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Things You Should Know When Building Your Art Portfolio in High School

In the US, if you take IB Art or AP Art in school, chances are, you’ll be asked to create a portfolio to submit to the program for a grade. These portfolios consist of your work throughout the year, as well as in-depth explanations on your works. This also applies to most art portfolios for high schools around the world.

Understanding the courses:

Depending on which art course you choose to take, portfolios are demanded to meet a certain type of standard.

In AP Art, there is:

-AP 2D Art and Design

-AP 3D Art and Design

-AP Art History

-AP Drawing

-Ap Music Theory.

In IB Art there is only:

-IB Visual Arts SL or HL



If you’re taking an AP Art class, you will have to follow the formatting guidelines of the program. Because AP 2D Art and Design is the majority choice for most students, we’ll only be covering this course’s requirements. Make sure to do your research for the other courses since requirements will differ! These requirements can be found on the College Board website. Your AP portfolio will be graded on a composite 1-5 scale (5 being the highest).

AP 2D Art and Design requires you to have 2 sections in your portfolio. The 1st Section is called your ‘Sustained Investigation’, and it’s worth 60% of your portfolio. Its requirements are:

15 digital images; some may be details or process images | 60% of portfolio score

Students will submit images and writing to document their inquiry-guided investigation through practice, experimentation, and revision:

  • A minimum of 15 digital images that include works of art and design and process documentation.

  • Typed responses to prompts, providing information about the questions that guided their investigation and how they practiced, experimented, and revised, guided by their questions.

The 2nd section of your portfolio is called your ‘Selected Works’, and it’s worth 40% of your portfolio. This is where you should get creative! This section allows you to reveal your best uses of certain materials, ideas/concepts, and in-depth explanations of your process. Its requirements are:

  • 5 physical works or high-quality reproductions of physical works with written responses on paper identifying the materials, processes, and ideas used.

  • Works may come from the Sustained Investigation section, but they do not have to.


For IB Visual Arts, whether you choose SL (standard level) or HL (higher level), will determine the workload in your portfolio. Both levels contain 3 tasks you must complete. They usually ask for a lot of writing in these tasks, so get your hand prepared to do some dirty work! Your IB portfolio will be graded on a composite 1-7 scale (7 being the highest).

The first task for your IB portfolio is called a ‘Comparative Study’. Its requirements are:

  • Students analyze and compare different artworks by different artists. This independent critical and contextual investigation explores artworks, objects and artifacts from differing cultural contexts.

  • At SL: Compare at least 3 different artworks, by at least 2 different artists, with commentary over 10–15 pages.

  • At HL: As SL plus a reflection on the extent to which their work and practices have been influenced by any of the art/artists examined (3–5 pages).

Your 2nd task is called a ‘Process Portfolio’. Its requirements are:

  • Students submit carefully selected materials which evidence their experimentation, exploration, manipulation and refinement of a variety of visual arts activities during the two-year course.

  • At SL: Compare at least 3 different artworks, by at least 2 different artists, with commentary over 10–15 pages.

  • At HL: 13–25 pages. The submitted work should be in at least three different art-making forms.

Your 3rd and final task is called an ‘Exhibition’. Its requirements are:

  • Students submit for assessment a selection of resolved artworks from their exhibition. The selected pieces should show evidence of their technical accomplishment during the visual arts course and an understanding of the use of materials, ideas and practices appropriate to visual communication.

  • At SL: 4–7 pieces with exhibition text for each. A curatorial rationale (400 words maximum).

  • At HL: 8–11 pieces with exhibition text for each. A curatorial rationale (700 words max.)


IB and AP courses are very rigorous, so be prepared to write and research a ton throughout your time in the class. When starting to create a piece, make sure you’re understanding the components that you’ll be incorporating. Ask questions in the portfolios! Some things can’t always be answered, but curiosity shows that you’re creative and want to know more! Many students recommend starting early in the beginning of the year so that you have time to choose themes and topics you know you will be able to produce a good amount of art work for. While having a theme is helpful, you should be showing your versatility through using different types of materials to create your portfolio.

Below are videos from students with accepted portfolios and their helpful tips!

For AP Art, by user: Conan Gray:

For IB Visual Arts, by user: Steffiesblog

For GCSEs (primarily used in the U.K.), by user: Lydia Violeta

Always remember to give yourself a break once in a while! Too much of something is never good. While portfolios can be stressful, if it’s too much, it’s simply too much. Your best work is never determined by a number, so do what you can, and be proud! Have fun putting your portfolio so that you can look back at it fondly once high school is over!

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