Advanced study programs can be a great way to help students develop critical thinking skills and earn valuable transfer credits that can be applied towards their post-secondary educations. In Canada, the two common advanced study programs are Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB).
AP takes an à la carte approach, and allows students to choose which AP subjects they would like to enrol in. “With AP, students can work to their own strengths, whether those are singular or multiple,” says Lynda Robinson, associate director of AP Canada.
IB programs are more comprehensive. Students are required to take all IB courses, and must complete 150 hours of extracurricular CAS activities (Creativity, Action and Service), which can entail anything from music to sports to volunteer work. They can choose different levels within the IB courses, depending on their strengths in particular subjects. “It’s a coherent philosophy,” says Marilynne Sinclair, teacher and IB coordinator at Ashbury College in Ottawa. “At Ashbury, we help students put together an IB program that’s right for them. It’s a very personalized approach.”
Both programs are ideal for students who are intellectually curious and perform well academically. “If students aren’t challenged, their minds wander,” says Robinson. “A good advanced study program allows st
udents to be creative and to become more advanced learners. They’re not spoon-fed so much.”
Ashbury student Braden decided to enrol in the IB program to improve his chances of getting into universities overseas, like the London School of Economics. Braden just finished Grade 12, and found the IB experience challenging but rewarding. “I find the point of IB is to challenge yourself, so challenge is its raison d’être,” he says.
Fellow Ashbury student Sarah, who is in Grade 12, found the transition into IB was easier than she expected. “I thought it was going to be this immense Herculean effort on my part, but it’s the same amount of workload,” she says. “It does take some adjusting. Teachers don’t do as much hand-holding.” Braden agrees that the program isn’t all consuming. “My social life has evolved throughout IB. It hasn’t diminished,” he says. “It’s been a less radical change than I expected.”
AP’s Robinson points out that while many parents fear that advanced programs come with demanding workloads, it often isn’t the case. “A good teacher knows the difference between different work, not more work,” she says. “These students don’t need as much drill.”
Both Sarah and Braden feel that they’ll have a leg up after high school thanks to IB’s focus on building critical thinking skills. “It provides very good preparation for further education,” says Braden. “I’ll ease into university with more confidence.”