When you take the IB Physics exam, you'll be nervous no matter what. But having seen a practice test beforehand will be a huge benefit since you'll know the format of the test cold and will be used to the length and style of the test.
In this article, I'll help get you familiar with the exam format by exposing you to IB Physics past papers, both free and paid. I'll also share strategies on how best to use these IB Physics tests for your own exam prep.
2021 IB Exam Changes Due to COVID-19
Because of the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, May 2021 IB assessments will have two routes, exam and non-exam, depending on which your school chooses. Stay up to date with the latest information on what this means for IB diplomas, course credit for IB classes, and more with our 2021 IB COVID-19 FAQ article.
Where to Find Free Past Papers
Because the IB has gotten very strict in recent years about people illegally uploading past papers, a lot of previous sources aren't available any more.
Furthermore, IBO has yet to upload a free sample Physics paper on its website for students to use as practice (although if it does, we'll update this article with a link).
I have not been able to find any unofficial IB Physics past papers (ones created from scratch). You should be very wary of any you find. I DO NOT recommend using them, as they may be very different from the actual IB Physics exam.
The same thing goes for exams you might find by searching for "IB Physics past papers" online—because they're not officially released by IBO, there's no way to know if they're real (and so illegally uploaded) or constructed (and so not reflective of the actual test). Your best bet for practicing with actual tests, rather than just reviewing your notes and quizzes, is to buy real IB tests.
Where to Find Paid IB Physics Tests
The IBO sells the IB Physics SL and HL past papers from 2015 through 2017 on their website. This is the only safe place to get IB Physics past papers to download. To find them, search for "physics exam paper." From there, you can sort by release date and language.
Each paper and each mark scheme costs $3 (or $3.99 for the most recent exam). One full exam (including paper 1, paper 2, paper 3, and the mark scheme for each) will cost you about $18.
Buying all of the past papers and mark schemes can end up costing hundreds of US dollars, so if you're looking to spend as little as possible, I recommend just purchasing the most recent past papers, as they will be closest to what you learned.
3 Strategies to Use IB Physics Past Papers Effectively
Because each practice test takes 3 hours for SL or 4.5 hours for HL, it's important that you get the most out of each test. Here are important tips to keep in mind when you're taking the tests:
#1: Take Papers 1 and 2 Consecutively If Possible
The IB Physics SL and IB Physics HL papers are a marathon, forcing you to sit and concentrate for 2 hours for SL and 3 hours and 15 minutes for HL. You need to build up endurance so you don't make careless mistakes at the end of the test.
By taking the practice test in one sitting, you build up important endurance for the real test. If you don't have time in your schedule for a 2-hour or 3-hour 15-minute session, then splitting it up over multiple days is OK. Just make sure you follow the next rule:
#2: Keep Strict Timing on Each Section with a Timer
It is essential that you get used to the timing pressures on the IB Physics papers. Here is the timing:
IB Physics SL
- IB Physics SL Paper 1—45 minutes
- IB Physics SL Paper 2—1 hour 15 minutes
- IB Physics SL Paper 3—1 hour
IB Physics HL
- IB Physics HL Paper 1—1 hour
- IB Physics HL Paper 2—2 hours 15 minutes
- IB Physics HL Paper 3—1 hour 15 minutes
In this time, you are expected to complete:
IB Physics SL
- SL Paper 1: 30 multiple-choice questions
- SL Paper 2: 2 parts, Section A: answer all of 3 or 4 short responses and Section B: pick 1 essay question (you choose between 3 options)
- SL Paper 3: Answer all of the questions for your 2 options: 4-6 short response questions that each can have between 2-5 parts
IB Physics HL
- HL Paper 1: 40 multiple-choice questions
- HL Paper 2: 2 parts, Section A: answer all of 5 short response questions that each can have between 3-10 parts and Section B: pick 2 essay questions (you choose between 4 options)
- HL Paper 3: Answer all of the questions for your 2 options: 5 or more short response and/or essay questions with multiple parts (varies based on the options that you covered in your class)
Don't give yourself even two extra minutes—this can allow you to do more questions and improve your score substantially. We want to use these practice papers as reliable indicators of your real score.
#3: Review Your Answers
At the end of every test, make sure you review every mistake you made, and every question you got correct. If you bypass this step, you're not going to learn from your mistakes, and you'll continue making them over and over again. A rule of thumb is to spend at least 1.5 hours reviewing every full practice tests. This takes a lot of time, but emphasize quality of learning over quantity of learning. I'd rather see you take 2 tests with detailed review than 5 tests with no review.
Brush up on your physics knowledge with our guides to calculating acceleration and understanding the law of conservation of mass, as well as our discussion of the specific heat of water and why it's unique.
Learn more about IB Physics:
Learn more about the IB Program through our other articles:
- The Complete List of IB Courses and Classes
- Which IB Courses Can I Take Online? Can I Get an Online IB Diploma?
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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.