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IB Spanish Standard Level (SL) versus Higher level (HL)

Every year after learning Spanish for 4-5 years when students are preparing for the GCSE exams the same questions always arise, should I take a language like Spanish as one of my HL subjects? Many students say things like “I heard that HL Biology is so hard” “maybe is better that I take HL Spanish since I am quite good at languages? but I am unsure how hard it is….”

So what are the main differences between HL and SL and how much extra effort will I need to put if I take HL? The simple answer would be: ONLY the reading paper makes the big difference.

For a more detailed answer here is the explanation step by step:

- The score is separated in the following way:

30 % Reading

25% Writing

25% Speaking

20 % Writing Assignment

So let’s go from bottom to top:

  1. The writing assignment in fact you do it at home, which means you can prepare it well and with the help of a tutor you can get an excellent grade, so this doesn’t make a difference between HL and SL.

  1. Speaking is internally assessed and it gets moderated. Speaking is always on the same topics like health + one more. If you prepare well enough the typical questions that your teacher will ask you and you know some fancy grammar structures and Spanish phrases HL or SL won’t make a big difference in the difficulty.

  1. Writing is slightly more difficult for HL not because the questions that you have to choose from are harder but because they expect to see more advance structures and you have an extra text type to write about. In this extra text you will be given a sentence in which you have to reason points that justify it and points that go against it, reaching a final conclusion at the end. So there is one more skill you need to practice for HL compared to SL but again if you have a Spanish tutor which is familiar with the exam syllabus that will not be a problem.

  1. The reading. This is what makes the real big difference! Reading for HL is substantially much harder for HL than SL because first one of the text is Spanish literature with old fashioned words where students always struggle and the overall questions are harder to answer. Nevertheless reading is usually the part of the exam where students that have a tutor perform the worst (is the slowest to improve) so you might aswell do HL because you will struggle anway for the SL reading!

Conclusion: you are more likely to get a 6 in HL Spanish than a 7 in SL Spanish if you have the help of a tutor and without putting that much effort. If you really need a 7 for your HL it will not be easy. If you just need a 6 for your SL Spanish and you have a good tutor you have nothing to worry but don’t forget that you will really need to try hard to achieve a 7! Finally remember is not only about learning Spanish but also about learning exam skills!

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