I took IB Physics HL back in my high school days. It is still probably the most challenging class I have ever taken (even including my college courses), but I got a 6 on the exam, so trust me—it’s doable.
In this article, I’ll discuss all the topics covered in IB Physics Standard Level and IB Physics Higher Level,
the number of hours dedicated to each topic, and what IB expects you to know for each topic.
2021 IB Exam Changes Due to COVID19
Because of the ongoing COVID19 (coronavirus) pandemic,
May 2021 IB assessments will have two routes, exam and nonexam, depending on which your school chooses
. Stay up to date with the latest information on what this means for IB diplomas, course credit for IB classes, and more with
our 2021 IB COVID19 FAQ article
.
IB Physics SL and HL Core
Both IB Physics SL and HL consist of the same core requirements that consist of the same number of hours.
Both classes will cover the same 8 topics
(requiring 95 teaching hours) in the order listed below with the same subtopics listed below:
Topic #1: Measurements and Uncertainties—5 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Measurements in physics 
1.1 

Uncertainties and errors 
1.2 

Vectors and scalars  1.3 

Topic #2: Mechanics—22 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Motion 
2.1 

Forces 
2.2 

Work, energy and power 
2.3 

Momentum and impulse  2.4 

Topic #3: Thermal Physics—11 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Thermal concepts 
3.1 

Modelling a gas 
3.2 

Topic #4: Waves—15 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Oscillations 
4.1 

Travelling waves 
4.2 

Wave characteristics 
4.3 

Wave behaviour  4.4 

Standing waves  4.5 

Topic #5: Electricity and Magnetism—15 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Electric fields 
5.1 

Heating effect of electric currents 
5.2 

Electric cells 
5.3 

Magnetic effects of electric currents  5.4 

Topic #6: Circular Motion and Gravitation—5 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Circular motion 
6.1 

Newton’s law of gravitation 
6.2 

Topic #7: Atomic, Nuclear and Particle Physics—14 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Discrete energy and radioactivity 
7.1 

Nuclear reactions 
7.2 

The structure of matter 
7.3 

Topic #8: Energy Production—8 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Energy sources 
8.1 

Thermal energy transfer 
8.2 

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Additional Higher Level Topics
These 4 topics are only for IB Physics Higher Level students—60 hours total for HL only
Topic #9: Wave Phenomena—17 Hours for HL Only
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Simple harmonic motion (HL ONLY) 
9.1 

Singleslit diffraction (HL ONLY) 
9.2 

Interference (HL ONLY) 
9.3 

Resolution (HL ONLY) 
9.4 

Doppler effect (HL ONLY) 
9.5 

Topic #10: Fields—11 Hours for HL only
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Describing fields (HL ONLY) 
10.1 

Fields at work (HL ONLY) 
10.2 

Topic #11: Electromagnetic Induction—16 Hours for HL Only
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Electromagnetic induction (HL ONLY) 
11.1 

Power generation and transmission (HL ONLY) 
11.2 

Capacitance (HL ONLY) 
11.3 

Topic #12: Quantum and Nuclear Physics—16 Hours for HL Only
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
The interaction of matter with radiation (HL ONLY) 
12.1 

Nuclear physics (HL ONLY) 
12.2 

Options
As a part of the IB Physics course, you cover additional subjects of your choosing from the list below (typically you don’t choose, but rather your teacher does).
Whichever option(s) you or your teacher chooses you will cover 3 or 4 topics (15 hours total) for SL and an additional 2 or 3 topics (25 hours total) for HL.
Option A: Relativity—15 Hours for SL and HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
The beginnings of relativity 
A.1 

Lorentz transformations 
A.2 

Spacetime diagrams  A.3 

Additional HL Relativity Topics—10 More Hours for HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Relativistic mechanics (HL ONLY) 
A.4 

General Relativity (HL ONLY) 
A.5 

Option B: Engineering Physics—15 Hours for SL and HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Rigid bodies and rotational dynamics 
B.1 

Thermodynamics 
B.2 

Additional HL Engineering Physics Topics—10 More Hours for HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Fluids and fluid dynamics (HL ONLY) 
B.3 

Forced vibrations and resonance (HL ONLY) 
B.4 

Option C: Imaging—15 Hours for SL and HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Introduction to imaging 
C.1 

Imaging instrumentation 
C.2 

Fibre optics 
C.3 

Additional HL Imaging Topics—10 More Hours for HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Medical imaging (HL ONLY) 
C.4 

Option D: Astrophysics—15 Hours for SL and HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Stellar quantities 
D.1 

Stellar characteristics and stellar evolution 
D.2 

Cosmology  D.3 

Additional HL Astrophysics Topics—10 More Hours for HL
Subtopic  Subtopic Number  IB Points to Understand 
Stellar processes (HL ONLY) 
D.4 

Further cosmology (HL ONLY) 
D.5 

Practical Scheme of Work
You also need to complete experiments and experimental reports as a part of any IB Science course. For SL, there is 40 hours of material. For HL, there is 60 hours of material. Here are the activities:

Practical activities—20 hours for SL and 40 hours for HL
 Lab work in class counts towards these hours

Individual investigation (internal assessmentIA)—10 hours for SL and HL
 A lab project along with a report that counts as 20% of your IB exam scores (written exam counts for the other 80%)

Group 4 Project—10 hours for SL and HL
 Students are separated into groups and must conduct an experiment and write a report.
What’s Next?
Want to brush up on some physics topics?
Get your physics fix (phyx?) with our articles on
the specific heat of water
,
acceleration and how to calculate it
, and
the law of conservation of mass
.
Hoping to squeeze in some extra IB classes?
Learn about
the IB courses offered online
.
Preparing to take the SAT?
Check out our
complete guide to the SAT
. Taking the SAT in the next month? Check
out our guide to cramming
.
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