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Differences between IB Mandarin, GCSE Chinese, and AP Chinese exams

Chiahua | June 11, 2019 | chinese exam | 0 Comments
AP Chinese Exam

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We have been getting requests from parents about how TutorMing can do to help kids' Chinese exams for school. Of course we can help! We offer personalized tutoring online to build up kids Chinese skills effectively.  Moreover, we now have optimized our lessons to launch new packages specially for middle school students to prepare their exams. 


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IB, GCSE, AP, what are the differences? 

They are different curriculum/programmes used in difference countries. They are also exams under different exam boards. To be short:

  • GCSE, iGCSE, A Level: widely used in the UK and British schools all over the world. 
  • AP, SAT: American university entry exams
  • IB: It's not a national curriculum but widely used in the whole world, especially in international schools. [source]


What do students learn when they take IB Mandarin?

The International Baccalaureate® (IB) has four programmes[source]: PYP for children aged 3-12, MYP for students aged 11-16, DP for students 16-19, and the Career Related Programme. 

TutorMing's new courses focus on IBDP programme, and in "Group 2" when Chinese is a second language (Language B)[read more].

There are three levels of Chinese as a second language in IBDP:

  • Mandarin B Higher Level
  • Mandarin B Standard Level 
  • Mandarin Ab initio (only Standard Level offered)

Ab initio is supposed to be for total beginners, while Mandarin B is for students who have had some years of learning experience in Mandarin. However, they both are challenging (but reachable! :)


Mandarin Ab initio Prescribed Topics  

Here are 24 topics the course has to cover in 1.5 year DP programme: 

IB Mandarin abinitio

Teachers usually wrap 2-5 topics into a unit. For example, Holiday, Transport, and Health are quite often combined into an unit. 

Environmental concerns, Global issues, and Technology might not look like topics for beginners, but in IB exams they appear very often. All my abinitio students had no problems saying and writing "现在全球暖化,气候变迁,我们要减少碳排放量,减少一次性塑料。" (Nowadays global warming, climate changes, we need to reduce carbon emissions and one-time-use plastics. )


IBDP Mandarin B Themes

There are no prescribed topics in Mandarin B, instead there are 5 themes and optional topics in the guide:

  • Identities - could cover topics like Lifestyles, Huealth and well-being, Beliefs etc. 
  • Experiences - optional topics such as Leisure & holidays, Customs & traditions
  • Human ingenuity - recommended topics are Entertainment, Artistic expressions, Communication and media, Technology, and Scientific innovation
  •  Social organization - Community, Social engagement, Education, Law and order etc. 
  • Sharing the planet - The environment, Human rights, Peace and conflict, Equality, Globalization, Ethics, Urban and rural environment 

Same with Ab initio, Global issues is a hard topic but important. 



GCSE and iGCSE (international GCSE) are middle school programme like IBMYP. Chinese (Mandarin) is a common option of Modern Language subject in these schools. 

Similar to IB, (i)GCSE modern language Chinese focus on general communication skills more than minor grammar rules, vocab mistakes etc.


iGCSE Chinese (Mandarin) topic list 

iGCSE Chinese Topics

There are five areas to study: Everyday activities, Personal and social life, The world around us, The world of work, The international world. [souce]

I feel the logic is similar to a Confucianism proverb: 修身, 齐家, 治国, 平天下. Means to cultivate one's moral character --> to manage one's family --> then s/he can rule a country --> then s/he can pacify the world. Anyways, from ourselves to the world, iGCSE Chinese covers it all!

Learn Chinese culture

 Related: English Idioms That Also Exist in Chinese 


AP, SAT Chinese Exams

AP is a course/exam that American high school students can take before university but the credits counted into university credits.

SAT, SAT II and another exam ACT are like Gaokao in China, which is an crucial exam students take to get into universities they wish. 

Related: What is Gaokao

However, AP Chinese exam is more widely taken (as I heard) than SAT II Chinese. This is because not many universities require SAT Language grades in school applications. Also schools discourage Chinese people or 2nd generation to use SAT II Chinese grades to apply since it might be their home language. While AP Chinese is harder, students get good grades can use them to apply for universities. 


Themes and Contexts in AP Chinese Language and Culture 

ap chinese course theme

  ap chinese language culture contexts

So, 6 themes. Each theme covers 6 topics.[source] I start liking it just because of the 6 and 6 (66 is a super lucky number in Chinese!) Moreover, Beauty and Aesthetics is one of the 6 themes! As a female teacher I think I can talk about a lot under this theme!

Related: Chinese lucky numbers 


I also noticed that AP Chinese guide isn't just focusing on language, but also the culture. Which is a great concept! A language is part of the culture and culture is part of the language!


Similarities in ALL Chinese exams 

Languages are languages, no matter which exams we are taking. Exam scores might take us to reach the goals but you got to enjoy the language learning itself at some level. It can be the fun interaction, useful communication, new insight of different cultures, or linguistics, anything you feel interested in. That's the key to learn a language well. 

We hope that post was useful! I'm more familiar with IB curriculum than to others. If there're any mistakes, pls comment!   







Chiahua is a contributing writer at TutorMing. After years of teaching Chinese as a second language, she is now doing business development at TutorMing.

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