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Physics

Physics is the most fundamental of the experimental sciences, as it seeks to explain the universe itself from the very smallest particles to the vast distances between galaxies. Despite the exciting and extraordinary development of ideas throughout the history of physics, observations remain essential to the very core of the subject. Models are developed to try to understand observations, and these themselves can become theories that attempt to explain the observations.

Through studying a science subject students should become aware of how scientists work and communicate with each other. While the scientific method may take on a wide variety of forms, the emphasis is on a practical approach. In addition, through the overarching theme of the “Nature of Science” this knowledge and skills will be put into the context of the way science and scientists work in the 21st Century and the ethical debates and limitations of creative scientific endeavour.

The sciences are taught practically. Students have opportunities to design investigations, collect data, develop manipulative skills, analyse results, collaborate with peers and evaluate and communicate their findings. The investigations may be laboratory based or they may make use of simulations and data bases. Students develop the skills to work independently on their own design, but also collegiately, including collaboration with schools in different regions, to mirror the way in which scientific research is conducted in the wider community.

Physics syllabus outline:

Higher level (240 hours)

  • Internal assessment (individual investigation): 20%
  • External assessment: 80%

Standard level (150 hours)

  • Internal assessment (individual investigation): 20%
  • External assessment: 80%

Key features of the curriculum and assessment models

  • Available at standard (SL) and higher levels (HL)
  • The minimum prescribed number of hours is 150 for SL and 240 for HL
  • Students are assessed both externally and internally
  • Physics students at SL and HL undertake a common core syllabus and a common internal assessment (IA) scheme.
  • While there are core skills and activities common to both SL and HL, students at HL are required to study some topics in greater depth, to study additional topics and to study extension material of a more demanding nature in the options. The distinction between SL and HL is one of breadth and depth.
  • A practical approach to the course delivery is emphasised through the interdisciplinary group 4 project and a mixture of both short-term and long-term experiments and investigations.
  • Internal assessment accounts for 20% of the final assessment and this is assessed through a single individual investigation.

This investigation may involve a hands-on approach, use of data-bases, modelling, simulation or a hybrid. Student work is internally assessed by the teacher and externally moderated by the IB. The external assessment of physics consists of three written papers. In paper 1 there are 30 (at SL) or 40 (at HL) multiple-choice questions. Paper 2 contains short-answer and extended-response questions on the core (and Additional Higher Level (AHL) material at HL). Paper 3 has two sections; Section A contains one data-based question and several short-answer questions on experimental work on the core (and AHL material at HL). Section B contains short-answer and extended-response questions from each of the four options.

Much of this information is taken directly from the physics subject guide, available to all IB teachers on the Online Curriculum Centre (OCC).

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Learn about similar studies for the Middle Years Programme and the Primary Years Programme.