chinese exam

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

How to help kids' school Chinese exams? Curriculum and Chinese exams can be confusing because there are IB Mandarin B, AP Chinese Language and Culture, SAT II Chinese, GCSE, iGCSE Chinese. Here are some differences.

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



IB, GCSE, AP, what are the differences? 

They are different curricular/programmes used in different countries. They are also 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: not a national curriculum in any country but is 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 the 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 experience with Mandarin. However, they both are challenging (but achievable! :)


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 due to global warming and climate changes, we need to reduce our carbon emissions and single 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, Health 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 as Ab initio, Global issues is a hard topic but they frequently show up!. 


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

Similar to IBMYP, iGCSE modern language Chinese has some topics it focuses on: 

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. [source]

I feel the logic is similar to the Confucianism proverb: 修身, 齐家, 治国, 平天下. Which 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. Anyway, 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 and the credits can be counted into university credits.

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

Related: What is Gaokao

However, the AP Chinese exam is more widely taken than SAT II Chinese. This is because not many universities require SAT Language grades in school applications. Although AP Chinese is difficult, students get good grades can still 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've never learnt or taught AP but I like it because of the number of 6 (6 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 the AP Chinese guide isn't just focusing on language, but also on 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 enable us to reach our goals but you have to enjoy the learning the language as well. 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! 

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


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