The 2014-15 academic year will be a very strange one for Group 4 in the IB.  All of the syllabuses (except Sorts Science) change.  Most students might feel that this is not such a problem because all you do is simply choose your subjects.  Actually however, this is potentially a huge problem.

The early signs of the new course suggest that it is effectively much larger than the old one.  HL Physics, Maths and Chemistry are three of the toughest subjects in the IB, not least because the syllabus is too large.  An even larger course is likely to be tougher.  Also, the makeup of the course is likely to make the experience far less interesting and engaging that the old course.

For those students who are considering a career in Engineering or Physics, there is not much choice – you should be doing HL Physics and HL/SL Maths.  However, if you are thinking that you wish to study Physics because you just like it, then it might be worth thinking again.  There are three things to consider:

1.  HL Physics.  If you like physics and are good at t (and Maths), then this should be fine.  The course is large but a really good experience – it will open your eyes to all sorts of things – some will be just delving deeper into topics you are already aware of, while other parts of the course will teach you about very strange areas of physics where you need to have a completely open mind to understand them (e.g., quantum physics or relativity).

2.  SL Physics.  This is the killer course now. It is effectively larger than the old course and the depth of knowledge presented is too deep.  If you Maths is not really good, you are likely to suffer, and suffering on an SL Physics course means suffering in grades.  There are too many students who reach the end of their Diploma and do not make the university grades because of SL Physics – this is something we should try to avoid at all costs.

3.  SL Astronomy.  The alternative for students who like physics but do not wish to take the new SL physics course, is to take SL Astronomy.  The new version of this course has hardly changed from the old and in fact, the small number of changes have made the course simpler and more obvious, not made it tougher.  Also, the themes you study for the 2 years are similar.  As such, it is more likely that if you like the subject (and who does not like astronomy?), you may do better than on the SL Physics course.

The conclusion from this short blog is that, when choosing your Group 4 subject this year, take care and think carefully.  Ask yourself why you are going to study physics and what do you hope to get from it.  If HL Physics is ‘your thing’ then this is fine.  If SL Physics is all you want, then strongly consider the Astronomy course instead.

And a final word – if your school is unaware of the astronomy course, then tell them to get the details from the IB – it exists and is an excellent alternative at standard level.