What to expect

The saying goes that ducks are able to look so calm on the surface of the water only because they are doing all of the paddling beneath.

You're a physicist, not a duck, and IB Physics exams aren't designed to be easy. However, doing the preparation and putting in the hard work beforehand will pay off. You may not look elegant with 10 minutes to go in Paper 2, but you'll have given yourself the best possible chance.


Papers

Paper 1

  • You will have a data booklet
  • No reading time or calculator
  • SL: 45 minutes for 30 multiple choice questions
  • HL: 1 hour for 40 multiple choice questions
  • Questions are in topic order
  • Your answers must be carefully translated onto the grid

Paper 2

  • You will have a data booklet and calculator
  • 5 minutes reading time, THEN
    • SL: 1 hour 15 minutes for 50 marks
    • HL: 2 hours 15 minutes for 95 marks
  • Questions are (roughly) in topic order
  • You must show working out and reasoning
  • All your work will be in the exam paper - no rough work elsewhere
  • Avoid writing outside of the boxes given

Paper 3

  • You will have a data booklet and calculator
  • 5 minutes reading time, THEN
    • SL: 1 hour for 35 marks
    • HL: 1 hour 15 minutes for 45 marks
  • Section A is for all students on Data Analysis (half on a required practical)
  • Choose your Option, within which questions are (roughly) in topic order
  • You must show working out and reasoning
  • All your work will be in the exam paper - no rough work elsewhere
  • Avoid writing outside of the boxes given

Start and finish

Reading time

Papers 2 and 3 come with 5 minutes at the start that you are allowed to use to read through the exam paper. You are only allowed to read and should not have any stationery in hand. But you can achieve a lot during this time. It is a gift and needs to be used wisely:

  • Try to identify the questions about your favourite topics - you might want to do these first.
  • Find the topics you like the least - you might leave these to last so you reduce the risk of wasting time.
  • Look at the ratios of marks - what questions should you prioritise in a bid to reach your target grade?
  • Check the very last parts of questions, not just the introductions - sometimes these can be the easiest marks.
  • Make a plan of attack in your mind.

Scrapping

When you reach the end of the paper, take 30 seconds to breathe and reflect... and then commence a systematic scrapping effort for extra marks:

  • Double check the answers you are confident about to minimise the chance of careless errors.
  • Make sure you have read every part of every question in case of hidden easy marks.
  • Totally stuck with something? Don’t get put off by a tough beginning. Write down any associated thought, idea, equation or key word that you can think of.
  • Still stuck? Try ‘part 3’ even if you couldn’t do ‘part 2’ because ‘part 6’ might be an easy gift!

Tools

Data booklet

Ensure you use the data booklet (revised November 2016) throughout the course to become fluent with it. You could annotate it during revision to ensure that you know what each of the quantities represents with its units and when to use each equation.

You should not find yourself reaching for the data booklet too often when practising for Paper 1. It's rare that you'll need to use an equation in full.

Calculator

Ensure you know how to manipulate your calculator in the following ways:

  • Switching between degrees and radians modes
  • Converting your answer from a fraction to a decimal
  • Storing the previous answer ready for use in the next part
  • Using powers of and brackets
  • Using sin, cos and tan functions
  • Accessing pi
  • Using exponentials and logarithms (HL only)

Your final answers should be to 3 significant figures, or the smallest number provided in the question. If you don't get a 'show that' response then use the one provided for you.