'Dart board' chemistry

How chemistry fits into the IB Diploma programme

This page and the two accompanying links (Chemistry within Group 4 and IB Chemistry teaching) aim to give an overview of how chemistry fits into the IB Diploma programme and how teaching IB chemistry may differ from teaching chemistry within your own national system.

The IB Diploma programme is a two year pre-university course. All students taking the Diploma must study six academic subjects. Three of these are taken at Higher Level and three at Standard Level. Standard Level should not be seen as being of a lower level than Higher Level. It will however contain less content as the teaching time for Higher Level subjects is 240 hours over the two year period whereas it is only 150 hours for Standard level.

The six subjects must come from six different areas. Until 2012 the IB used a hexagon to illustrate this (see diagram lower down the page) but in November 2012 replaced it with a circular diagram, somewhat reminiscent of a dart board.

© IB

Every student must study the literature and language of their mother tongue (Group 1, Studies in Language and Literature), a foreign language (Group 2, Language Acquisition), an individuals and society subject such as History, Geography, Economics, Philosophy etc. (Group 3), a Science subject (Group 4) and Mathematics (Group 5). The sixth subject can either be from the Arts or a student is able to choose another subject to study from the first five groups. This is relevant to students who wish to go on and study Chemistry, Science or Medicine at university as it means they can study Chemistry and Physics or Chemistry and Biology. Under the normal rules of the IB Diploma it is not possible for a student to study three sciences such as Chemistry, Physics and Biology. However in very rare cases where a school can prove that these are an absolute entry requirement for a student to study a particular course at a particular university special dispensation may be given by the IB. Students choose which of their three subjects they will take at Higher Level and which three they will take at Standard Level.

Chemistry is one of the six Group 4 subjects. The other five are Biology, Physics, Design Technology, Computer Science and Sports, Exercise & Health Science. There is a seventh subject, Environmental systems and society (SL only) which is in both Group 3 and Group 4. Students can choose this one subject to cover the requirements of both Groups 3 and 4 so that they can free up their programme to study, for example, more Arts subjects in Group 6.

In addition to the six subjects students must also complete the core requirements for the IB. Each student must complete a 100 hour course in Theory of Knowledge (TOK). They must submit an Extended Essay (EE) (maximum 4000 words) in an IB subject of their choice and they must partake in Creativity, Action and Service (CAS).

In some ways the 'dart board' is an improvement on the old hexagon as it does integrate and illustrate what it is trying to achieve as it includes international-mindedness and 'approaches to teaching and learning' with the learner profile in the 'bulls eye' and a map of the world as the background. However perhaps the position of individual subjects is less prominent. It is basically just a difference in presentation rather than any fundamental difference or change in philosophy. In fact the only slight change is that 'Experimental Sciences' was shortened to 'Science' and the names of Groups 1 and 2 have also changed. Like the old hexagon it also gives the impression that Group 6 (the Arts) is equal to the other five academic areas whereas in reality many science students do not actually study an Arts subject.

Each subject is assessed both internally and externally and graded between 1 and 7 so that the maximum grade that can be awarded for any one subject is 7. The assessment of both the TOK and the EE is for a maximum of 3 bonus points (CAS is not assessed). This means that the maximum mark possible for the IB Diploma is 45 points. The Diploma is awarded if 24 or more points have been gained although there are some qualifications to this. For example a student may not get a 1 or a 2 in one of their Higher Level subjects and they must obtain a minimum of 12 points overall for their three Higher Level subjects. Your IB coordinator will have the precise details governing other qualifications as these can be found in the IB Handbook (which you do not really need).

It is possible for students to take an additional seventh subject but this will not count towards their final IB Diploma score and will just show up as an additional subject taken on their certificate.

The old 'hexagon'

Chemists have a particular liking for the old hexagon although to them a better name would have been 'the benzene ring'. The delocalisation in benzene perfectly illustrates the inter-relationships between all the elements of the IB Diploma.

Statistical bulletin

If you are in the process of switching from teaching in your national system to the IB then it can be useful to see how IB Diploma scores match up with your own national examination systems. Information about how many students achieved particular grades and overall points can be found in the IB statistical bulletin along with much other information. The May 2019 bulletin , for example shows that the number of candidates taking the full Diploma has increased from 1219 in May 1975 to 86,826 in May 2019 and the number of schools entering IB Diploma candidates has increased from 30 in May 1975 to 2926 in May 2019[1]. 77.8% of all the candidates who were entered were awarded the Diploma in May 2019. Approximately 9.8% of all the candidates awarded the Diploma gained 40 or more total points and a very few (275 candidates, i.e. 0.41 % of those awarded the Diploma) gained the maximum mark of 45.


  1. ^ By May 2020 the number of candidates had increased to 88,158 and the number of schools to 3020 in 146 countries. However due to the exceptional circumstances of Covid-19 the May 2020 results were not based on the normal parameters.
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