IB Physics Study Guide and Notes for SL/HL (2020-2021)

IB Physics Online Test – HL/SL

Instructions to candidates

Answer all the questions.
For each question, choose the answer you consider to be the best and indicate your choice
A clean copy of the physics data booklet is required for this paper.
The maximum mark for each correct answer is 1 marks.

IB Physics Detailed Topic-Wise Study Notes

Excellent Study Notes for IB DP Physics Prepared by Subject Matter Experts.

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  • Cross-cutting concepts
  • Recurring ideas that apply to many different standards

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  • Actionable language (“I can” statements)
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    • Online Help– Contact our experts for your doubt clarifying sessions

Additional Higher Level (AHL) Topics

IB Physics Syllabus , Notes, Practice Papers etc.

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

SubtopicSubtopic NumberIB Points to Understand
Measurements in physics1.1
Uncertainties and errors1.2
Vectors and scalars1.3

Topic #2: Mechanics—22 Hours for Both SL and HL

SubtopicSubtopic NumberIB Points to Understand
Work, energy and power2.3
Momentum and impulse2.4

Topic #3: Thermal Physics—11 Hours for Both SL and HL

SubtopicSubtopic NumberIB Points to Understand
Thermal concepts3.1
Modelling a gas3.2
  • 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

SubtopicSubtopic NumberIB Points to Understand
  • Simple harmonic oscillations
  • Time period, frequency, amplitude, displacement and phase difference
  • Conditions for simple harmonic motion
Travelling waves4.2
  • Travelling waves
  • Wavelength, frequency, period and wave speed
  • Transverse and longitudinal waves
  • The nature of electromagnetic waves
  • The nature of sound waves
Wave characteristics4.3
  • Wavefronts and rays
  • Amplitude and intensity
  • Superposition
  • Polarization
Wave behaviour4.4
  • Reflection and refraction
  • Snell’s law, critical angle and total internal reflection
  • Diffraction through a single-slit and around objects
  • Interference patterns
  • Double-slit interference
  • Path difference
Standing waves4.5
  • The nature of standing waves
  • Boundary conditions
  • Nodes and antinodes

Topic #5: Electricity and Magnetism—15 Hours for Both SL and HL

SubtopicSubtopic NumberIB Points to Understand
Electric fields5.1
  • Charge
  • Electric field
  • Coulomb’s law
  • Electric current
  • Direct current (dc)
  • Potential difference
Heating effect of electric currents5.2
  • 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 cells5.3
  • Cells
  • Internal resistance
  • Secondary cells
  • Terminal potential difference
  • Electromotive force (emf)
Magnetic effects of electric currents5.4
  • Magnetic fields
  • Magnetic force

Topic #6: Circular Motion and Gravitation—5 Hours for Both SL and HL

SubtopicSubtopic NumberIB Points to Understand
Circular motion6.1
  • Period, frequency, angular displacement and angular velocity
  • Centripetal force
  • Centripetal acceleration
Newton’s law of gravitation6.2
  • Newton’s law of gravitation
  • Gravitational field strength

Topic #7: Atomic, Nuclear and Particle Physics—14 Hours for Both SL and HL

SubtopicSubtopic NumberIB Points to Understand
Discrete energy and radioactivity7.1
  • Discrete energy and discrete energy levels
  • Transitions between energy levels
  • Radioactive decay
  • Fundamental forces and their properties
  • Alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays
  • Half-life
  • Absorption characteristics of decay particles
  • Isotopes
  • Background radiation
Nuclear reactions7.2
  • The unified atomic mass unit
  • Mass defect and nuclear binding energy
  • Nuclear fission and nuclear fusion
The structure of matter7.3
  • 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

SubtopicSubtopic NumberIB Points to Understand
Energy sources8.1
  • Specific energy and energy density of fuel sources
  • Sankey diagrams
  • Primary energy sources
  • Electricity as a secondary and versatile form of energy
  • Renewable and non-renewable energy sources
Thermal energy transfer8.2
  • Conduction, convection and thermal radiation
  • Black-body 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 HL Only

SubtopicSubtopic NumberIB Points to Understand
Simple harmonic motion
  • The defining equation of SHM
  • Energy changes
Single-slit diffraction
  • The nature of single-slit diffraction
  • Young’s double-slit experiment
  • Modulation of two-slit interference pattern by one-slit diffraction effect
  • Multiple slit and diffraction grating interference patterns
  • Thin film interference
  • The size of a diffracting aperture
  • The resolution of simple monochromatic two-source systems
Doppler effect
  • The Doppler effect for sound waves and light waves

Topic #10: Fields—11 Hours for HL only

SubtopicSubtopic NumberIB Points to Understand
Describing fields
  • Gravitational fields
  • Electrostatic fields
  • Electric potential and gravitational potential
  • Field lines
  • Equipotential surfaces
Fields at work
  • Potential and potential energy
  • Potential gradient
  • Potential difference
  • Escape speed
  • Orbital motion, orbital speed and orbital energy
  • Forces and inverse-square law behaviour

Topic #11: Electromagnetic Induction—16 Hours for HL Only

SubtopicSubtopic NumberIB Points to Understand
Electromagnetic induction
  • Electromotive force (emf)
  • Magnetic flux and magnetic flux linkage
  • Faraday’s law of induction
  • Lenz’s law
Power generation and transmission
  • Alternating current (ac) generators
  • Average power and root mean square (rms) values of current and voltage
  • Transformers
  • Diode bridges
  • Half-wave and full-wave rectification
  • Capacitance
  • Dielectric materials
  • Capacitors in series and parallel
  • Resistor-capacitor (RC) series circuits
  • Time constant

Topic #12: Quantum and Nuclear Physics—16 Hours for HL Only

SubtopicSubtopic NumberIB Points to Understand
The interaction of matter with radiation
  • 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
  • Rutherford scattering and nuclear radius
  • Nuclear energy levels
  • The neutrino
  • The law of radioactive decay and the decay constant


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

SubtopicSubtopic NumberIB Points to Understand
The beginnings of relativityA.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 transformationsA.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 diagramsA.3
  • Spacetime diagrams
  • Worldlines
  • The twin paradox

Additional HL Relativity Topics—10 More Hours for HL

SubtopicSubtopic NumberIB Points to Understand
Relativistic mechanics
  • 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
  • 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

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