# The Complete IB Physics Syllabus: SL and HL

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 COVID-19

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic,

May 2021 IB assessments will have two routes, exam and non-exam, 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 COVID-19 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 Fundamental and derived SI units Scientific notation and metric multipliers Significant figures Orders of magnitude Estimation Uncertainties and errors 1.2 Random and systematic errors Absolute, fractional and percentage uncertainties Error bars Uncertainty of gradient and intercepts Vectors and scalars 1.3 Vector and scalar quantities Combination and resolution of vectors

### Topic #2: Mechanics—22 Hours for Both SL and HL

 Subtopic Subtopic Number IB Points to Understand Motion 2.1 Distance and displacement Speed and velocity Acceleration Graphs describing motion Equations of motion for uniform acceleration Projectile motion Fluid resistance and terminal speed Forces 2.2 Objects as point particles Free-body diagrams Translational equilibrium Newton’s laws of motion Solid friction Work, energy and power 2.3 Kinetic energy Gravitational potential energy Elastic potential energy Work done as energy transfer Power as rate of energy transfer Principle of conservation of energy Efficiency Momentum and impulse 2.4 Newton’s second law expressed in terms of rate of change of momentum Impulse and force–time graphs Conservation of linear momentum Elastic collisions, inelastic collisions and explosions

### Topic #3: Thermal Physics—11 Hours for Both SL and HL

 Subtopic Subtopic Number IB Points to Understand Thermal concepts 3.1 Molecular theory of solids, liquids and gases Temperature and absolute temperature Internal energy Specific heat capacity Phase change Specific latent heat Modelling a gas 3.2 Pressure Equation of state for an ideal gas Kinetic model of an ideal gas Mole, molar mass and the Avogadro constant Differences between real and ideal gases

### Topic #4: Waves—15 Hours for Both SL and HL

 Subtopic Subtopic Number IB Points to Understand Oscillations 4.1 Simple harmonic oscillations Time period, frequency, amplitude, displacement and phase difference Conditions for simple harmonic motion Travelling waves 4.2 Travelling waves Wavelength, frequency, period and wave speed Transverse and longitudinal waves The nature of electromagnetic waves The nature of sound waves Wave characteristics 4.3 Wavefronts and rays Amplitude and intensity Superposition Polarization Wave behaviour 4.4 Reflection and refraction Snell’s law, critical angle and total internal reflection Diffraction through a single-slit and around objects Interference patterns Double-slit interference Path difference Standing waves 4.5 The nature of standing waves Boundary conditions Nodes and antinodes

### Topic #5: Electricity and Magnetism—15 Hours for Both SL and HL

 Subtopic Subtopic Number IB Points to Understand Electric fields 5.1 Charge Electric field Coulomb’s law Electric current Direct current (dc) Potential difference Heating effect of electric currents 5.2 Circuit diagrams Kirchhoff’s circuit laws Heating effect of current and its consequences Resistance expressed as R = V/I Ohm’s law Resistivity Power dissipation Electric cells 5.3 Cells Internal resistance Secondary cells Terminal potential difference Electromotive force (emf) Magnetic effects of electric currents 5.4 Magnetic fields Magnetic force

### Topic #6: Circular Motion and Gravitation—5 Hours for Both SL and HL

 Subtopic Subtopic Number IB Points to Understand Circular motion 6.1 Period, frequency, angular displacement and angular velocity Centripetal force Centripetal acceleration Newton’s law of gravitation 6.2 Newton’s law of gravitation Gravitational field strength

### 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 Discrete energy and discrete energy levels Transitions between energy levels Radioactive decay Fundamental forces and their properties Alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays Half-life Absorption characteristics of decay particles Isotopes Background radiation Nuclear reactions 7.2 The unified atomic mass unit Mass defect and nuclear binding energy Nuclear fission and nuclear fusion The structure of matter 7.3 Quarks, leptons and their antiparticles Hadrons, baryons and mesons The conservation laws of charge, baryon number, lepton number and strangeness The nature and range of the strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force and electromagnetic force Exchange particles Feynman diagrams Confinement The Higgs boson

### Topic #8: Energy Production—8 Hours for Both SL and HL

 Subtopic Subtopic Number IB Points to Understand Energy sources 8.1 Specific energy and energy density of fuel sources Sankey diagrams Primary energy sources Electricity as a secondary and versatile form of energy Renewable and non-renewable energy sources Thermal energy transfer 8.2 Conduction, convection and thermal radiation Black-body radiation Albedo and emissivity The solar constant The greenhouse effect Energy balance in the Earth surface–atmosphere system

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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 The defining equation of SHM Energy changes Single-slit diffraction (HL ONLY) 9.2 The nature of single-slit diffraction Interference (HL ONLY) 9.3 Young’s double-slit experiment Modulation of two-slit interference pattern by one-slit diffraction effect Multiple slit and diffraction grating interference patterns Thin film interference Resolution (HL ONLY) 9.4 The size of a diffracting aperture The resolution of simple monochromatic two-source systems Doppler effect (HL ONLY) 9.5 The Doppler effect for sound waves and light waves

### Topic #10: Fields—11 Hours for HL only

 Subtopic Subtopic Number IB Points to Understand Describing fields (HL ONLY) 10.1 Gravitational fields Electrostatic fields Electric potential and gravitational potential Field lines Equipotential surfaces Fields at work (HL ONLY) 10.2 Potential and potential energy Potential gradient Potential difference Escape speed Orbital motion, orbital speed and orbital energy Forces and inverse-square law behaviour

### Topic #11: Electromagnetic Induction—16 Hours for HL Only

 Subtopic Subtopic Number IB Points to Understand Electromagnetic induction (HL ONLY) 11.1 Electromotive force (emf) Magnetic flux and magnetic flux linkage Faraday’s law of induction Lenz’s law Power generation and transmission (HL ONLY) 11.2 Alternating current (ac) generators Average power and root mean square (rms) values of current and voltage Transformers Diode bridges Half-wave and full-wave rectification Capacitance (HL ONLY) 11.3 Capacitance Dielectric materials Capacitors in series and parallel Resistor-capacitor (RC) series circuits Time constant

### 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 Photons The photoelectric effect Matter waves Pair production and pair annihilation Quantization of angular momentum in the Bohr model for hydrogen The wave function The uncertainty principle for energy and time and position and momentum Tunnelling, potential barrier and factors affecting tunnelling probability Nuclear physics (HL ONLY) 12.2 Rutherford scattering and nuclear radius Nuclear energy levels The neutrino The law of radioactive decay and the decay constant

## 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 Reference frames Galilean relativity and Newton’s postulates concerning time and space Maxwell and the constancy of the speed of light Forces on a charge or current Lorentz transformations A.2 The two postulates of special relativity Clock synchronization The Lorentz transformations Velocity addition Invariant quantities (spacetime interval, proper time, proper length and rest mass) Time dilation Length contraction The muon decay experiment Spacetime diagrams A.3 Spacetime diagrams Worldlines The twin paradox

### Additional HL Relativity Topics—10 More Hours for HL

 Subtopic Subtopic Number IB Points to Understand Relativistic mechanics (HL ONLY) A.4 Total energy and rest energy Relativistic momentum Particle acceleration Electric charge as an invariant quantity Photons MeV c^–2 as the unit of mass and MeV c^–1 as the unit of momentum General Relativity (HL ONLY) A.5 The equivalence principle The bending of light Gravitational redshift and the Pound–Rebka–Snider experiment Schwarzschild black holes Event horizons Time dilation near a black hole Applications of general relativity to the universe as a whole

### Option B: Engineering Physics—15 Hours for SL and HL

 Subtopic Subtopic Number IB Points to Understand Rigid bodies and rotational dynamics B.1 Torque Moment of inertia Rotational and translational equilibrium Angular acceleration Equations of rotational motion for uniform angular acceleration Newton’s second law applied to angular motion Conservation of angular momentum Thermodynamics B.2 The first law of thermodynamics The second law of thermodynamics Entropy Cyclic processes and pV diagrams Isovolumetric, isobaric, isothermal and adiabatic processes Carnot cycle Thermal efficiency

### 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 Density and pressure Buoyancy and Archimedes’ principle Pascal’s principle Hydrostatic equilibrium The ideal fluid Streamlines The continuity equation The Bernoulli equation and the Bernoulli effect Stokes’ law and viscosity Laminar and turbulent flow and the Reynolds number Forced vibrations and resonance (HL ONLY) B.4 Natural frequency of vibration Q factor and damping Periodic stimulus and the driving frequency Resonance

### Option C: Imaging—15 Hours for SL and HL

 Subtopic Subtopic Number IB Points to Understand Introduction to imaging C.1 Thin lenses Converging and diverging lenses Converging and diverging mirrors Ray diagrams Real and virtual images Linear and angular magnification Spherical and chromatic aberrations Imaging instrumentation C.2 Optical compound microscopes Simple optical astronomical refracting telescopes Simple optical astronomical reflecting telescopes Single-dish radio telescopes Radio interferometry telescopes Satellite-borne telescopes Fibre optics C.3 Structure of optic fibres Step-index fibres and graded-index fibres Total internal reflection and critical angle Waveguide and material dispersion in optic fibres Attenuation and the decibel (dB) scale

### Additional HL Imaging Topics—10 More Hours for HL

 Subtopic Subtopic Number IB Points to Understand Medical imaging (HL ONLY) C.4 Detection and recording of X-ray images in medical contexts Generation and detection of ultrasound in medical contexts Medical imaging techniques (magnetic resonance imaging) involving nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)

### Option D: Astrophysics—15 Hours for SL and HL

 Subtopic Subtopic Number IB Points to Understand Stellar quantities D.1 Objects in the universe The nature of stars Astronomical distances Stellar parallax and its limitations Luminosity and apparent brightness Stellar characteristics and stellar evolution D.2 Stellar spectra Hertzsprung–Russell (HR) diagram Mass–luminosity relation for main sequence stars Cepheid variables Stellar evolution on HR diagrams Red giants, white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes Chandrasekhar and Oppenheimer–Volkoff limits Cosmology D.3 The Big Bang model Cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation Hubble’s law The accelerating universe and redshift (z) The cosmic scale factor (R)

### Additional HL Astrophysics Topics—10 More Hours for HL

 Subtopic Subtopic Number IB Points to Understand Stellar processes (HL ONLY) D.4 The Jeans criterion Nuclear fusion Nucleosynthesis off the main sequence Type Ia and II supernovae Further cosmology (HL ONLY) D.5 The cosmological principle Rotation curves and the mass of galaxies Dark matter Fluctuations in the CMB The cosmological origin of redshift Critical density Dark energy

## 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 assessment-IA)—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

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Hoping to squeeze in some extra IB classes?

the IB courses offered online

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Preparing to take the SAT?

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out our guide to cramming

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One of the single most important parts of your college application is what classes you choose to take in high school (in conjunction with how well you do in those classes).

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