14 July 2024

IB or SATs, an ongoing debate in the teaching world

As an IB tutor and a quite invested teacher myself, I have always been wondering about the necessity of exams. Are they our whole scope of life or are they another way to just test progress, understanding, and even students’ deeper knowledge?

I have always tried to teach kids that we learn about the language, the literature and everything as such and that exams are just another way to assess their progress and not evaluate nor test them as individuals. They do not mean anything that important, and learners should not be spending days on end trying to prepare for the exam as if they were training for a race. And of course, if you are good at it and have adequately studied you will definitely ace any exams. So for me, it’s always learning-centered and student-centered lessons rather than an exam-based one.

Nevertheless, there has been a quite heated debate I would say, about the necessity of the SAT examination, despite the examination changes and the effort to becomes more subjective and to assess your general understanding of the world rather than your knowledge. As a teacher, I have heard many students saying that taking the SAT exam was one of the most pointless things that they have done during their school years. But are exams which allow you to enter the university pointless? Can they be? Or is the IB curriculum sufficient and effective for everyone? 

First things first, the SAT Subject Tests have been the number one choice of many top league schools for many years and students strive to get good marks across four different areas of knowledge :English language, mathematics, science and history and it measures the student’s skills in three core areas : Critical Reading, Math and Writing. One major advantage of SATS is that you can customize the test and take only the ones that will demonstrate your strength and of course, showcase your interest to your college of preference.

Also, the tests take only one hour and they are multiple-choice tests and not open-question ones, meaning that they are purely knowledge-based tests. And of course, as all tests and examinations, they tend to test your knowledge of specific high school subjects, and not your general knowledge nor your level of expertise and deeper understanding.

The test takes place six times a year and you can take as many tests as you want on any test date, another aspect which makes them quite appealing. 

Many critics of this test believe that this kind of examination has become obsolete and needs to be done with altogether, as it’s an extra burden, and more often than not the students who take the SAT exams have already enrolled in an IB curriculum.

What is more, I have heard many parents forcing and convincing their kids to take this exam as it is one more exam that they can take and will not harm anyone. But when these kids are university students and they study what they want to or have taken a completely different path in life and they’re happy with their choice; I often hear them say that all this stress was unnecessary. It was backbreaking work and they could have easily done it without it.

As a teacher, I do believe what Maria Davou, an amazing teacher, friend and teacher trainer said during her recent talk. We are teachers and not testers, and we, unfortunately, live in a society which focuses on test-taking and does not focus on deeper learning and deeper understanding of the world around us. We put pressure on the kids and sometimes we end up having, the opposite result of what we were hoping for. Even though exams are necessary and many prestigious schools do ask for them, we should all consider the fact that more and more colleges are doing away with them completely as they claim that the IB program is enough and a well-written CV or a personal statement accompanied by an easy examining a social topic tend to be the preferred way of evaluation of many schools. 


But what is an IB program? The International Baccalaureate Program is a different method of teaching based on a completely different mindset. It is a pre-college course which focuses on interdisciplinary teaching and its main goal is to make students international-minded individuals. High school students spend two years on this course and they have to take six subjects over the course of two years. They have to choose some Higher Level (HL) and some Standard Level (SL) courses, and they can split it as they want over the years, although some prefer to do three and three, as it has proven to be the most sensible choice. 

What differentiates the IB exams is that students acquire deeper learning, and as for me, learn how to write academic papers, so they are better prepared for college, and they’re assessed under critical thinking and general appreciation, which boosts their confidence and tickles their curiosity. In IB exams, there are no multiple-choice type questions . Questions are only short answer questions, and an essay needs to be completed in order to pass the exams.  As for the essay, the student is asked to write one essay out of three different topics. It refers to a present case, study fact, or general knowledge and the taker bases his essay on everything he has learned over the years as well as his general understanding of the world around us. The scoring is also different as the IB tester evaluates the analysis of the topic, the evaluation skills and understanding as well as wording and structure.

To sum up, I would say that the SATs do measure a student’s readiness for college, as well as attainment and progress, and they are an easier method if you want to draw a comparison among all the candidates, whereas the IB curriculum enables students to forge their own clear learning pathway, develop their skills and confidence while providing them with the tools they need to thrive. 

The IB curriculum is considered to be a mindset, not a test-based learning device, and that can make a difference.

Following that, I do believe that teachers are the architects of the class, of the learning environment and they do not work for the students but they do work with the students and for me, that’s what the IB curriculum offers. It creates strong, academic, social and emotional development for students so that they will thrive in their life.

Nevertheless, this is a choice that needs consideration, and good guidance by the school counsellor in order to evaluate what is best for the student as he is the centre of the teaching process. 

Do not forget that Greece offers amazing international schools and caters for all students. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions on this matter.

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