1. Differences in syllabus:
The core topics, common to both levels, include a basic understanding of measurements and errors in science, mechanics, heat, waves, electricity, energy, atomic physics, and circular motion. Higher level students are required to study additional topics and subtopics, such as wave phenomena, and fields, to name a few. Additional higher level (AHL) topics include wave phenomena, fields, electromagnetic induction, and quantum physics (an additional 60 hours compared to SL). Within topics classified as “option”, students can choose amongst relativity, engineering physics, imaging, and astrophysics.
All this is complemented by the practical activities, IA, and group 4 project that the students are expected to undertake. The group 4 project is a team activity where students from different group 4 subjects work together on a common topic, enabling a cross-disciplinary and collaborative understanding of science and the processes involved in an interdisciplinary project.
For most students new to science, SL would be a better fit. HL requires a basic understanding of scientific ways of thinking.
2. Differences in grading:
Internal assessments, common to both SL and HL, comprise an individual investigation that could be a simulation, a model, or a hands-on experiment. This assessment allows the students to challenge and engage themselves by applying their scientific knowledge to their personal interests. These assessments are marked by the teachers and externally moderated by the IB to maintain quality and fairness.
External assessments comprise three written papers: Paper 1 has MCQs (30 for SL, 40 for HL) and contributes to 20% of the grade for both SL and HL. Paper 2 has short-answer and extended-response questions on core and AHL (if applicable) topics and contributes to 40% of the grade for SL and 36% for HL: that is, 50 marks. Paper 3 is subdivided into two sections: Section A comprises one data-based question and several short-answer questions on experimental work, and Section B tests short-answer and extended-response questions from one option. Overall, paper 3 contributes to 20% of the grade for SL and 24% for HL. Papers 2 and 3 allow for the use of calculators, and a physics data booklet is provided for all papers.