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Physics

Through studying physics, students should become aware of how scientists work and communicate with each other. The scientific processes carried out by the most eminent scientists in the past are the same ones followed by working physicists today and, crucially, are also accessible to students in schools. In all group 4 subjects there is an emphasis on a practical approach through experimental work. The group 4 project (which all science students must undertake) mirrors the work of real scientists by encouraging collaboration between schools across the regions.

The power of scientific knowledge to transform societies is unparalleled. It has the potential to produce great universal benefits or to reinforce inequalities and cause harm to people and the environment. In line with the IB mission statement, group 4 students need to be aware of the moral responsibility of scientists to ensure that scientific knowledge and data are available to all countries on an equitable basis and that they have the scientific capacity to use this for developing sustainable societies.

The physics course is organized by topics; SL students study eight topics and HL students study a further six. In addition to this, both SL and HL students study two out of a choice of seven (at SL) or six (at HL) option topics. The order in which the syllabus is arranged is not the order in which it must be taught and it is up to individual teachers to decide on an arrangement that suits their circumstances. Option material may be taught within the core or the AHL material, if desired.

Past experience shows that students will be able to study a group 4 subject at standard level (SL) successfully with no background in, or previous knowledge of science. For most students considering the study of a group 4 subject at higher level (HL) however, some previous exposure to the specific subject would be necessary. Students who have undertaken the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) would be well prepared. Other national science qualifications or a school-based science course would also have a suitable background for studying a group 4 subject at HL. A physics students’ approach to study should be characterized by the specific IB learner profile attributes of inquirer, thinker, and communicator.

The current physics course is under review and teaching of this new course will begin in September 2014, with first examinations in May 2016.

Key features of the curriculum and assessment models

  • Available at both SL and HL
  • The minimum prescribed number of hours is 150 for SL and 240 for HL
  • Physics students at SL and HL undertake a common core syllabus, a common internal assessment (IA) scheme and have some overlapping elements in the options studied.
  • While the skills and activities related to physics are common to both SL and HL students, 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 common options. The distinction between SL and HL is one of breadth and depth.
  • An experimental approach to the course delivery is emphasised.
  • Students are assessed both externally and internally
  • 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 has two sections; section A contains one data-based question and several short-answer questions on the core (and Additional Higher Level (AHL) material at HL) which are all compulsory. Section B consists of one extended-response question on the core from a choice of three at SL, and two extended-response questions on the core and the AHL from a choice of four at HL. Paper 3 consists of several compulsory short-answer questions in each of the two options studied. In addition, at HL there is one extended-response question in each of the two options studied.
  • Internal assessment accounts for 24% of the final assessment and consists of the interdisciplinary group 4 project and a mixture of both short-term and long-term investigations. The internal assessment allows students to demonstrate not only their scientific knowledge but also personal skills and manipulative skills. Student work is internally assessed by the teacher and externally moderated by the IB.

Find out more

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