Z mean in the real world?

Through discussions of these and other questions, students gain greater awareness of their personal and ideological assumptions, as well as developing an appreciation of the diversity and richness of cultural perspectives.

Assessment of TOK

The TOK course is assessed through an oral presentation and a 1,600 word essay.

The presentation assesses the ability of the student to apply TOK thinking to a real-life situation, while the essay takes a more conceptual starting point.

For example, the essay may ask students to discuss the claim that the methodologies used to produce knowledge depend on the use to which that knowledge will be used.

See examples of TOK essay questions: https://ibo.org/programmes/diploma-programme/curriculum/theory-of-knowledge/example-essays/

What is the significance of TOK?

TOK aims to make students aware of the interpretative nature of knowledge, including personal ideological biases – whether these biases are retained, revised or rejected.

It offers students and their teachers the opportunity to:

  • reflect critically on diverse ways of knowing and on areas of knowledge
  • consider the role and nature of knowledge in their own culture, in the cultures of others and in the wider world.

In addition, TOK prompts students to:

  • be aware of themselves as thinkers, encouraging them to become more acquainted with the complexity of knowledge
  • recognize the need to act responsibly in an increasingly interconnected but uncertain world.

TOK also provides coherence for the student, by linking academic subject areas as well as transcending them.

It therefore demonstrates the ways in which the student can apply their knowledge with greater awareness and credibility.

Extended Essay (EE)

The Extended Essay is an independent, self-directed research task, conducted over the two-year programme finishing with a 4,000-word paper. The following is taken from the IBO website:

What is the significance of the extended essay?

The extended essay provides:

  • practical preparation for undergraduate research
  • an opportunity for students to investigate a topic of personal interest to them, which relates to one of the student’s six DP subjects, or takes the interdisciplinary approach of a World Studies extended essay.

Through the research process for the extended essay, students develop skills in:

  • formulating an appropriate research question
  • engaging in a personal exploration of the topic
  • communicating ideas
  • developing an argument.

Participation in this process develops the capacity to analyse, synthesize and evaluate knowledge.

How is study of the extended essay structured?

Students are supported throughout the process of researching and writing the extended essay, with advice and guidance from a supervisor who is usually a teacher at the school.

Students are required to have three mandatory reflection sessions with their supervisors. The final session, a concluding interview, is also known as viva voce.

The extended essay and reflection sessions can be a valuable stimulus for discussion in countries where interviews are required prior to acceptance for employment or for a place at university.

How is the extended essay assessed?

All extended essays are externally assessed by examiners appointed by the IB. They are marked on a scale from 0 to 34.

The score a student receives relates to a band. The bands are:

A – work of an excellent standard.
B – work of a good standard.
C –work of a satisfactory standard.
D – work of a mediocre standard.
E – work of an elementary standard.

Read some examples of Extended Essay titles: https://www.ibo.org/programmes/diploma-programme/curriculum/extended-essay/example-essays/

Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS)

NMHS has developed a comprehensive website to guide students and teachers through CAS, which can be found at https://myfanwymaywald8084.wixsite.com/ibdpcas 

The following is taken from the IBO website:

CAS requires students to take part in a range of experiences and at least one project. These should involve:

  • real, purposeful activities, with significant outcomes
  • personal challenge
  • thoughtful consideration, such as planning, reviewing progress, reporting
  • reflection on outcomes and personal learning

The IB don’t prescribe specific projects or activities to students. All students should be involved in activities they’ve initiated themselves.

Example of a creativity project

For a creativity project, a talented musician could learn a particularly difficult piece, or a different style of playing.

Example of an activity project

Activity projects do not have to be sports-related or competitive. A valuable activity project could help a student overcome a personal fear, such as rock climbing.

Example of a service project

Service projects must be beneficial for the community as well as providing a learning opportunity for the student.

What can I study?

At NMHS, to complete the diploma, students must:
  • Study the IBDP Core (Extended, Essay, Theory of Knowledge and Creativity, Activity and Service)
  • Study six subjects, one per subject group and an additional subject from group 3 or group 4
  • Three subjects at Higher Level (equivalent to 240 teaching hours over two years)
  • Three subjects at standard level (equivalent to 150 teaching hours over two years)
  • Students may also study up to four HL subjects (subject to approval)
NMHS offers students the following subjects:

Group 1 – Language A: Language and Literature

  • Language and Literature

Group 2 – Language Acquisition

  • Italian
  • German
  • Japanese
  • Chinese (Mandarin)

Note: If students don’t have any prior experience in language acquisition, students should study Language Ab Initio: Japanese

Group 3 – Individuals and Societies

  • Economics
  • Psychology
  • Environmental Systems and Societies*

Group 4 – Sciences

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Environmental Systems and Societies*
  • Physics

Group 5 – Mathematics

  • Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches
  • Mathematics: Applications and Interpretations

Note: Environmental Systems and Societies may be counted as either a Group 3 or Group 4 subject.

For more information about the subjects offered, please visit the school’s curriculum guide: https://www.nmhscurriculumguide.com


The IB uses both external (produced and assessed by the IBO) and internal assessment (produced and assessed by the school) in the Diploma Programme.

External assessment

Examinations form the basis of the assessment for most courses. Examinations are used by the IB because of their high levels of objectivity and reliability.

They include:

  • essays
  • structured problems
  • short-response questions
  • data-response questions
  • text-response questions
  • case-study questions
  • multiple-choice questions

Sample Examinations can be found on the IBO website as a guide: Diploma sample exam papers – International Baccalaureate® (ibo.org)

The Examination Schedule can be found here: Exam schedule – Diploma – International Baccalaureate® (ibo.org)

Internal assessment

Teacher assessment is also used for most courses. This includes:

  • oral work in languages
  • fieldwork in geography
  • laboratory work in the sciences
  • investigations in mathematics
  • artistic performances.
How DP assessment is scored?

In addition to academic skills, DP assessment encourages an international outlook and intercultural skills, wherever appropriate. Student results are determined by performance against set standards, not by each student’s position in the overall rank order.

Subjects – In the DP, students receive grades ranging from 7 to 1, with 7 being highest. Students receive a grade for each DP course attempted.

A student’s final diploma result score is made up of the combined scores for each subject. The diploma is awarded to students who gain at least 24 points, subject to certain minimum levels of performance including successful completion of the three essential elements of the DP core.

The DP core – The theory of knowledge (TOK) and extended essay (EE) components are awarded individual grades and, collectively, can contribute up to 3 additional points towards the overall diploma score.

Creativity, activity, service (CAS) – the remaining element in the DP core – does not contribute to the points total but authenticated participation is a requirement for the award of the diploma.

Students must successfully complete the Core to receive the Diploma. The following table outlines how the three points are determined from TOK and EE.

A DP candidate can only receive the overall diploma certificate if none the following nine conditions below applies:

  • CAS requirements have not been met.
  • Candidate’s total points are fewer than 24.
  • An N (no grade awarded) has been given for TOK, EE or for a contributing subject.
  • A grade E has been awarded for one or both of TOK and the EE
  • There is a grade 1 awarded in a subject/level.
  • Grade 2 has been awarded three or more times (HL or SL).
  • Grade 3 or below has been awarded four or more times (HL or SL).
  • Candidate has gained fewer than 12 points on HL subjects (for candidates who register for four HL subjects, the three highest grades count).
  • Candidate has gained fewer than 9 points on SL subjects (candidates who register for two SL subjects must gain at least 5 points at SL).
Example DP score calculation

To help understand how the Diploma Grade is awarded, please refer to the following example:

A student has enrolled in the following subjects and achieved results as below:

Subject Grade
Language and Literature 5
Italian 4
Economics 6
Psychology 5
Physics 7
Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches 7
CAS Completed


Subject Grades
5 + 4 + 6 + 5 + 7 + 7 = 34

Core Grades
Using the table above, B + A = 3

DP Score
34 + 3 = 37/45

Using the Conversion table from the SATAC website, this student would have an equivalent ATAR of 95.20 (using information published in 2021)

For more information about IB to ATAR conversions, please visit the SATAC website.


If I’m in the DP, do I still have to do the SACE?

You either complete the DP or the SACE, you are not required to study both. This means that you are not required to complete any of the requirements of the SACE, such as the examinations, the Research project or the compulsory literacy and numeracy components.

Of course, if you are completing the Diploma programme, you will still need to complete the EE, a Maths and English subject and the DP examinations. Given that you complete the PLP in year 10, which is a part of the SACE, you should still complete the PLP, just in case you are not accepted into the DP or choose to leave at a later time.

Do IB Students sit for a different exam format other than SACE during Year 12?

The SACE and the IBDP are completely different educational programs with different curricula and assessment. Not all SACE subjects have exams but all DP subjects have exams. They are different in format, in the way they are assessed and their weighting. DP examinations are held in two cycles, one in May and one in November to accommodate differences in academic years around the world. Given we are in the southern hemisphere, our school will complete examinations in the November assessment cycle. DP students complete these examinations at the end of their second year in the programme. They contribute to 80% of your final DP grade. For more details, please see the assessment information on the each subject page.

Can I study other DP subjects that the school doesn’t offer?

The schools hopes that as the number of students who choose to study the IBDP grows, we can offer more subjects to students. Some IBDP courses are available online, which may incur an additional fee. Speak to the Diploma Programme Coordinator for more information.

What is ‘SL’ and ‘HL’?

The Diploma Programme requires that students learn a broad range of subjects at a deep level.

Students will take some subjects at higher level (HL) and some at standard level (SL).  HL and SL courses differ in scope but are measured according to the same grade descriptors, with students expected to demonstrate a greater body of knowledge, understanding and skills at higher level.

Each student takes at least three (but not more than four) subjects at higher level, and the remaining at standard level.

Standard level subjects take up 150 teaching hours. Higher level comprises 240 teaching hours over the two year programme.

Once I start the IBDP, am I committed for the two years?

We would encourage you to persist and complete the Diploma, but if it’s not for you, you have the option to leave the IBDP at the end of semester 1 or semester 2 of the first year. We can apply for SACE recognition based on what you’ve completed and you can continue and complete High School in the SACE.

I’m a SACE Students, can I study the DP?

The SACE will recognise one IBDP subject to count as credits towards your SACE completion. If you are an IBDP student, you cannot use SACE subjects to contribute towards your Diploma.

What is the EE? Is it similar to the Research Project?

It is similar to the research project, but has different requirements and is assessed in a different way. The extended essay introduces students to the demands and rewards of independent work. Emphasis is placed on doing personal research and communicating ideas effectively in order to write a 4,000-word essay in an area of personal interest.


Inquiries can be sent to dl.0787.IBDiploma@schools.sa.edu.au

How to Apply

Students must apply to study the IBDP. Students must be able to provide information to support their application in the following ways:

  • A reason for why they want to study the IBDP
  • A record of their academic achievement
  • A recommendation from a teacher
  • Additional information such as extraordinary achievements, experiences or details of financial hardship or ATSI status.

A student guide to the application can be found here.

A template for recording your extra-curricular involvement can be found here.

A template for your letter of recommendation can be found here.

Students and families can complete the application online here: International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme Application

The IBDP Coordinator will assess the application and contact you to seek additional information or to inform you of the success of your application.

Please note that there is an additional fee of $1750 required to study the IBDP.


Inquiries can be sent to dl.0787.IBDiploma@schools.sa.edu.au