What to Know About IB Exams

Many high schools offer International Baccalaureate (IB) programs instead of, or in addition to, Advanced Placement (AP) programs. What is the IB program and what is the IB exam format? You may be wondering if there’s anything you’re missing—sure, you’ve put your time into exam prep, but what else? If you’re nervous about test day, a little information can go a long way. When you’re past the point of prepping for the test but not yet sitting down for it, your mind may wonder: What should you expect? Thanks to the thousands of students per year who have taken this test before you, there’s information available! What should you know about IB exams?

Internal and external IB assessments

As you may know, International Baccalaureate exams are administered in two sections—internal assessments and external assessments. Your internal assessment will be completed by your teacher and may include presentations, written work, etc. When you take this test, your teacher will grade you, in addition to an appointed IB moderator.

[RELATED: How to Mentally Prepare for Test Day]

The IB external assessment includes questions that may consist of the following:

  1. Essays
  2. Structured problems
  3. Short answer questions
  4. Data interpretation questions
  5. Text-response questions
  6. Questions based on case studies
  7. Multiple-choice questions (used sparingly)

External IB exam format

The exams are administered to you over approximately three weeks in either May or November, with care to avoid overburdening students with too many tests at once. Students shouldn’t have more than six hours of exams in one day and exams are rarely given on Friday afternoons. If you are ill or absent, you may be able to take the exam the day before or after instead with authorization from the IB Assessment Centre. The IB program consists of six core academic areas, as shown in the table below:


IB core academic area Related Courses


Group 1: Language

The student's first language, e.g., English for students in the U.S.


Group 2: Second Language

A foreign language


Group 3: Individuals And Societies

Economics, geography, history, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, business, information technology


Group 4: Experimental Sciences

biology, chemistry, physics, environmental systems


Group 5: Mathematics And Computer Science

math and computer science related courses


Group 6: The Arts

visual arts, music, theatre arts


How the IB exam is scored

You will earn a grade between a one and a seven, seven being the highest. To earn your IB diploma, you need a total of 24 points. In addition to the test, you may also earn up to three points toward your diploma score by performing well on the theory of knowledge and extended essay components of your curriculum. Standard level and high level courses contribute the same amount of points to your overall score.

[RELATED: What High School Students Should Know About IB Courses]

The IB grading process

Special care is given to select individuals to grade your exams who are consistent and objective throughout the process. Many of them are teachers within IB programs who are well acquainted with the subject and format. The program administrators give careful instructions and dismiss graders who don’t meet requirements. This process takes place over several weeks and is fairly complicated. Following this time period, a final grade is awarded and released electronically to students.

College credit for IB exams

Because there is no official “passing” grade for IB exams, it is sometimes difficult to know whether or not you will receive college credit. Generally, the higher your score, the more likely you are to receive credit for your exam. Be sure to check with your potential colleges to get more specific information on how and when you might receive credit for your particular score.


Best of luck during the IB exam weeks!


Any topics you want to know more about? Let us know! The Varsity Tutors Blog editors love hearing your feedback and opinions. Feel free to email us at blog@varsitytutors.com.