I took IB Physics HL back in my high school days. It is still probably the most challenging class I have ever taken (even including my college courses), but I got a 6 on the exam, so trust me  it's doable. If you are looking at this syllabus, I assume you are interested in potentially taking the course or you are currently enrolled in the course.
In this article, I'll cover the topics covered in IB Physics Standard Level and IB Physics Higher Level and the number of hours dedicated to each topic, along with what the IB expects you to understand in each topic.
IB Physics SL and HL Core
Both IB Physics SL and HL consist of the same core requirements that consist of the same number of hours. Both classes will cover the same 8 topics (requiring 95 teaching hours) in the order listed below with the same subtopics listed below:
Topic #1: Measurements and Uncertainties  5 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Measurements in physics 
1.1

 Fundamental and derived SI units
 Scientific notation and metric multipliers
 Significant figures
 Orders of magnitude
 Estimation

Uncertainties and errors 
1.2

 Random and systematic errors
 Absolute, fractional and percentage uncertainties
 Error bars
 Uncertainty of gradient and intercepts

Vectors and scalars 
1.3 
 Vector and scalar quantities
 Combination and resolution of vectors

Topic #2: Mechanics  22 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Motion 
2.1

 Distance and displacement
 Speed and velocity
 Acceleration
 Graphs describing motion
 Equations of motion for uniform acceleration
 Projectile motion
 Fluid resistance and terminal speed

Forces 
2.2

 Objects as point particles
 Freebody diagrams
 Translational equilibrium
 Newton’s laws of motion
 Solid friction

Work, energy and power 
2.3

 Kinetic energy
 Gravitational potential energy
 Elastic potential energy
 Work done as energy transfer
 Power as rate of energy transfer
 Principle of conservation of energy
 Efficiency

Momentum and impulse 
2.4 
 Newton’s second law expressed in terms of rate of change of momentum
 Impulse and force–time graphs
 Conservation of linear momentum
 Elastic collisions, inelastic collisions and explosions

Topic #3: Thermal Physics  11 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Thermal concepts 
3.1

 Molecular theory of solids, liquids and gases
 Temperature and absolute temperature
 Internal energy
 Specific heat capacity
 Phase change
 Specific latent heat

Modelling a gas 
3.2

 Pressure
 Equation of state for an ideal gas
 Kinetic model of an ideal gas
 Mole, molar mass and the Avogadro constant
 Differences between real and ideal gases

Topic #4: Waves  15 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Oscillations 
4.1

 Simple harmonic oscillations
 Time period, frequency, amplitude, displacement and phase difference
 Conditions for simple harmonic motion

Travelling waves 
4.2

 Travelling waves
 Wavelength, frequency, period and wave speed
 Transverse and longitudinal waves
 The nature of electromagnetic waves
 The nature of sound waves

Wave characteristics 
4.3

 Wavefronts and rays
 Amplitude and intensity
 Superposition
 Polarization

Wave behaviour 
4.4 
 Reflection and refraction
 Snell’s law, critical angle and total internal reflection
 Diffraction through a singleslit and around objects
 Interference patterns
 Doubleslit interference
 Path difference

Standing waves 
4.5 
 The nature of standing waves
 Boundary conditions
 Nodes and antinodes

Topic #5: Electricity and Magnetism  15 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Electric fields 
5.1

 Charge
 Electric field
 Coulomb’s law
 Electric current
 Direct current (dc)
 Potential difference

Heating effect of electric currents 
5.2

 Circuit diagrams
 Kirchhoff’s circuit laws
 Heating effect of current and its consequences
 Resistance expressed as R = V/I
 Ohm’s law
 Resistivity
 Power dissipation

Electric cells 
5.3

 Cells
 Internal resistance
 Secondary cells
 Terminal potential difference
 Electromotive force (emf)

Magnetic effects of electric currents 
5.4 
 Magnetic fields
 Magnetic force

Topic #6: Circular Motion and Gravitation  5 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Circular motion 
6.1

 Period, frequency, angular displacement and angular velocity
 Centripetal force
 Centripetal acceleration

Newton’s law of gravitation 
6.2

 Newton’s law of gravitation
 Gravitational field strength

Topic #7: Atomic, Nuclear and Particle Physics  14 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Discrete energy and radioactivity 
7.1

 Discrete energy and discrete energy levels
 Transitions between energy levels
 Radioactive decay
 Fundamental forces and their properties
 Alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays
 Halflife
 Absorption characteristics of decay particles
 Isotopes
 Background radiation

Nuclear reactions 
7.2

 The unified atomic mass unit
 Mass defect and nuclear binding energy
 Nuclear fission and nuclear fusion

The structure of matter 
7.3

 Quarks, leptons and their antiparticles
 Hadrons, baryons and mesons
 The conservation laws of charge, baryon number, lepton number and strangeness
 The nature and range of the strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force and electromagnetic force
 Exchange particles
 Feynman diagrams
 Confinement
 The Higgs boson

Topic #8: Energy Production  8 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Energy sources 
8.1

 Specific energy and energy density of fuel sources
 Sankey diagrams
 Primary energy sources
 Electricity as a secondary and versatile form of energy
 Renewable and nonrenewable energy sources

Thermal energy transfer 
8.2

 Conduction, convection and thermal radiation
 Blackbody radiation
 Albedo and emissivity
 The solar constant
 The greenhouse effect
 Energy balance in the Earth surface–atmosphere system

Additional Higher Level Topics
These 4 topics are only for IB Physics Higher Level students  60 hours total for HL only
Topic #9: Wave Phenomena  17 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Simple harmonic motion 
9.1

 The defining equation of SHM
 Energy changes

Singleslit diffraction 
9.2

 The nature of singleslit diffraction

Interference 
9.3

 Young’s doubleslit experiment
 Modulation of twoslit interference pattern by oneslit diffraction effect
 Multiple slit and diffraction grating interference patterns
 Thin film interference

Resolution 
9.4 
 The size of a diffracting aperture
 The resolution of simple monochromatic twosource systems

Doppler effect 
9.5 
 The Doppler effect for sound waves and light waves

Topic #10: Fields  11 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Describing fields 
10.1

 Gravitational fields
 Electrostatic fields
 Electric potential and gravitational potential
 Field lines
 Equipotential surfaces

Fields at work 
10.2

 Potential and potential energy
 Potential gradient
 Potential difference
 Escape speed
 Orbital motion, orbital speed and orbital energy
 Forces and inversesquare law behaviour

Topic #11: Electromagnetic Induction  16 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Electromagnetic induction 
11.1

 Electromotive force (emf)
 Magnetic flux and magnetic flux linkage
 Faraday’s law of induction
 Lenz’s law

Power generation and transmission 
11.2

 Alternating current (ac) generators
 Average power and root mean square (rms) values of current and voltage
 Transformers
 Diode bridges
 Halfwave and fullwave rectification

Capacitance 
11.3

 Capacitance
 Dielectric materials
 Capacitors in series and parallel
 Resistorcapacitor (RC) series circuits
 Time constant

Topic #12: Quantum and Nuclear Physics  16 Hours for Both SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
The interaction of matter with radiation 
12.1

 Photons
 The photoelectric effect
 Matter waves
 Pair production and pair annihilation
 Quantization of angular momentum in the Bohr model for hydrogen
 The wave function
 The uncertainty principle for energy and time and position and momentum
 Tunnelling, potential barrier and factors affecting tunnelling probability

Nuclear physics 
12.2

 Rutherford scattering and nuclear radius
 Nuclear energy levels
 The neutrino
 The law of radioactive decay and the decay constant

Options
As a part of the IB Physics course, you cover additional subjects of your choosing from the list below (typically you don’t choose, but rather your teacher does). Whichever option(s) you or your teacher chooses you will cover 3 or 4 topics (15 hours total) for SL and an additional 2 or 3 topics (25 hours total) for HL.
Option A: Relativity  15 Hours for SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
The beginnings of relativity 
A.1

 Reference frames
 Galilean relativity and Newton’s postulates concerning time and space
 Maxwell and the constancy of the speed of light
 Forces on a charge or current

Lorentz transformations 
A.2

 The two postulates of special relativity
 Clock synchronization
 The Lorentz transformations
 Velocity addition
 Invariant quantities (spacetime interval, proper time, proper length and rest mass)
 Time dilation
 Length contraction
 The muon decay experiment

Spacetime diagrams 
A.3 
 Spacetime diagrams
 Worldlines
 The twin paradox

Additional Higher Level Topics  Additional 10 Hours for HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Relativistic mechanics 
A.4

 Total energy and rest energy
 Relativistic momentum
 Particle acceleration
 Electric charge as an invariant quantity
 Photons
 MeV c^–2 as the unit of mass and MeV c^–1 as the unit of momentum

General Relativity 
A.5

 The equivalence principle
 The bending of light
 Gravitational redshift and the Pound–Rebka–Snider experiment
 Schwarzschild black holes
 Event horizons
 Time dilation near a black hole
 Applications of general relativity to the universe as a whole

Option B: Engineering Physics  15 Hours for SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Rigid bodies and rotational dynamics 
B.1

 Torque
 Moment of inertia
 Rotational and translational equilibrium
 Angular acceleration
 Equations of rotational motion for uniform angular acceleration
 Newton’s second law applied to angular motion
 Conservation of angular momentum

Thermodynamics 
B.2

 The first law of thermodynamics
 The second law of thermodynamics
 Entropy
 Cyclic processes and pV diagrams
 Isovolumetric, isobaric, isothermal and adiabatic processes
 Carnot cycle
 Thermal efficiency

Additional Higher Level Topics  Additional 10 Hours for HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Fluids and fluid dynamics 
B.3

 Density and pressure
 Buoyancy and Archimedes’ principle
 Pascal’s principle
 Hydrostatic equilibrium
 The ideal fluid
 Streamlines
 The continuity equation
 The Bernoulli equation and the Bernoulli effect
 Stokes’ law and viscosity
 Laminar and turbulent flow and the Reynolds number

Forced vibrations and resonance 
B.4

 Natural frequency of vibration
 Q factor and damping
 Periodic stimulus and the driving frequency
 Resonance

Option C: Imaging  15 Hours for SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Introduction to imaging 
C.1

 Thin lenses
 Converging and diverging lenses
 Converging and diverging mirrors
 Ray diagrams
 Real and virtual images
 Linear and angular magnification
 Spherical and chromatic aberrations

Imaging instrumentation 
C.2

 Optical compound microscopes
 Simple optical astronomical refracting telescopes
 Simple optical astronomical reflecting telescopes
 Singledish radio telescopes
 Radio interferometry telescopes
 Satelliteborne telescopes

Fibre optics 
C.3

 Structure of optic fibres
 Stepindex fibres and gradedindex fibres
 Total internal reflection and critical angle
 Waveguide and material dispersion in optic fibres
 Attenuation and the decibel (dB) scale

Additional Higher Level Topics  Additional 10 Hours for HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Medical imaging 
C.4

 Detection and recording of Xray images in medical contexts
 Generation and detection of ultrasound in medical contexts
 Medical imaging techniques (magnetic resonance imaging) involving nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)

Option D: Astrophysics  15 Hours for SL and HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Stellar quantities 
D.1

 Objects in the universe
 The nature of stars
 Astronomical distances
 Stellar parallax and its limitations
 Luminosity and apparent brightness

Stellar characteristics and stellar evolution 
D.2

 Stellar spectra
 Hertzsprung–Russell (HR) diagram
 Mass–luminosity relation for main sequence stars
 Cepheid variables
 Stellar evolution on HR diagrams
 Red giants, white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes
 Chandrasekhar and Oppenheimer–Volkoff limits

Cosmology 
D.3 
 The Big Bang model
 Cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation
 Hubble’s law
 The accelerating universe and redshift (z)
 The cosmic scale factor (R)

Additional Higher Level Topics  Additional 10 Hours for HL
Subtopic 
Subtopic Number 
IB Points to Understand 
Stellar processes 
D.4

 The Jeans criterion
 Nuclear fusion
 Nucleosynthesis off the main sequence
 Type Ia and II supernovae

Further cosmology 
D.5

 The cosmological principle
 Rotation curves and the mass of galaxies
 Dark matter
 Fluctuations in the CMB
 The cosmological origin of redshift
 Critical density
 Dark energy

Practical Scheme of Work
You also need to complete experiments and experimental reports as a part of any IB Science course. For SL, there is 40 hours of material. For HL, there is 60 hours of material. Here are the activities:
 Practical activities  20 hours for SL and 40 hours for HL
 Lab work in class counts towards these hours
 Individual investigation (internal assessmentIA)  10 hours for SL and HL
 A lab project along with a report that counts as 20% of your IB exam scores (written exam counts for the other 80%)
 Group 4 Project  10 hours for SL and HL
 Students are separated into groups and must conduct an experiment and write a report.
What’s Next?
Are you hoping to squeeze in some extra IB classes? Learn about the IB courses offered online.
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