Get top marks in the final IB Physics exams

Tips on how to get top marks in the final IB Physics exam 

We talk to our tutor Steve about how IB Physics students can best prepare for their final IB exams, how they can best revise to achieve a 7, and what to do if their mock results are disappointing. 

Steve is a teacher with over 20 years of experience and has been an assistant principal.  He now teaches with TutorsPlus and helps students prepare for their IGCSE and IB Physics exams. 

For more information on our IB  Physics HL and SL  tutors click here. 

Alex:  Steve, thanks for joining us today.  As well as being a tutor for TutorsPlus you have a career that spans over 20 years of teaching physics and you are also an assistant principal, with all that knowledge I would really like to ask you a little bit about how students can best prepare for their IB physics exam.  

Steve:  The IB physics exam is a tall order.  We want to aim at getting top marksthat’s what I would say from the start.  I wouldn’t ever teach a student part of the course, so we’re going to aim at getting it all.  So, we are going to go through the whole specification of that:  look at the syllabus, work out what it is exactly we need to cover.  Use the specification, use the syllabus and the checklist and go through and make sure you have covered every aspect that we need to.  So that’s part of it then.  We make sure we learn the course first.  But having learnt the things, I often find with students we come to the situation where they are looking for the thing: “I understand that, I get that, I see how that is related to that, so why can’t I answer the questions?”  And that’s so common, particularly in physics because that is applied Maths understanding and that comes with a lot of practice.  So what we do in tutorials is that we work with lots of past questions.  So that we have got different examples of how to apply these principles to lots of different types of questions and the IB, they put out a lot of different sorts.  There are multiple-choice, we’ve got short answer questions, we’ve got long answer questions.  Applying that to all of them, we need the experience of getting those questions answered every time.  So that’s what I would apply there and to answer your questions it takes time and organisation in order to do that.  First of all, like I say you have got to learn the course, then we’ve got to learn the facts that have been missed – the questions and the specification.  We’ve got to make sure we have covered it all as well.  There is a big body of work.  So throughout the two-year course it is a case of slow and steady wins the day.  I get a lot of students that come to me after they have had a rough time in the mock and yet we can pick up the pieces and progress with that much better though if we start at the beginning and make sure that the quality learning all the way through so that the course is grasped entirely. 

Alex:  If a student has disappointing mock results what would you recommend they do between that and the final exam? 

Steve:  What I would do with students like that, we would start by having a discussion about which part of the course did they really not like.  Let’s pick the piece that you are worst at and you will become an expert at that first.  And then you take on the next part of the course that you really don’t like and you become an expert at that.  And we work from the bottom upwards, so that we gain those marks on the pieces that have been letting you down in the past. 

Alex:  Thinking about those students, in order to maximise the chance of getting those hard worked for 7s, what would you recommend for those students who want to stretch themselves to do the best that they can to achieve those very top scores?   

Steve:  Again, I think that by the time you have learnt the course you think “I am going to go into that exam and I’ve done the hard work and I deserve those marks and I’m not leaving without them.”  So when you get to the paper you are going to spend some time looking at that and, in particular, notice how many marks will be awarded for each question.  That is the key thing because if this is a big 6 mark question, let’s not just do a sentence or two answer.  Think back after we have given our answer “How many marks for this one?  I’ve got one for that, I’ve got one for that, mmm what else are they looking for?”   Let’s come away with 6 marks because we’ve done the work let’s not leave it without walking away with all the marks.  But I was looking at a question just earlier that was about an ion drive spacecraft like the Dawn Project that went to Siris, the asteroid Siris and orbited that for a while to just have a look and it took weeks and weeks for it to build up speed by spitting these ions out of the back of the spacecraft and the question said: estimate the maximum velocity that it achieved and explain why it is an estimate.  3 marks so instantly what I am thinking, what do I need to do for those 3 marks?  I’ve got to use the principle of conservation of momentum.  If I can demonstrate I have used that, I’ve got 1  mark.  Calculating the velocity, there’s my second mark.  The third mark has got to be why is it an estimate because by spitting these ions out of the back the spacecraft is getting lighter, it’s losing some mass, the acceleration will increase, that kind of thing.  And I’m thinking all the time 3 marks, I’m not going to answer the next question until I know I have got 3 marks worth.  Maybe I have got 4 good answers.  I’m going to put them all in to maximise the answers I can get here. 

Alex:  Very helpful.  And what happens for your students who may have been disappointed or lost marks where, perhaps, they should have gained them, what would you say are the biggest pitfalls for the physics IB both standard level and higher level? 

Steve:  Both of those, it is in the explanation, because the explanation is when you really show your understanding. You always find when you start the physics course, we go through, we usually start with mechanics.  So you’ve got projectile motion so there’s a lot of Maths involved, a lot of equations, calculating things.  When you start the course you realise that, hey, I’ve worked this out, I’ve drawn the diagram, I’ve done my calculation, ping, and I’ve got the right answer.  That’s great, I feel good for that but then when it comes on to the next year and you are doing questions, then you realise that actually by now I expect to get all of the calculations right and the tricky part is in the explaining, explaining how this works, why that principle is important here.  Those are the parts and, again, looking at the number of marks available is always a key to thinking have I given an adequate answer to bag all of the marks? 

Alex:  Steve, thanks for all your advice today.  That was very, very helpful indeed, much appreciated. 

Steve:  Thank you 

To book HL or SL IB Physicsrevision with Steve, get in touch with one of our team, or call us on 022 731 81 48.  

You can also email us at He is happy to do IB Physics revision lessons of an hour a week in the run-up to those final HL or SL exams. 

Steve is also available for general Physics tutoring. 

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