History – IB vs A Levels


Q: What are the main differences between A Level History and IB History?

A: Difficult to say, as I have only have limited knowledge of what A Level History is like. I can only compare IB HSP History though, which has a different syllabus from the rest of the HL History students.

What IB HSP and A Level History share in common is the Cold War. I’d say this is about the same between both syllabi. Not sure if A Levels has Compare Contrast type questions too, but IB does and they’re usually quite tough.
For International History, the A Level route also has global economy, religious fundamentalism and conflict and cooperation in the Middle East (if I’m getting it right). I’d say this corresponds to the Single Party States component of our syllabus. Both syllabi have a remarkable currency today – the A Levels in its explanation of most of today’s conflicts, and the IB in its providing a basis for comparing our Singaporean Single Party State with the single party states of Stalinist USSR, Hitler’s Germany and Mao’s PRC (there are many striking similarities… Like how Hitler also published a picture book titled “Pictures from the Life of the Fuhrer” in 1936…sounds familiar?).

The regional studies component in the A Levels would be nationalism in Southeast Asia and for IB, this would be the history of modern China. Both are fairly interesting (Chinese history maybe more but that might just be me) and are extremely relevant to our present context but I think it might be easier to do extra reading for Chinese history because there is A LOT of literature out there on it, I daresay, more than that of SEA.

The tests are rather different I think. For IB we have three papers. Paper 1 is a one hour source based paper on the fall of communism (which is essentially what we would have already learnt under the three main parts of our curriculum), Paper 2 is SPS and the Cold War, which is 1.5 hours long for two essays. Paper 3 is Chinese history and is 2.5 hours for three essays. A Levels have a similar format, except their Paper 1 and Paper 2 equivalents are combined and take place in three hours, and they have to write four essays instead of two for that paper. For their Paper 3 equivalent, they get half an hour more than us for the same number of essays 😛

That said, History is really as difficult as you make it, whether in IB or A Levels. It’s up to you if you want to do your extra reading, memorise the historiographical contexts of these readings and so on. That’s the beauty of History – you can never actually say you’ve finished studying all there is to study for History, for there’ll always be another school of thought/account you haven’t read yet 🙂

P.S. I forgot one last thing – for IB History, you have to do a 2000-word historical investigation internal assessment that counts in your final grade. You can research on a topic of your choice! It’s quite fun if you pick the right topic – one that you’re interested in, and has lots of historical debate 🙂

Moira Low is from the graduating batch of 2013. She is currently reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford.

Adapted with permission from ask.fm/moiralow.

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  1. Hello! A former ACSian here (did O levels in 2013 and just graduated from JC in 2015) and I did A level History. I think the syllabus is changing, but here’s the brief rundown for A level History and what it’s like at least up to last year when I did the A levels.

    Assuming that it’s taken at the H2 level, History can be broken down into 2 papers – International History for paper 1 and Southeast Asian History for paper 2. At the H1 level, only paper 1 is taken. Basically, both papers run the same format, which comprises 1 SBQ essay and 3 Essay questions, all in 3 hours. SBQ gives you 5 sources where you are evaluating it’s comprehension (aka what does it say), reliability (is it true) and credibility (can it be trusted). Essay questions require you to form and argue a thesis regarding that particular question.

    Content-wise, both papers are quite heavy, and can seem like 2 different subjects at once. As of 2015 A levels, the syllabus is as follows:
    Paper 1 (IH) – Cold War, Global Economy, Arab-Israeli Conflict, Indo-Pakistani Conflict, Religious Fundamentalism, and UN (SBQ).
    Paper 2 (SEA) – Rise of Nationalism, Japanese Occupation and Decolonisation, Political and Economic Development of post-independence SEA states, Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, Inter-state Tensions (both causes and consequences), and ASEAN (SBQ).

    TLDR, 2×3 hours of non-stop writing for 8 essays of 45 minutes each. Requires much content mastery (read: mugging) and hard work. It’s fun, as long as you can understand the little nuances that separate a 11/25 script and 23/25 script. 😛

    Hopefully this helps readers compare A level History and IB history (of which I honestly have no knowledge of)! 🙂

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