Decoding The New IB Physics Syllabus

By Avi Banerjee

(Maths & Physics Tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

What especially stands out about the IB Diploma is the constant level of research educators do to update the syllabus based on the feedback provided by teachers and undergraduate university providers. This has resulted in quite a few large changes to the Physics course, in line with the changes to the other science courses of Biology and Chemistry.

The IB Physics course has always been challenging and exciting for students. However, unlike many other international physics qualifications, within the IB Physics course, there is actually very little complex mathematics. Yet, what the course lacks in rigorous mathematics, it more than makes up for it when it comes to theory IB Physics, especially at Higher Level, is very broad in its scope – including both classical physics incorporating mechanics and thermal physics in addition to the “newer” physics like atomic & radioactive physics.

One important change to the course has been the insertion of more of these theoretical “new” physics components to the core, which were previously relegated to optional modules. This has been achieved by eliminating the additional modules students had to take for their Paper 3 exam and incorporating two of the more popular options, Relativity and Astrophysics, into the core syllabus. These dramatic changes could greatly affect students’ performance as these topics are very complex and require specific attention. In the case of relativity, 70% of the old options syllabus, and in the case of astrophysics, 50-60% of the old syllabus, have been adopted. These topics are particularly challenging because many of the elements would be completely new and foreign to most students.

A key benefit of this change will be the resulting uniformity of knowledge, skills, and experience of all IB Physics by ensuring all students learn the same thing. This sort of change was done the last time when the course got updated in 2014, with the erstwhile option on Particle Physics being incorporated into the core, and reducing the number of optional modules students took for their paper 3 exam from two to one. As a consequence of the previous exam structure, students could only take one option module, thus resulting in many students feeling disappointed that they didn’t get exposure to the other option modules.  Consequently, now students get the opportunity to study both these exciting topics! While some students will be disappointed that other interesting modules like medical physics and engineering physics will no longer be available, it must be noted that these areas of study can still be explored through the Internal Assessment component.

However, despite this obvious positive, it must be noted that these changes have come at a significant cost. These new additions were only made possible by the removal of sections on the previous syllabus, most notably on the different renewable/sustainable energy systems and the study of particle physics. There have been previous instances where components have been removed, for example Digital Physics after the 2014 updates, however, the removal of large sections within Particle Physics has been the most surprising. The study of subatomic particles within the standard model and employing Feynman diagrams to present quantum field theory processes in terms of particle interactions and exchange particles were particularly very popular topics.

Finally, whilst these changes are very interesting, it must be stressed to students that over 65% of the marks available within the exams will fall under the three main topics: mechanics, electricity & magnetism (including electromagnetism), and waves. Students must not lose focus on this reality, and thus ensure they give these core topics the appropriate attention.

If you are still uncertain how to prepare your IB Physics, simply give us a ring or contact us today to schedule a trial lesson with Avi!

About The Edge

Established in 2008, The Edge Learning Center has grown into a premier one-stop provider of educational services for Grade 7 through Grade 12, targeting students who intend to pursue overseas education. Our three departments – Academic Tutoring, Test Preparation, and Admissions Consulting – offer a broad range of educational services spanning from SAT and IB Test Prep to colleges and boarding schools application counseling. The Edge Learning Center operates in multiple regions including Hong Kong, China, and Vietnam.