You’ve been browsing IB Physics IA ideas and you’re getting frustrated. I completely understand. Today I’m going to show you the same technique for choosing your physics IA topic that I have taught to 2000+ other IB Physics students.
I published a blog post last year on my website for physics teachers. It gave a list of 16 ideas for the physics IA. Since then, I’ve received on average 17,469,973.5 emails a week (give or take a few!) from IB Students.
Here’s an example of my email inbox…
I could put thousands of emails up here to show you. It is probably better if we just get to the good stuff!
In this blog post I am going to:
Let me guess… has your teacher said this to you?
You aren’t supposed to do your IB Physics IA on a topic that someone else has done already.
Please let me ease your concerns here…
You Don’t Have to Be Original
Every year there are around 25,000 IB Physics students and every student will submit an IA. Everybody’s IA has to be within the scope of the IB Physics syllabus. Soooooo, it is pretty much impossible to get a project that is completely original.
You will not lose IA marks if you choose to do an IA that is not completely original to you. You will lose marks if you copy one!
Let’s dive straight into my 4 simple steps to choosing your perfect IB Physics IA topic.
Please don’t overthink this step.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Let me give you a few examples.
I’m nearly 40. I know – I can’t believe it either – I look so youthful!!
I still remember a lesson about geostationary satellites from school. Just because it’s funny… here’s a picture of me at school 20 years ago:
(Can you find me in the picture?)
In class, we calculated the height of a geostationary satellite and discussed the merits of using them for communication. My teacher told me that in 1950 – there were no satellites in orbit. Yet, as science progressed more satellites were being launched into this low orbit to fuel or need for communication and GPS. I became fascinated with the idea of space junk and I still am.
I mean – check this out. This is an artists impression of how the number of satellites in geostationary orbits has increased over the years. Most of this is now non-operational and complete junk!
So in this case, my general topic of interest would be:
As you’ve seen above, I get around 3-4 emails a day from IB physics student asking for physics IA ideas. One student couldn’t think of ANYTHING that he’d found interesting in ANY of his physics lessons. Boy! That teacher must have been boring!
But he liked football
So in this case, his general topic of interest would be:
and so on…
At this stage, I think you should download my free workbook. You can record your general area of interest in there.
To get great marks in your physics IA, you need to have a focussed research question. This will be in the following format:
How does Variable X affect Variable Y?
We’ll start with Variable X, which is the independent variable that YOU change as part of your investigation. It needs to be an easily changeable variable about your topic of interest.
If you chose football, then it is easy to change the following things about a football:
The following variables are easily changeable in Physics. Do any of these relate to your general topic of interest?
Choose one of these for your Variable X:
Use my free workbook to write down possible variable X’s for your general area of interest.
Variable X needs to be something that can be measured on a scale (e.g. time, mass, length, pressure, temperature).
Don’t choose discrete properties (e.g. type of material, type of fruit, etc)
Variable Y is the dependent variable that changes AS A RESULT of variable X being changed. Your Variable Y (dependent variable) should be easily measurable.
Let’s stick with the example of football.
Things that can be a easily measured about a football are:
The following variables are easily measurable in Physics. Do any of these relate to your general topic of interest?
Choose one of these for your Variable Y:
Use my free workbook to write down possible variable Y’s for your general area of interest.
It has to be easily measurable! (e.g. frequency, resistance, rebound height, etc). The internal energy of a gas is impossible, the time period of a fly’s wings is impossible too!)
How does…. (your variable X)… affect … (your variable Y) ?
It is as simple as this!
Write your research question down and check that it makes sense.
Make sure you can predict roughly what might happen. I know that decreasing the pressure in a football will decrease the rebound height. So I’ve got a pretty good idea that this will work.
The best investigations are able to predict the mathematical relationships between the variables. This will be your challenge in the Exploration section….!
So…. you have your investigation research question, but is it any good?
Your investigation will be great if you choose a well-focussed research question. Don’t include two or three related investigations in one lab report.
How does the volume and radius affect the resistance of electrical putty?
This research question means that two sets of data will be required. The resulting investigation will lack the depth of analysis needed to earn high marks.
Consider this research question:
How does temperature affect the coefficient of resistution of a tennis ball?
This investigation would be rubbish if it only includes two pages on the history of tennis. However, if you show an innovative method, explain the relevant background theory, and write an interesting report – you can earn full marks!
The Y variable (time) is measurable. The X variable is not defined. How do you define what the best method is? relative uncertainty? accuracy? This investigation is much too hard.
The Y variable is measurable (static friction). The X variable discrete (type of surface). This means that you will have to plot a bar chart, which is rubbish for IB Physics.
The choice of your research question will have an impact of the mark you receive for the Personal Engagement section of the marking scheme
Personal Engagement is worth 2 marks out of 24. This means that Personal Engagement is worth 1.7% of your final IB Physics Mark.
Performing an investigation with a standard method and standard analysis but in a thoughtful way usually earns one mark for Personal Engagement. So, you could choose a very standard investigation (with no imagination at all!) and only be penalised by one mark.
By spending days agonising over the perfect IA Topic, you are really only chasing 0.8% of your final IB Physics mark.
Don’t waste lots of time and effort searching for an IA topic – it is only worth 0.8% of your final mark – at most.
Also, Personal Engagement does NOT only asses the quality of the research question; it looks at the flow and engagement throughout the report and is assessed holistically.
Full mark in Personal Engagement is only awarded when a student demonstrates:
Only the most insightful and thoughtful investigations get top marks in Personal Engagement. If you show a thorough and detailed analysis, a deep understanding of the issues, and a dedication to quality scientific work – then you can expect those full marks!
Lesson Learned: If you are agonising over a topic – don’t bother. Choose something quickly.
Do not write a sub-title in your investigation called “Personal Engagement” and then write a comment like this:
Examiners HATE you writing artificial comments about your interests. If you use words like ‘fascinated’ and ‘passionate’ – the examiner will likely give you zero marks.
The examiner will mark Personal Engagement holistically, which means it assessed throughout the report – not just in a section with the heading Personal Engagement.
I know that finding a good Physics IA topic is difficult, but my 4-Step Plan detailed above will show you how quick and simple it can actually be.
Just remember that your research question needs to be focussed and in the form of:
How does…. (your variable X)… affect … (your variable Y) ?
You need to have a rough idea of what might happen. It would be even better if you knew if they variables were directly proportional, indirectly proportional, etc.
Don’t worry if you’ve chosen the same topic as someone else. If you’re stuck – choose from one of the topics above!
Finally, don’t make the same mistake that so many IB Physics students have made… don’t add a sub-title section “Personal Engagement.” PLEASE DON’T!!!
Hope this helps
Check out some options below - ready for you when you need them: