Investigation survival guide

Individual investigation

The Internal Assessment (IA) is an investigation on a physics topic of interest to you. You will spend 10 hours of class time on the work and are required to produce a 6-12 page scientific paper. The IA counts for 20% of your final grade.

Useful skills

The following skills will be of use during the IA and a typical IA will require at least five of these. The skills will be developed during the 60 (Higher Level) or 40 (Standard Level) hours of practical work that you will conduct as part of your course. 

  • Use of datalogging equipment
  • Video analysis
  • Use of Excel
  • Processing uncertainties
  • Use of simulation software e.g. AlgodooPhET
  • Writing skills
  • Careful measurement techniques

Discuss a skill with your teacher if you are likely to need more practice before starting the IA.

10 hours

The 10 hours of classtime will be spent on:

  1. Understanding the assessment criteria
  2. Generating an idea and considering equipment
  3. Preliminary practical work
  4. Improved practical work
  5. Supporting data collection, e.g. simulated experiments
  6. Discussion about the process of the IA with teacher
  7. Data analysis
  8. Drafting your report
  9. Formal feedback session on the content and style of your scientific paper
  10. Opportunity to improve scientific paper

Typical scientific paper

The scientific paper will require substantial work outside of lessons in addition to the 10 monitored hours.

Introduction: What the investigation is about and what makes it interesting.

Research question: Clearly stated, this will generally define the independent and dependent variables.

Theory: Applying physics to the problem at hand. This might involve research if your investigation is beyond the course. If possible the theory should lead to some mathematical model for the research question but not always.

Method: A description of the experimental method including diagrams and photographs with particular emphasis on how uncertainties were minimised and controlled variables kept constant.

Results: Tables, graphs, calculations, etc.

Conclusion: What has been found out and whether the results are significant.

Evaluation: Using the results to show where the biggest source of uncertainty lie. Suggestions for improvements based on validity, reliability, accuracy and precision.

Discussion: This is where depth can be built into the investigation. Use simulations to show expected results for comparison with your outcomes. Subsidiary experiments can also demonstrate points made in the evaluation. Should be clear and focused.

Marking criteria

Personal engagement

This criterion addresses your involvement in the investigation. It is important that you are interested in your topic such that you can demonstrate independent thinking, initiative or creativity. You must also demonstrate a justification for your research question; perhaps there is some personal significance, interest or curiosity here. Finally, you are to provide some personal input and initiative in the designing, implementation or presentation of the investigation. You are to ‘own’ your project, not just repeat something found in a science journal. The expectations of personal engagement actually mean that you will have fun doing the work.


This criterion addresses your ability to select, develop and apply the scientific method to a specific issue. You are to express a well-defined research question, set it in an appropriate scientific context, and select relevant scientific equipment and methodologies to address your question. You are to appreciate any factors that may influence the quality of your data. Finally, you should appreciate any safety, environmental, and ethical considerations that may be relevant.


This criterion addresses your ability to obtain and process appropriate data in a way that addresses your research question. This appreciation includes the treatment of errors and uncertainties where relevant, the presentation of graphs or charts, and the precision and accuracy of your data. Analysis also concerns the validity of your data in relation to answering your research question.


This criterion addresses your methodology and your results as set within a genuine and relevant scientific context. It focuses on how well your data supports the conclusion, including the method and appreciating the strengths and weakness of your work. You are expected to provide realistic and relevant suggestions for the improvement and extension of your investigation.


This criterion addresses the overall quality of your report; it is a holistic appreciation of the style and form of your presentation. You are expected to write in a clear and logical style that is easy to follow. Your report needs to be relevant (no unnecessary explanations or tangential issues) and concise (6 to 12 pages, and more than 12 pages will be penalised). The process and the outcomes must be clearly stated. Appropriate scientific terminology and conventions must be followed, and graphs, tables, images, charts must all be presented in a clear way.

Criteria Marks available
Personal Engagement 2
Exploration 6
Analysis 6
Evaluation 6
Communication 4
Total 24

Your responsibilities

You are responsible for having all the appropriate ICT skills, from word-processing and spreadsheet analysis, to using graphing software as well as knowing how to search the internet. You must also know how to write a science report. Your teacher will help you here, and your biggest responsibility is to guarantee the authenticity of your work. This means your work must be your own, and that any resources used (ideas, text, data, pictures) are appropriately referenced. Plagiarism is a serious academic and moral crime, and any cheating will result in failure.

Your teacher will double-check the authenticity of your IA report, but you will sign an IB form confirming that your work is indeed your own. This is why references (giving credit) are so important.

You are also responsible for your own time management. You are expected to meet the deadlines your teacher assigns, as well as accepting the general advice that your teacher gives you about your work.

Finally, you should be enthusiastic about your work; you should demonstrate initiative and even ingenuity in the planning, design and production of your IA. You should be dedicated to scientific problem solving. After all, your IA is your investigation.

Advice from investigation survivors

  • "Your experiment should be simple and robust, not necessarily ground-breaking!"
  • "It is good if you can produce a straight line graph. This enables you to include maximum and minimum lines of best fit and demonstrate a high level of skill when dealing with error analysis."
  • "Make sure every section of your work has been linked to the RQ."
  • "Avoid writing in the first person... and reference your work as you go so you don't forget where the information came from."