Well, it depends on a lot of factors. It depends on the student and their style of learning, their strengths, the teacher, the text book, the time spent etc.
But there is a way to get a general idea of the difficulty, thanks to the IB statistical reports. Let us look at the statistics from the November 2009 session:
There were 764 Candidates taking Physics SL:
31% of candidates received a 7, 17% received a 6, 14% received 5, 17% received a 4, 17% received a 3 and 5% received a 2
There were 751 candidates taking Physics HL:
20% of candidates received a 7, 16% received a 6, 16% received a 5, 19% received a 4, 19% received a 3, and 10% received a 2.
So what can we tell from this data? Well, it is VERY possible to get a 6 or a 7 in both SL and HL, given that this represents over 35% of the candidates.
Now lets take a look at the cut-offs for the November 2009 session:
At Higher Level:
7 = 71 – 100%
6 = 61 – 70%
5 = 52 – 60%
4 = 42 – 51%
At Standard Level:
7 = 68 – 100%
6 = 58 – 67%
5 = 49 – 57%
4 = 39 – 48%
The cut-offs for a 7 don't seem very high. Most people however, like to insist that the reason its not very high is because Physics is hard. What I say is that the cut-offs are very FAIR and the higher grade boundaries are very attainable.
In fact, through systematic revision, this can be easily achievable. And by systematic revision, I mean going through the Syllabus point-by-point, such that you have an awareness of all of the possible questions that you could be examined on. Additionally, by practicing through past papers and scrutinizing mark schemes, you can actually gain a very clear idea of the expectations of the exam.
Comparing the cut-offs to other science subjects:
Chemistry HL: 80% for a 7
Chemistry SL: 77% for a 7
Biology HL: 82% for a 7
Biology SL: 80% for a 7
So, even if Physics is "harder" this difficulty is more than made up for by the significantly lower cut-offs.
Let us compare this to some of the other IB Science Subjects.
For Biology, in November 2011:
Only 3% of students achieved a 7 at Standard Level. And only 11% of students achieved a 7 at Higher Level.
This is a remarkably low percentage that cannot be accounted for by intelligence alone.
For Chemistry, in November 2011:
14% of students received a 7 at Standard Level and 26% at Higher Level.
This is much higher than Biology but still lower than Physics.
Why? Being an ex-student who has completed both subjects, I found Chemistry and Physics similar in raw difficulty. However, when an equally difficult subject has a much lower cut-off for a 7, ie Physics, the overall subject becomes much easier.
Wishing You Success,
Founder – IB Blueprint
Executive Tutor – Australian IB Tuition