IB Biology and IB Chemistry Options

By Luke Palmer

(Head of Math and Sciences, Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science and ESS tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

Biology and ChemistryIB Biology

With the start of summer, many students are preparing to study their science option topic. For IB Biology there are four choices,

(A) Neurobiology and Behaviour,

(B) Biotechnology and Informatics,

(C) Ecology and Conservation, and

(D) Human Physiology.

Read more: IB Biology Overview

All topic focus into different areas and the interest of the student is important to get the most of these topics, although many schools will set which topic is taken. All four topics have a standard level (SL) and a higher level (HL) amount of sections to be covered, with the HL getting either into more detail or adding new ideas.

Both SL and HL students will only have to study a single option topic and this will make up the bulk of Paper Three. Paper three for SL is 1 hour with section A data-based question and SAQs, then section B with SAQs on the option topic (20% of grade). HL is 1 hour 15 minutes with section A data-based question and SAQs, then section B with SAQs on the option topic (24% of the grade). The answer style must be well-constructed answers that give the concept points clearly and answer aspects of the question. Section A will be using familiar experiments that would have been carried out or discussed during the two years of IB Biology, and so should not pose many problems. The section B on the option can be a bit trickier as the topic areas are relatively large even though it will only be around four questions in total. Especially for HL students, this can prove stressful to fully understand the option ready for any possible question.

Since the introduction of this current syllabus, the most common choice of option topic has been either C – Ecology and Conservation or D – Human Physiology. Option C builds from topic four of the core syllabus, and is generally seen as an “easier” option topic especially for SL students. The areas the topic covers are socially relevant with populations, biodiversity and conservation all covered. Yet for students who are more clinically or molecular focused can find less interesting, especially compared to more challenging options A and B. This is where option D comes to the next most popular choice, as it builds from topic 6 and can add interesting details and depth to human physiology. As yet I have yet to come across a student doing option B, much to my disappointment as I find Biotechnology an interesting subject area.

One thing that is that some schools tell the students to “self-learn” the option topic, this can be a troubling prospect for some students. The idea that you have to tackle a complex topic area could be scary but it would greatly build your ability to work independently which is vital skill at University. An additional point is the fact Paper three will have all questions given to the student on the day, so you could study any option you wanted. This is a risky strategy as it would reduce the support your school and teacher could give you in preparation for this paper.

IB Chemistry

Biology and ChemistryThese ideas discussed above could also be applied to the other sciences, so if we look in turn at IB Chemistry. The four option choices are,

(A) Materials,

(B) Biochemistry,

(C) Energy, and

(D) Medicinal Chemistry.

The same concept is done in paper three by IB Chemistry to have both SL and HL versions of the topics and same amount of contribution to final grade. Unlike IB Biology I have had a least one or more students doing each option, with least popular being A – Materials. Students that also do IB Physics tend to go for either A or C and many SL students also go for C. Energy is very current affairs topics are with many ideas economic, environmental and social aspects involved. Students that also study IB Biology tend to go for option B as large amount of this is covered in topic two of the IB Biology syllabus (Molecular Biology). Option D is extremely interesting and is taken by many students who have an interest in obtaining a medical degree. I am somewhat biased for advising students to do option B or D with degrees in Biochemistry and Pharmacology, but the students tend to find these options more rewarding compared to others.

Read more: IB Chemistry Overview

How can The Edge help in preparing students, we offer private lessons with tutors who know the option areas in detail and the questions which have been used over the last years papers. We offer workshops for groups of students to work on a specific option, both catering to SL and HL students (only for Biology and Chemistry). Using lessons covering topic area, focused homework and end of course mock. In addition, we also offer intensive summer courses in both IB Biology and IB Chemistry to cover all the core and AHL topics in the subjects. They include diagnostic tests and end of course exams to evaluate the students’ ability and show strengths or weaknesses. Regular versions of the courses are available in both autumn and spring, with same focus of subject understanding and test success.


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The Edge Learning Center is Hong Kong’s premier Test Preparation, Academic Tutoring, and Admissions Consulting services provider. Founded in 2008, The Edge has helped thousands of students improve their ACT and SAT scores as well as their IB and AP grades. The AC team has just finished off another successful period in which student gained acceptance to schools such as Stanford, University of Chicago, Brown, and more! Check out the rest of our 2018 Admissions Results!