IB exams: What does it take to get a perfect 45?

In the UAE, 37 pupils achieved the top score - and many can soon expect places at Oxford, Stanford and Imperial

Arghya Srivastav receives his results at the Gems Wellington International School. Antonie Robertson/The National
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A group of pupils in the UAE achieved a perfect score in the International Baccalaureate curriculum this year - placing them among an elite cohort of young learners that will be heading to the world's top universities.

Thirty-seven school leavers were awarded 45 - the highest possible score - for what some regard as the most demanding school programme in the world.

Just 1,155 children worldwide got a perfect score out of about 170,000 who received their results on Tuesday. Some, including in the UAE, were given the grade based on their coursework and their grade for a 4,500 word essay, after exams were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Oxbridge and the Ivy League colleges of the US welcome new students with 45s every year. Schools told The National that their top pupils were heading to the University of Oxford, Stanford University and Imperial College London, among others.

I am excited to start the course and very nervous as well because Stanford University attracts the top students
Chetan Nair, Gems Wellington

Chetan Nair, a 19-year-old pupil at Gems Wellington International, now has a place at Stanford University in California to study computer science.

He scored a 45 across maths, physics, chemistry, computer science, economics, French and English.

"I felt a mix of satisfaction and relief when I saw my results. I had been working hard for two years and now I know it has been fruitful", said Mr Nair.

"I am excited to start the course and very nervous as well because Stanford University attracts the top students from around the world", he said.

Some universities in the UAE and abroad offer scholarships to pupils who receive top grades.

"There are scholarships and financial advantages at different universities but at Stanford University, they don’t have merit-based scholarships. They base it on financial need", he said.

Durga Chandrashekhar, an 18-year-old Indian pupil at Uptown International School, achieved a perfect 45. She decided to stay in the UAE and attend American University of Sharjah (AUS).

She took psychology, chemistry, physics and mathematics, and will start a degree in chemistry after the summer.

"I was hoping for a high score but this was above my expectations. I was expecting a high 40", said Ms Chandrashekhar.

"I got my results today and I was in shock ... I was checking to see if it was really mine."

She said many high achievers and top scorers were able to get scholarships, though these are not based just on a single high score.

"Scholarships are a huge thing and high scores help but we have to do well over the course and it's more than just grades", she said.

Arghya Srivastav, an Indian 17-year-old pupil at Gems Wellington, will be heading to the University of Illinois.

As with all pupils, everything hinged on his coursework rather than a final exam.

"I worked very hard in the internal assessments and had to be organised and plan my coursework", he said.

"I really, really wanted the top score and worked towards it and studied every day."

Fiona McKenzie, head of the Dubai office of Carfax Education, which helps students to choose universities, said pupils who would be applying late could try to get additional scholarships but most would be confirming their places at this point.

However, once enrolled at college, the top students if placed on merit or dean's list may be able to get scholarship money.

"If you get a perfect 45 then you are part of an elite group and are at the top of your academic game", said Ms McKenzie.

"For students applying post-results, they could use these to potentially leverage for scholarships."

The top scorers may also be at a slight advantage when applying for further studies or a career in academia. The achievement reflects the pupils' diverse skills.

"People instantly recognise it. With IB you are juggling six subjects and you are good at academic rigours and prioritising, as well as balancing different subjects and languages."

Some universities consider the IB to be the gold standard of curriculums.

For the IB diploma, pupils take six subjects, including two languages, mathematics, sciences, humanities and, if they wish, an arts subject.

Pupils also take three core units, write a 4,500-word extended essay and study the theory of knowledge.

Updated: July 07, 2021, 9:35 AM