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IB Chemistry: A Complete Guide (2024)

IB Chemistry: A Complete Guide (2024)

10 min Read|June 11 2024
|Written by:

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa


IB Chemistry is a challenging and rewarding course that covers a wide range of topics, including atomic structure, chemical bonding, organic chemistry, and thermodynamics. In this article, we'll provide you with a complete guide to IB Chemistry, including information about the syllabus, grading system, and exam format. We'll also share valuable tips on how to revise effectively and achieve a top score in the exam. Finally, we'll explore the various career opportunities available to students who excel in this subject. So, let's dive in and discover everything you need to know about the subject.

Why study IB Chemistry?

IB Chemistry is a highly respected course that provides students with a deep understanding of the fundamental principles of chemistry. The study of chemistry is essential for a wide range of fields, including medicine, engineering, and environmental science. It is the foundation of the pharmaceutical industry, and a strong understanding of chemistry is vital for the development of new drugs and treatments. According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, over 96% of all manufactured goods are directly touched by the chemical industry, highlighting the importance of the science in everyday life.

Additionally, studying chemistry at the IB level offers several advantages. It is recognised by universities worldwide and is highly regarded by admissions officers. The skills and knowledge gained through the study of chemistry are highly transferable and can be applied to a wide range of fields. Studying the subject can open up a world of opportunities for students interested in science-related fields. It provides a solid foundation in the fundamental principles of chemistry and offers several advantages, including recognition by universities worldwide and a higher likelihood of receiving offers from top universities.

Is IB Chemistry hard?

IB Chemistry is considered one of the most challenging courses in the IB programme, with a reputation for being a difficult subject to master. According to the IBO, Chemistry is consistently one of the most difficult subjects for IB students, with an average score of 4.87 out of 7 in 2020. In the same year, the pass rate for IB Chemistry was 80.8%, with only 12.7% of students achieving the highest grade of 7 , much lower than many other science subjects.

Here's what an expert IB tutor based in the UK had to say:

"IB Chemistry is a challenging subject because it requires students to understand and apply a wide range of complex concepts. Students need to develop critical thinking skills to understand the subject matter fully, and the course is mathematically demanding, requiring students to manipulate equations and solve problems."

For more information on the most difficult subjects, read our article on which are the hardest IB subjects?

IB Chemistry SL and HL grade distributions in 2021

IB Chemistry SL and HL grade distributions in 2021

The IB Chemistry syllabus

The 2024 IB Chemistry syllabus is designed to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the subject, covering a range of topics in depth. The syllabus is divided into three core topics: Physical Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Inorganic Chemistry. Each of these topics is covered in detail, with a focus on developing a deep understanding of fundamental principles and their applications.

Physical Chemistry covers topics such as atomic structure, chemical bonding, thermodynamics, and kinetics. This area of chemistry is concerned with the physical properties of matter and the changes that occur during chemical reactions.

Organic Chemistry focuses on the structure, properties, and reactions of organic molecules. This area of chemistry is concerned with the study of carbon-containing compounds and their reactions with other substances.

Inorganic Chemistry covers topics such as periodic trends, transition metal chemistry, and the chemistry of the atmosphere. This area of chemistry is concerned with the study of elements and their properties, as well as the reactions that occur between them.

In addition to the core topics, the IB Chemistry syllabus also includes options, which allow students to explore areas of chemistry that interest them. The options cover a wide range of topics, including biochemistry, materials science, and environmental chemistry.

Have a look at our comprehensive set of IB Chemistry resources developed by expert IB teachers and examiners!
- IB Chemistry 2024 Study Notes
- IB Chemistry 2025 Study Notes
- IB Chemistry 2024 Questions
- IB Chemistry 2025 Questions

IB Chemistry vs A-Level Chemistry

Both IB and A-Level Chemistry are advanced-level courses that cover a range of topics in depth, preparing students for further study in Chemistry or related fields. However, there are some key differences between the two courses.

One of the main differences is the approach to assessment. In IB Chemistry, students are assessed through a combination of internal assessments and external examinations, whereas in A-Level Chemistry, assessment is based solely on external examinations. This means that IB Chemistry students have more opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills throughout the course.

Another difference is the range of topics covered. While both courses cover similar topics, the IB Chemistry syllabus is broader and includes options that allow students to explore areas of chemistry that interest them. Additionally, the IB Chemistry syllabus places a greater emphasis on practical skills, requiring students to complete a number of laboratory experiments throughout the course.

In terms of difficulty, it's hard to say which course is harder as it depends on the individual student and their strengths and weaknesses. However, according to a study conducted by the University of Cambridge, students who studied Chemistry at A-level were less likely to achieve a top grade than those who studied other science subjects. Despite these differences, both IB Chemistry and A-Level Chemistry are highly respected qualifications that are recognised by universities and employers around the world.

Struggling to boost your grades? Our expert IB Chemistry tutors and A-Level Chemistry tutors are here to help you excel in any Chemistry exam you face!

What level of Chemistry should you choose in the IB?

The IB Chemistry course is offered at two levels: Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL). While both courses cover similar topics, HL covers these topics in greater depth and with more emphasis on analytical and critical thinking skills. HL Chemistry also includes additional topics, such as organic chemistry and biochemistry, that are not covered in the SL course.

According to the IBO, the recommended prerequisite for HL Chemistry is a good background in Chemistry at the MYP or GCSE level. Additionally, students who are considering a career in Chemistry or a related field may be better suited for HL Chemistry, as it provides a more in-depth understanding of the subject matter. Oxbridge tutors suggest that a HL in a science course may also be required by some university courses, especially at top universities in the UK and US college admissions such as Oxford, Cambridge or the Ivy League.

However, HL Chemistry is a challenging course that requires a significant amount of time and effort to master. Students who are not confident in their Chemistry abilities or who have a heavy workload may find SL Chemistry to be a more manageable option. SL Chemistry covers the same topics as HL, but in less depth and with less emphasis on analytical and critical thinking skills.

Ultimately, the decision of which level to take should be based on a student's interests, abilities, and future goals. Students should also consult with their teachers and guidance counsellors to help them make an informed decision.

IB Chemistry SL & HL mean grades and number of candidates in 2021

IB Chemistry SL & HL mean grades and number of candidates in 2021

Understanding the IB Chemistry grading system

The IB Chemistry course is graded on a scale of 1-7, with 7 being the highest possible score. Students are awarded a grade based on their performance in both internal assessments and external examinations. The grade boundaries for each grade vary from year to year, depending on the performance of the student cohort.

Internal assessments make up 24% of the final grade, and are conducted throughout the course. These assessments include practical work, such as laboratory experiments, and written assignments. External examinations make up 76% of the final grade, and are held at the end of the course. The examinations consist of three papers: Paper 1, Paper 2, and Paper 3.

Paper 1 covers multiple-choice questions, and is designed to test a student's knowledge of the core topics covered in the course. Paper 2 consists of structured questions, and is designed to test a student's ability to apply their knowledge to new situations. Paper 3 is a data-based question paper, and is designed to test a student's ability to analyse and interpret data.

IB Chemistry exam format

In 2023, the IB Chemistry external examinations consist of three papers: Paper 1, Paper 2, and Paper 3. Each paper has a different format and assesses different aspects of a student's chemistry knowledge and skills.

Paper 1

Paper 1 is a multiple-choice question paper, consisting of 30 questions. Each question has four possible answers, and students must choose the correct answer. The questions cover a range of topics from the IB Chemistry syllabus, including atomic structure, bonding, energetics, kinetics, equilibria, acids and bases, oxidation and reduction, and organic chemistry.

Paper 1 is designed to test a student's knowledge of the core topics covered in the course, and is worth 20% of the final grade. The average IB Chemistry score for Paper 1 in May 2022 was 4.22.

Paper 2

Paper 2 is a structured question paper, consisting of a series of short-answer and extended-response questions. The paper is divided into three sections: Section A, Section B, and Section C.

Section A consists of short-answer questions, while Section B consists of longer, structured questions. Section C consists of two extended-response questions, which may require students to draw on knowledge from multiple areas of the course.

Paper 2 is designed to test a student's ability to apply their knowledge to new situations, and is worth 36% of the final grade. The average IB Chemistry score for Paper 2 in May 2022 was 4.69.

Paper 3

Paper 3 is a data-based question paper, consisting of a series of short-answer and extended-response questions based on a provided set of data. The paper is divided into two sections: Section A and Section B.

Section A consists of a series of short-answer questions based on the provided data. Section B consists of two extended-response questions, which may require students to draw on knowledge from multiple areas of the course.

Paper 3 is designed to test a student's ability to analyse and interpret data, and may require the use of mathematical skills. Paper 3 is worth 24% of the final grade. The average IB Chemistry score for Paper 3 in May 2022 was 4.77.

What is a good IB Chemistry score?

As the average IB Chemistry score was 4.87 in 2020, a good score would be considered 5 or above. A 4 would be considered satisfactory. However, what constitutes a "good" score may vary depending on a student's individual goals and aspirations. A student who is more focussed on arts and humanities may consider a 4 a good score for them, while a student who is strong in maths and the sciences would likely aim for a 6 or 7.

For students applying to competitive universities or courses, such as Oxford or Cambridge, a score of 6 or 7 will likely be necessary for admission. Only 23% of students worldwide achieve a score of 7 in IB Chemistry HL. This is a testament to the high level of difficulty of the course and the exam.

How to revise and get a 7 in IB Chemistry?

Scoring a 7 in IB Chemistry requires in-depth knowledge and strong revision habits. Here are some tips to help you prepare effectively for the exams:

1. Master the syllabus: Review the syllabus and get a thorough understanding of the concepts covered in each unit. Focus on topics that you find challenging and create a study plan that targets these areas.

2. Use the command terms: Familiarise yourself with the command terms used in the IB Chemistry exams. This will help you to understand what the examiners are asking for and tailor your responses accordingly.

3. Practice past papers: Practicing past papers is one of the most effective revision techniques. Make use of the IB Chemistry past papers to help you get a sense of the types of questions that you are likely to encounter in the actual exams.

4. Collaborate with peers: Form a study group with classmates or join a revision class. Working with others can help you gain a new perspective and identify knowledge gaps that you may have missed during your individual revision.

5. Seek feedback and support: Take advantage of the feedback given by your teacher or an expert online Chemistry tutor on your work to improve your knowledge and understanding of IB Chemistry. Furthermore, ask questions when you need clarification, so that you don't carry misconceptions into the exam.

According to a survey conducted by the IBO students who achieve a score of 7 in IB Chemistry typically spend an average of 6-10 hours per week revising for the subject. However, the amount of time you need to revise will depend on your individual strengths and weaknesses.

Here's advice from one student, Leo, who scored 7/7 in IB Chemistry HL:

"The majority of my revision consisted on doing past paper and practice questions, where I focussed on the more difficult areas, which was organic chemistry for me. I was very disciplined with my revision, setting aside two hour blocks to revise chemistry most days each week."

Common mistakes to avoid in IB Chemistry

IB Chemistry is a challenging subject, and students often make mistakes that can hurt their chances of success. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

1. Lack of understanding of the fundamentals: Chemistry builds on foundational concepts, and if you don't understand the basics, it can be challenging to grasp the more complex concepts. Make sure to revise and understand the foundational concepts well before moving on to more advanced topics.

2. Neglecting practical work: Practical work is an integral part of IB Chemistry, and students often neglect this aspect of the course. Practical work helps to reinforce learning and develop skills that are essential for success in the exams. Make sure to dedicate time and effort to practical work to avoid making this mistake.

3. Failure to use correct units: Using incorrect units in calculations can lead to inaccurate results and lost marks in exams. Make sure to double-check your units and use the correct ones throughout your work.

4. Not reading the question carefully: chemistry questions can be complex and require careful reading and interpretation. Make sure to read the questions carefully, paying attention to the command terms and what the question is asking for.

5. Overcomplicating answers: In IB Chemistry, simplicity is key. Examiners are looking for clear, concise answers that demonstrate a deep understanding of the concepts. Avoid overcomplicating your answers and focus on being clear and concise.

Students often make mistakes in chemistry exams due to a lack of understanding of the foundational concepts, as well as a failure to read the questions carefully. Avoiding these mistakes can greatly improve your chances of success in the exams.

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Overview of the IB Chemistry internal assessment

The internal assessment (IA) is an important component of IB Chemistry, comprising 20% of the overall grade. The IA consists of two components: the individual investigation and the practical scheme of work.

The individual investigation involves a research project on a topic of the student's choice within the realm of chemistry. The investigation should be based on a research question and involve the collection and analysis of data. Students are required to write a scientific report of 6-12 pages, which is assessed according to four criteria: personal engagement, exploration, analysis and evaluation, and communication.

The practical scheme of work involves a series of experimental tasks that are carried out over the course of the two-year program. Students are required to complete a minimum of 10 hours of practical work, which is assessed according to four criteria: personal engagement, manipulation, observation and measurement, and interpretation and evaluation.

The IA is internally assessed by the teacher and externally moderated by the IB. Students who score highly in their IA tend to perform better overall in the subject.

Read our in-depth article for more information on the internal assessment: IB Chemistry IA: 60 Examples and Guidance.

Top resources for IB Chemistry preparation

Preparing for the IB Chemistry exam can be challenging, but there are many resources available to help students succeed. Here are some of the top resources for IB Chemistry preparation:

1. Revision notes and practice questions: Websites such as SaveMyExams offer comprehensive notes and questions covering the entire IB Chemistry syllabus, including detailed explanations and examples of key concepts, equations, and reactions.

2. Richard Thornley's YouTube channel: He is an experienced IB Chemistry teacher who has created a series of informative and engaging videos covering all aspects of the IB Chemistry syllabus. His videos provide clear explanations of difficult concepts and include worked examples and practice questions.

3. Private tutors: Many students find it helpful to work with a private online tutor who can provide one-on-one support and tailored instruction. Online tutoring platforms such as TutorChase offer experienced IB Chemistry tutors who can help students prepare for the exam.

4. Study and revision guides: TutorChase's IB Chemistry Study Notes are the perfect resource for students who want to get a 7 in their IB Chemistry exams. They are completely free, cover all topics in depth, and are structured by topic so you can easily keep track of your progress. The Chemistry for the IB Diploma Study and Revision Guide is a comprehensive resource that covers all aspects of the IB Chemistry syllabus. It includes detailed explanations of key concepts, practice questions, and exam-style questions with model answers. Oxford IB Study Guides is another highly rated resource.

By using these resources, including the specialized IB Chemistry Q&A Revision Notes, students can gain a deeper understanding of the IB Chemistry syllabus and improve their performance on the exam.

Exploring career opportunities with IB Chemistry

If you're studying IB Chemistry, you may be wondering what career options are available to you. A background in chemistry can open up many exciting career paths, some of which are outlined below:

  • Medicine: If you're interested in pursuing a career in healthcare, a background in chemistry can be incredibly useful. Medical schools often require applicants to have a strong understanding of chemistry, and some medical professionals even specialise in areas like pharmacology or toxicology.
  • Environmental Science: Environmental science is a growing field that is focused on studying and protecting the natural world. With a background in chemistry, you could work on developing more sustainable materials, monitoring and analysing pollutants, or developing new methods for energy production.
  • Materials Science: Materials science is the study of the properties and behaviour of different materials, and it has many practical applications, from developing new materials for construction to creating better batteries for electronics. With a background in chemistry, you could contribute to this field by studying the molecular structure of materials, developing new composites or coatings, or analysing the properties of different materials.
  • Science Communication: If you have a passion for writing or speaking, you may want to consider a career in science communication. This field involves translating complex scientific ideas into language that is accessible to the general public. Science communicators may work as journalists, science writers, or public relations professionals.
  • Education: With a background in chemistry, you could pursue a career in education, teaching chemistry to high school or college students in person or as an online tutor. This is a great option if you're passionate about sharing your knowledge and helping others learn.

These are just a few examples of the many career paths that are available to those with a background in chemistry. As you explore your options, think about your own interests and strengths, and look for opportunities to gain practical experience in your chosen field.


Studying IB Chemistry can be an incredibly rewarding experience that opens up many exciting career opportunities. Although the course can be challenging at times, with hard work and dedication, it is possible to achieve great results. By understanding the grading system, avoiding common mistakes, and using effective study strategies, you can set yourself up for success in the IB Chemistry exam. With a strong foundation in chemistry, you will be well-equipped to pursue a wide range of career paths, from healthcare to environmental science and beyond. So if you're interested in chemistry and are up for a challenge, studying IB Chemistry may be the perfect choice for you.


What are the prerequisites for taking IB Chemistry?

While the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme doesn't set specific prerequisites for taking IB Chemistry, it's generally recommended that students have a solid understanding of basic scientific principles and a good grounding in mathematics. This is because the course involves complex scientific concepts and mathematical calculations. Additionally, students should have a keen interest in the subject and a readiness to engage in independent study and practical investigations. It's also beneficial if students have previously studied a science subject at the middle school level to prepare for the rigours of IB Chemistry.

How does the IB Chemistry curriculum align with real-world applications?

The IB Chemistry curriculum is designed to be highly relevant and applicable to the real world. It covers the central principles of chemistry that underpin both the physical environment in which we live and all biological systems. This includes areas such as environmental science, medicine, and many technological applications. The course emphasises a practical approach, with students conducting their own investigations, which may be laboratory-based or involve the use of simulations and databases. This approach mirrors how scientific research is conducted in the wider community, thus preparing students for future studies and careers in science-related fields.

What are the laboratory requirements for the IB Chemistry course?

Laboratory work forms a significant part of the IB Chemistry course. Students are expected to design and conduct their own investigations, collect data, develop practical skills, analyse results, and communicate their findings. This hands-on approach not only helps students to understand theoretical concepts better but also equips them with the practical skills needed in scientific research. The internal assessment, which accounts for 20% of the final grade, typically involves a practical investigation. This could be a laboratory experiment, a data analysis task, a simulation, or a combination of these.

How does the IB Chemistry course prepare students for university-level Chemistry?

The IB Chemistry course is designed to provide a solid foundation for university-level studies in Chemistry and related fields. It covers a broad range of topics, from atomic structure and chemical bonding to organic chemistry and energy production. The course also emphasises the development of practical skills through laboratory work and an individual investigation, which are crucial for university-level scientific research. Furthermore, the IB's focus on critical thinking, problem-solving, and independent learning prepares students for the academic rigour of university studies.

What are the differences between the core and the optional topics in IB Chemistry?

The core topics in IB Chemistry form the fundamental part of the syllabus and are studied by all students, regardless of whether they are taking the course at Standard Level (SL) or Higher Level (HL). These topics include atomic structure, periodicity, chemical bonding, energetics, kinetics, equilibrium, and organic chemistry. The optional topics, on the other hand, allow students to explore specific areas of chemistry in greater depth. These options include materials, biochemistry, energy, and medicinal chemistry. Students can choose which option they wish to study based on their interests and future study or career plans.

How can I effectively manage my time when studying for IB Chemistry?

Effective time management is crucial for success in IB Chemistry. Given the breadth and depth of the syllabus, it's important to start studying early and maintain a consistent study schedule. Break down the syllabus into manageable chunks and set specific goals for each study session. Regularly review past topics to reinforce your understanding and memory. Don't forget to allocate time for practical work and preparation for the internal assessment. Also, remember to take regular breaks during your study sessions to avoid burnout and maintain productivity.

What are some effective revision techniques for IB Chemistry?

Effective revision techniques for IB Chemistry include active recall (testing yourself on the information), spaced repetition (reviewing information at increasing intervals over time), and interleaving (mixing different topics in a single study session). Working through past papers and sample questions can also be very helpful, as this allows you to familiarise yourself with the exam format and practice applying your knowledge. For the practical aspects of the course, reviewing your lab work and understanding the underlying principles can be beneficial.

How can I improve my practical skills for the IB Chemistry internal assessment?

Improving practical skills for the IB Chemistry internal assessment involves regular practice in the laboratory. This includes designing and conducting experiments, using laboratory equipment safely and effectively, collecting and analysing data, and drawing valid conclusions. It's also important to develop your skills in scientific writing, as you'll need to produce a clear, concise, and well-structured report for your internal assessment. Seek feedback from your teacher and use this to improve your work.

What are some common challenges students face in IB Chemistry and how can they be overcome?

Common challenges in IB Chemistry include understanding complex concepts, keeping up with the pace of the course, and managing the workload. To overcome these challenges, it's important to review and consolidate your understanding regularly, rather than leaving it all to the last minute. Don't hesitate to ask for help if you're struggling with a particular topic - your teacher is there to support you. Effective time management can also help to manage the workload. This includes setting a regular study schedule, breaking tasks down into manageable chunks, and prioritising your work.

How can parents support their child's success in IB Chemistry?

Parents can support their child's success in IB Chemistry by providing a conducive environment for study at home, encouraging regular study habits, and showing interest in their child's learning. They can also help their child manage stress and maintain a balanced lifestyle, which is crucial for academic success. If possible, parents can provide additional resources for learning, such as textbooks, revision guides, or tutoring services. However, it's also important for parents to encourage their child's independence and problem-solving skills, as the IB programme aims to develop these qualities in students.

How does the IB Chemistry course integrate ethical considerations in scientific research?

The IB Chemistry course encourages students to consider the ethical implications of scientific research through its "Nature of Science" theme. This includes understanding the responsible use of scientific knowledge and technology, considering the environmental and societal impacts of scientific developments, and recognising the limitations and potential biases in scientific research. These considerations are integrated throughout the course, helping students to develop a balanced and informed perspective on the role of science in society.

What are some examples of successful IB Chemistry internal assessment projects?

Successful IB Chemistry internal assessment projects typically involve a clear research question, a well-planned and executed investigation, thorough data analysis, and valid conclusions. The specific topic can vary widely depending on the student's interests. For example, a student might investigate the effect of temperature on the rate of a chemical reaction, the vitamin C content in different types of fruit, or the properties of a particular compound. It's important to choose a topic that is feasible, relevant to the course, and of personal interest.

How does the study of IB Chemistry contribute to a student's overall Theory of Knowledge (TOK)?

The study of IB Chemistry contributes to a student's overall Theory of Knowledge (TOK) by encouraging them to consider how knowledge is constructed, evaluated, and applied in the field of chemistry. This includes understanding the methods and limitations of scientific research, the role of creativity and innovation in science, and the ethical implications of scientific developments. The interdisciplinary nature of the IB programme also allows students to make connections between chemistry and other areas of knowledge, such as mathematics, natural sciences, and human sciences.

How can I maintain motivation when studying for IB Chemistry?

Maintaining motivation when studying for IB Chemistry can be challenging, especially given the complexity and breadth of the course. Setting clear, achievable goals can help to maintain focus and motivation. It's also important to maintain a balanced lifestyle, including regular breaks, physical activity, and time for relaxation and socialising. Remembering the relevance and applicability of what you're learning can also boost motivation. Finally, don't be too hard on yourself - it's normal to find some topics challenging, and it's important to celebrate your progress and achievements.

How does the IB Chemistry course address global and environmental issues?

The IB Chemistry course addresses global and environmental issues in several ways. The syllabus includes topics such as environmental chemistry, energy production, and climate change, which directly relate to global environmental issues. The course also encourages students to consider the environmental and societal impacts of scientific developments and to use their scientific knowledge responsibly. Furthermore, the "Nature of Science" theme encourages students to consider the role of science in addressing global challenges.

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Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

Written by: Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa

Oxford University - PhD Mathematics

Rahil spent ten years working as private tutor, teaching students for GCSEs, A-Levels, and university admissions. During his PhD he published papers on modelling infectious disease epidemics and was a tutor to undergraduate and masters students for mathematics courses.

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