Advice for getting top marks in IB Physics IA in 2023
IB Physics examiners have given clear feedback on what they expect from your physics IA in 2023
This advice will be invaluable for getting top marks in your IB Physics IA
Please read below for the most concise feedback.
EVERY SINGLE BIT OF INFORMATION HERE IS IMPORTANT! Read to the bottom. The feedback on the Communication section is particularly important.
EXAMINER FEEDBACK: Choice of IB Physics IA Topic
- It is advised that you DO NOT take on too much and produce an extended essay-like report instead of an IA.
- Investigations with multiple independent variables should not be attempted.
- Computer simulation and database investigations are not discouraged. If you choose a computer simulation, it is crucial you have an interesting and relevant approach to the analysis of the data generated. The data should be used to find some physical function or numerical value.
- Some of the most popular and well-known investigations included the coefficient of restitution of a bouncing ball (pressure, temperature, surfaces), the singing wineglass (a classic), buoyancy, viscosity, coefficients of friction (and several using sandpaper), bifilar pendulums, solar cells and angle, and variation of solutions and refractive index.
- It is perfectly acceptable to choose a popular research question that has been found online. However, if you copy ideas, methods and resources from any written investigations online - you must make a clear reference to this. You must acquire your own data, perform your own analysis, and write your own report.
- Your investigation should address a research question that is relevant and appropriate for high school physics work. It does not have to be restricted to the syllabus content. You must not submit IAs on non-physics topics.
EXAMINER FEEDBACK: Personal Engagement
- If you perform an investigation, gather and process data, then you'll be awarded minimum mark of 1/2 for Personal Engagement
- If you do not perform an investigation - you'll get 0/2
- Providing a justification for the research question OR artificial comments of interest in the topic will not bring you up to 2/2 for Personal Engagement. Don't say you want to become an Electrical Engineer and that's why you're investigating Ohm's Law...
- You'll get full marks for Personal Engagement if you demonstrate independent thinking, creativity or initiative in your investigation. This might mean carrying out a Preliminary Investigation to determine a suitable range of variables, or adapting a method for your experiment to gain more accurate results (or remove a systematic error)
EXAMINER FEEDBACK: Exploration
- You must have a well-defined research question with quantifiable variables (i.e. variables you can measure on a continuous scale: temperature, length, velocity, viscosity, etc). Ideally the research question is in the format of "How does Variable X affect Variable Y?"
- Relate your background physics ONLY to the research question. Do not include historical or cultural background.
- It may be worth defining your variables in the background to make sure you have a clear understanding of what you are actually measuring. Some students performed investigations thinking they were measuring cooling rate, but did not really know what cooling rate actually is.
- If you are investigating purely qualitative investigations (e.g. how does the length of a pendulum affect the time period?) DO NOT conclude by saying, "as the length increases, the time period increases". This is too simple and you should be looking to provide better mathematical reasoning.
- Methodologies should be written in sufficient detail so that the reader could repeat the investigation. This does not require a 32-step cookbook explanation.
- You should address the idea of uncertainty and error analyse in this section by taking into consideration significant factors that may influence the quality of work.
EXAMINER FEEDBACK: Analysis
- After processing your data in a table, you should give examples of complex calculations. Do not give example calculations of how to take an average - that's too easy and a waste of space.
- If you use a smartphone app to collect data, make sure you address the precision or accuracy of the data collected by the app.
- You have to be careful with your max/min lines of best fit. Construct linear lines of maximum and minimum gradients with relative accuracy (by eye) taking into account all uncertainty bars (i.e. your max/min lines should go through all error bars)
- Don't force a linear fit on data scatter graphs when the data does not support a linear line. If you data is not obviously linear - you'll probably have to do some work to the data to linearise it.
- You should address the idea of uncertainty and error analyse in this section by appreciating the quantitative values of uncertainties on the variables, as well as the course of the uncertainties.
EXAMINER FEEDBACK: Evaluation
- For the conclusion, something more than claiming that "as X increases then Y increases" is expected. Conversely, DO NOT construct a meaningless polynomial equation to fit your data and then assert a conclusion described by the equation, without giving any physical meaning to the results
- In the Evaluation, you need to reflect on the method, procedures, limitations, and any assumptions in your investigation.
- For improvements to your method, do not use superficial or generic comments like "use a video camera", "take more measurements" or "reduce human error" without expanding further on what effect they would have on the level of uncertainty / results of the experiment.
- You should address the idea of uncertainty and error analyse in this section by distinguishing between procedural and methodological issues. Procedural issues (mark band 1-2) are a fixed set of steps, not a generalisation. They are a subset of methodological issues. For example, taking more data, or extending the range of data, are both procedural issues. In mark bands 3-4 and 5-6, methodological issues are mentioned, and these issues address the assumptions in the method, and may include suggestions on new ways to measure the quantities or alternative approaches to the research question.
EXAMINER FEEDBACK: Communication
Communication assessed holistically. The overall clarity, flow and focus of the report are assessed.
BEST REPORTS INCLUDED:
- Made it clear in the first paragraph what the specific investigation was about, how it was conducted and what results were found
- Stayed focused on the research question
- Had descriptive titles like, "How temperature affects the coefficient of restitution of a golf ball" NOT "Bouncing Balls"
- Used relevant scientific notation, equations, and units.
- Presented equations properly using an equation editor
- Within the 12-page maximum (10 or so pages is a reasonable length for a focused and concise IA report)
- Reasonable margins, spacing, appropriate scales of graphs and data tables
BAD REPORTS INCLUDED:
- Graphs that were too small
- Methods with too much pedantic detail, e.g. "set up the equipment, turn on the computer, etc)
- Photographs of the equipment, when a clear labelled sketch would be better (photographs of a metre stick, stopwatch and other basic equipment are meaningless)
- Photos taken from the internet are referenced in the Bibliography but not within the body of the text.
- listing texts or websites at the end of the report without using them - do not pad out your report with references you did not use.
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