How to Improve Quickly at IB Physics Multiple Choice Questions

exam facts exam technique ib physics paper 1

After deep analysis of ALL IB Physics Paper 1 past exams since 2016, here are my strategies on how to get top marks in multiple choice questions.

Multiple choice questions feature very heavily in IB Physics, particularly in the final IB Physics exams, where the whole of Paper 1 is devoted to multiple choice questions. It is also highly likely that throughout your course, your teacher will give you multiple choice questions. They'll do that for a number of reasons, to help assess your skill and your understanding of the course AND because they are really easy for physics teachers to mark!


FACTS about IB Physics Paper 1

The importance of multiple choice questions in your final grade

2021 and 2022 Exams: Multiple choice questions account for 30% of your final IB Physics grade. This is because Paper 3 has been eliminated, meaning that the remaining papers have been weighted more heavily than before. This is a good thing! Multiple Choice are easier to master than learning a whole other option topic....

"Normal" Exams (i.e. not pandemic exams): Multiple choice questions account for 20% of your final IB Physics grade.

What are you allowed?

You are NOT allowed a calculator! This can come as a nasty surprise to many students - especially as there are LOTS of calculations required. Start practising without a calculator now.

You ARE allowed a data booklet. The paper follows the structure of the IB course (i.e. questions on Topic 1 first, then on Topic 2, etc). This makes it easy to make the best use of your data booklet. Open the data booklet at the correct page matching the topic you are currently working on. It will help - I promise!

How long and how many questions will I have?

In Standard Level it is 45 minutes long and it has 30 questions in it.

In Higher Level it's one hour long and it has 40 questions in it. 

What is the hardest part of Paper 1 in IB Physics?

Here's the killer.

50% of the questions in paper one have multiple steps and paper one is designed by these lovely examiners to be difficult. You will find this paper difficult. So in 50% of the questions, the answer is not as easy as it might sound. In 50% of those questions, you're going to have to do a number of different steps to get the final answer. So this is something that also we need to start practicing. It's not like GCSE or multiple choice questions or little quizzes you have on the internet. These multiple choice questions do require you to problem solve, and they do require you to have knowledge.

What are the grade boundaries of Paper 1 in IB Physics?

The grade boundaries can vary every year depending on the relative difficulty of the exam and the quality of candidates presenting. Also, we have found that the global pandemic has played a part in grade boundaries. The point I'm trying to make is that the grade boundaries are fluid.

But the good news is is that the grade boundaries tend to be particularly low for paper one.

So even though it's designed to be difficult, and even though you may not find it particularly easy, the grade levels are, sorry, the grade boundaries are lowered to reflect that. So it is deemed to be a fair paper.

Example grade boundaries are:


1:  0-10

2: 11-12

3: 13-15

4: 16-18

5: 19-22

6: 23-25

7: 26-40

So you are looking at 65% + for a 7 in Paper 1 in HL IB Physics


1:  0-7

2:  8-9

3: 10-12

4: 13-14

5: 15-17

6: 18-19

7: 20-30

So you are looking at 67% + for a 7 in Paper 1 in SL IB Physics

What are the most heavily-examined topics in IB Physics Paper 1?

The interesting thing that I have seen about paper one since 2016, is you may only see one or two questions on topic one. So when you're looking towards your paper one exams, don't worry too much about multiple choice questions regarding topic one. They don't tend to feature very heavily. Now I know what you're wondering....

You're wondering, well, if topic one doesn't feature very heavily, which topics do feature heavily?

Here goes:


  • Topic 2: Mechanics
  • Topic 4 & 9: Waves and Wave Phenomena
  • Topic 11: Electromagnetic Induction
  • Topic 12: Quantum Physics

Obviously the other topics are assessed, these topics are just the most heavily-weighted.


  • Topic 2: Mechanics
  • Topic 4: Waves
  • Topic 5: Electricity and Magnetism
  • Topic 7: Atomic, Nuclear and Particle Physics

Obviously the other topics are assessed, these topics are just the most heavily-weighted.

ADVICE for Multiple Choice Questions

  • Prioritise the most heavily-weighted topics mentioned above
  • Use to practice multiple choice questions by topic
  • Use a timer to limit yourself to 1.5 minutes per question
  • Practice 'ratio' questions as they feature regularly
  • The paper is  set out in order of the syllabus, this means there are easy questions at the end! Work through the paper initially and complete the easy questions. Skip any that are too hard.
  • Eliminate any clearly incorrect responses
  • If you see a graph question, focus on the gradient, area under the graph and the units.
  • Sometimes, there is no clear correct answer. That's a failing of the exam AND a life lesson. Just choose one and move on. You have more than a 25% chance of getting it right!
  • NEVER leave any blank responses.

In one of my tips above, I mentioned 'ratio' questions. This is what I mean by a 'ratio' question:

I work through this particular problem in this YouTube video here:

In the video I also mention my IB Physics Study Kit. You'd be welcome to download a copy here:

Hope this helps!


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