Hi there! My name is Alex and I did the IB in 2019 getting an ATAR equivalent of 98.5. Let me walk you, step by step, on how to ace physics IB too.
About IB Physics
Before starting the IB, I mentioned to friends and family I wanted to do IB physics, particularly HL. I was advised against it. My mother even told me not to do it because physics is “too difficult”. However I fell in love with physics as I progressed through my senior school years, despite the reputation this subject holds, I shall give you a brief outline of the course.
IB physics encompasses many branches of physics, from kinematics to electricity and electromagnetism, to circular motion, and even elementary quantum and atomic physics. While it might seem daunting, remember you have two years to prepare for all this.
How do you study for IB physics?
1. Concepts, definitions, variables and units
IB physics places great emphasis on theory and concepts. The course, especially HL, will go into great depth with deriving equations and definitions of constants and variables. My first tip for you is to learn definitions of all concepts by memory. As you progress through different topics, new equations, concepts, variables and equations will be introduced. Definitions of concepts such as work, energy, gravitational potential or even electromagnetic induction must be known inside out. You will even likely be asked to straight up define concepts in the final exam. Do whatever it takes to learn them! The IB will give you a formula booklet for exams as seen below.
Get hold of one and learn the purpose and function of every equation and constant in the book. Learn what each variable means, its official definition, and how it relates to other variables in an equation. I will give you an example of how you may want to learn definitions and equations for this subject, this is a method I used and found it extremely helpful!
- Intensity is proportional to the inverse square of the distance (usually meters) from a source.
- Intensity is defined as power (Watts per second) transferred per unit area (usually meters squared)
- Power (Watts) is defined as energy (Joules) transferred or converted per unit time (usually seconds).
Firstly, observe something absolutely crucial I included above. UNITS!!! Every variable in physics will have a unit. ALWAYS ask yourself, what are the units that I am working with? Watts per second? Newtons? Volts? Joules? Joules per second? Include units in your calculations too! It may seem like a hassle, but it will save your life as it has for mine multiple times.
Secondly, we seem to be going down a rabbit hole of definitions; one variable is actually comprised of other variables, those variables may be comprised of other variables, and so on. Throw yourself into these rabbit holes! Start with an equation, learn the definitions AND units of each variable or constant, continue on and learn them until you reach the end of the rabbit hole where you end up with SI units!
Theory will only take you so far
But do not let yourself forget about application! IB physics is indeed very theory heavy, but there is plenty of room for application of these concepts we worked so hard to ingrain into our brains. Think about it, why do we even have physics? I would say, we observe real-world phenomena, we wonder what the processes are, we wonder what kind of equations govern these processes, we test our theories against experiments via the scientific method, and then we apply them to the real world to our advantage! That's why we have electricity generation, batteries, cars, things we cannot imagine life without!
This is my second study tip to you: learn a real-life application for every equation in the IB data booklet.
Think about real-life scenarios where you can see these equations in action! Your textbook will definitely include some, however, ask your teacher if you cannot think of any or head to the endless amount of online resources you have at the access of your fingertips. It will help with the exam!
3. Bringing it all together
I have one last big tip for you readers aspiring to conquer this subject. There is a hidden beauty of this subject which is only revealed when you have covered the majority of the content. The same variables, basic concepts and units can be seen across multiple branches of this field. The term “work” (learn the definitions and the units of this of course!), I assure you, will be used in over half of the topics you study. The inverse square law I explained earlier regarding intensity will make multiple appearances along your journey. Try and spot these concepts coming up again and again and how they relate to different subsections of physics and your conceptual understanding will absolutely skyrocket.
Exam & General tips
Here I will summarise everything I have said as a comprehensive list as well as some bonus tips to ensure success.
- Learn ALL definitions, variables and constants for all introduced concepts and equations AND their units if any. Learn them inside out and dream about them in your sleep! Also study derivation of equations. Learn where they come from to ensure conceptual understanding. Equations do not materialise out of thin air just for your academic displeasure! Your textbook will definitely include these.
- Have real-life examples of where these equations can be applied! Ask your teacher or online resources if you have any struggles. Remember application is key for physics! It is not just a random mess of numbers and equations, EVERYTHING can be applied to real life.
- Try to find connections of concepts between different branches of physics! Another example: the law of conservation of energy is the foundation for MANY derivations across all branches of this subject.
- Also, the IB is a two-year course. PLEASE treat it as a marathon, tackling it one step at a time daily. Do not procrastinate to the point where you have two years of content to learn one month before the exam (I have seen this happen and it is not pretty).
- Along with textbook questions, do practice/past exam questions! And do a lot of them. The IB is 80% exam weighted with 20% being the IA. You really want to get used to the style of questions you will be asked, as well as proficiently solve them.
- The three main tips I have given you will also help greatly with the IB. The IB wants to see your conceptual understanding of whatever you are investigating, your knowledge of the units you are dealing with, and how you apply it to the real world (also learn your uncertainties very well, this will come in handy here).
Thanks for reading and good luck! It may be a hard and long road for anyone tackling IB physics, however, you will look back on your IB years with great pride if you put the work into it!
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Written by KIS Academics Tutor for IB & SACE Physics and Mathematics, Alex Chen. Alex is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering and Philosophy (Honours) at the University of Adelaide. You can view Alex’s profile here and request him as a tutor here.