The IB tests your problem-solving skills and your application of fundamental concepts in physics. Students can do well in IB Physics SL without having a prior background in science, although some familiarity is needed to do well at HL. To best utilize your time and resources, focus on the following areas:
1. Be thoroughly familiar with the IB Physics syllabus
All exams and tests are closely structured around the syllabus. Before the start of the course, take some time to go through and mark concepts that are connected, so you can pay special attention to them when you cover them in school. The goal is to use the annotated syllabus during the course of your study to track your strong and weak areas. Remember, physics builds on itself, so it’s best to interlink as many concepts as possible while you’re studying. This also means that you need to make sure that you understand every point before moving on to the next.
Here are the core topics tested, and the overarching ideas you need to focus on:
a. Measurements and uncertainties – Familiarity with the SI system as a universally acknowledged measurement practice.
b. Mechanics – Motion can be described by the use of graphs and equations.
c. Thermal physics – Finding links between changes in the heat of a body with the molecular structure of bodies.
d. Waves – Oscillations appear throughout physics, and an understanding of simple harmonic motion is imperative (simple harmonic motion also links to circular motion).
e. Electricity and magnetism – Current is created when charges move.
f. Circular motion and gravitation – This deals with concepts from mechanics, but in the context of a force that is applied perpendicular to its displacement.
g. Atomic, nuclear and particle physics – Focuses on the microscopic aspect of physics, and understands how energy is discrete.
h. Energy production – The constant need for energy causes a strain on the environment. This has led to alternative sources of energy and a rapidly-growing field of technological innovation.
2. Start thinking about your IA
In fact, while you’re going through your syllabus, you can also start thinking about possible topics for your internal assessment (IA). The IA, unlike other assignments, is not restricted by a time limit. Use this to your advantage by getting active feedback from your teacher, and taking guidance on how to prepare for various topics.
3. Go through past papers
It might be helpful to go through past years’ papers as well and make note of topics that are frequently tested, or question types that are common. Doing this will help you identify right from the start the key areas to work on. As try to solve these past papers, you will be able to understand where you stand and how much more effort is needed to get to your target score. You’ll also soon get a sense of what theories and definitions are frequently tested. Additionally, be familiar with the mark scheme; you should know what’s needed for an answer to be good.
4. Brush up on your Math skills
You need to be familiar with solving and manipulating linear equations with single or multiple variables, working with logarithms, working with trigonometry, solving quadratic equations, and the basics of differentiation and integration.
There are difficult topics in Physics, but even those can become accessible through continuous practice and daily revision which can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. While these tips may seem like a lot of work before the course even begins, don’t let that put you off from taking Physics as a subject – just remember that with proper and continuous preparation, and using smart strategies, you can score well in IB Physics.
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