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The Best IB History Notes and Study Guide for SL/HL


If you want to do well on the IB History exam, you'll need to have a solid set of notes to study from. This can be difficult though if you're missing notes or feel like some of your own notes don't cover certain topics in enough depth. Luckily, we're here to help! We've assembled the best FREE online IB History notes into this complete study guide.

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What's the Format of the IB History Exam?

There are five prescribed subjects for IB History SL and HL:

  • Military leaders
  • Conquest and its impact
  • The move to global war
  • Rights and protest
  • Conflict and intervention

Your teacher will choose one that you'll cover, and you'll be tested on this for paper 1 (one hour in length).

There is also a list of twelve world history topics. For paper 2 (1.5 hours), you'll cover two of these:

  • Society and economy (750-1400)
  • Causes and effects of wars (750-1500)
  • Dynasties and rulers (750-1500)
  • Societies in transition (1400-1700)
  • Early Modern states (1450-1789)
  • Causes and effects of Early Modern wars (1500-1750)
  • Origins, development and impact of industrialization (1750-2005)
  • Independence movements (1800-2000)
  • Emergence and development of democratic states (1848-2000)
  • Authoritarian states (20th century)
  • Causes and effects of 20th-century wars
  • The Cold War: superpower tensions and rivalries (20th century)

If you're taking IB History HL, you'll also have a final paper (Paper 3) that is 2.5 hours and will cover one of the four Depth Studies:

  • History of Africa and the Middle East
  • History of the Americas
  • History of Asia and Oceania
  • History of Europe

If you're interested in taking a look at the entire IBO IB History Guide, you can find it as a .pdf here.


How to Use This IB History Study Guide

If you're hoping for help on one subject, use Command + F to search this guide for specific IB History notes about that subject. As an example, if you want to read about the Cold War, use Command + F to cue the search function. Then type "Cold War," and it'll bring up all of the study materials for the Cold War.

The resource is separated into:

  • Quick reference: one-page summary of material if you just need a quick refresher.
  • Longer notes: notes (generally 3-10 pages) if you need more of an in-depth explanation.
  • Flashcards: online quizzes of key terms.


Common Study Mistakes for IB History SL/HL

Two common mistakes are:

  • Trying to ignore the topics you didn't comprehend from your teacher's lesson. If you didn't understand it in class, you need to find additional assistance through this IB History study guide or tutoring. You're still going to be tested over this material whether you understood it in class or not!
  • Only trying to learn the material a week or two before the IB papers. There is too much history to learn—one or two weeks will not be enough time to learn it (that's why IB History SL/HL is spread over a year or two). The best solution is keeping up in class and studying the material throughout the year.




Current IB History Guides

Because IB History was recently updated, there aren't that many current notes and study guides, but we've found the best available. These guides follow the syllabus of the current version of IB History. If you are studying the same topics these notes cover, they are a great resource to use because they hit all or most of the main topics you need to know to be well prepared for the IB History exam. There are guides that cover multiple topics as well as guides that cover a single topic.


Multi-Topic Guides and Overviews

IB History Duck covers similar topics. This guide focuses primarily on authoritarian leaders such as Hitler, Mao, and Stalin, as well as the Cold War, histories of China, the USSR, and Imperial Japan.

The Student Room has a plethora of resources for you. Just keep in mind that notes for the 2017 syllabus are mixed in with information from earlier exams, so make sure you're accessing and studying the correct material.


Single Topic Guides

These are notes on single topics that you'll cover on the IB syllabus.

Prescribed Topics: Military Leaders

Prescribed Topics: Conquest and Its Impacts


 Prescribed Topics: Move to Global War


Prescribed Topics: Rights and Protest


Prescribed Topics: Conflict and Intervention


World History Topics: Society and Economy


World History Topics: Causes and Effects of Wars (750-1500)


World History Topics: Dynasties and Rulers (750-1500)


World History Topics: Societies in Transition


World History Topics: Early Modern States (1450-1789)


World History Topics: Causes and Effects of Modern Wars (1500-1750)


World History Topics: Origins, Development and Impact of Industrialization (1750-2005)


World History Topics: Independence Movements  


World History Topics: Emergence and Development of Democratic States


World History Topics: Authoritarian States (20th Century)


World History Topics: Causes and Effects of 20th Century Wars


World History Topics: The Cold War — Superpower Tensions and Rivalries (20th Century)


HL Depth Studies: History of Africa and the Middle East


HL Depth Studies: History of the Americas


HL Depth Studies: History of Asia and Oceania


HL Depth Studies: History of Europe





Past IB History Guides

These notes are based on the older (pre-2017) version of IB History. They won't fit the syllabus you're currently following in class, but since the two versions cover many similar concepts, they can still be useful for learning more about a specific topic. Just be sure not to use them as your main study resource because they may not focus on the exact same areas you're expected to know.


Peacemaking, Peacekeeping - International Relations 1918-36


Communism in Crisis 1976–89


Causes, Practices and Effects of Wars


Democratic States—Challenges and Responses


Origins and Development of Authoritarian and Single-Party States




The Cold War


Aspects of the History of the Americas


Aspects of the History of Europe and the Middle East

#1: The French Revolution and Napoleon

#2: Unification and Consolidation of Germany and Italy

#3: The Ottoman Empire

#4: Western and Northern Europe 1848-1914

#5: Imperial Russia, Revolutions, Emergence of Soviet State 1853-1924

#6: European Diplomacy and the First World War 1870-1923




#7: War and Change in the Middle East 1914-49

#8: Interwar Years: Conflict and Co-operation 1919-39


#9: The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe 1924-2000

#10: The Second World War and Post-War Western Europe 1939-2000

#11: Post-War Developments in the Middle East 1945-2000

#12: Social and Economic Developments in Europe and the Middle East





What's Next?

Looking for more practice material for IB History? Then you'll definitely want to delve into our complete collection of free and official past IB history papers.

Interested in brushing up on some of your historical knowledge? Read about the Platt Amendment, checks and balances in the US government (as well as how the executive branch checks the judicial branch), and lighthouse keeper Ida Lewis.

Alternatively, boost your esoteric knowledge by learning about the history of the three-hole punch and the real story of David Ghantt and the Loomis Fargo heist.

Finally, you can get practice materials for other IB classes on our blog:



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Dora Seigel
About the Author

As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.

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