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What Are the Hardest Subjects in IB?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is known for its high standards and rigorous curriculum, pushing students to discover their true potential while simultaneously preparing them for tertiary success. As an internationally recognized educational course, the IB curriculum is comprehensive and challenging, encouraging students to foster international-mindedness, critical thinking skills and a love for lifelong learning.


Beyond this, students are also required to study six subjects, including a second language, and complete three core components: Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Extended Essay (EE), and Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS).


With IB’s baseline already quite tough, let’s take a look at the hardest IB subjects and how students can excel at them.


The Five Hardest Subjects in IB


Further Maths Higher Level


Further Maths Higher Level (HL) is often at or near the top of any list of IB subjects ranked by difficulty. Covering topics such as calculus, linear algebra, complex numbers and proof techniques, further maths (HL) reaches a level of abstraction and complexity that is often very tough for students to keep up with.


As one of the hardest subjects in IB, Further Maths HL goes beyond the scope of Mathematics HL, exploring topics in greater detail. The breadth of the syllabus can be overwhelming for students and the workload can be heavy, with a need for regular practice, study, and preparation for assessments.


Despite the difficulty of the subject, Further Maths HL opens up a wide range of career opportunities such as engineering, actuarial science, data science, cyber security, software engineering, investment banking and more.


Maths Higher Level


Though Maths HL is not as tough as Further Maths HL, it is still one of the hardest IB HL subjects out there. The Mathematics HL syllabus covers a wide range of topics, including algebra, functions, calculus, statistics, and probability. Students will need to master these concepts rapidly and often simultaneously.


Just like Further Maths HL, Mathematics HL emphasizes abstract problem-solving skills. Students will encounter challenging, non-routine problems that require creative thinking, logical reasoning and the ability to apply mathematical concepts in unfamiliar contexts. The workload is also very demanding, which makes it imperative that students study hard and do not fall behind.


Taking one of the hardest IB classes does have its rewards. Students who successfully complete Maths HL can look forward to careers in the same fields as those in Further Maths HL like engineering, actuarial science, data science, cyber security, software engineering, investment banking and more.


Chemistry Higher Level


Chemistry HL is one of the best subjects for curious minds but is also one of the hardest subjects in IB. Students will be expected to come to terms with a wide range of complex chemical structures, reactions, and theories – often requiring a solid mathematical foundation. The subject also requires students to grapple with subjects like atomic and molecular structures to thermodynamics, equilibrium and organic chemistry.


Aside from theory, Chemistry HL students are also expected to perform well in the lab. Practical work plays a huge role in a student’s success and students are required to develop advanced laboratory skills, including precise measurements, accurate observations and meticulous data analysis.


Students who study Chemistry HL - one of the hardest IB HL subjects - can expect great career prospects in areas like pharmaceutical science, chemical engineering, environmental science, materials science, analytical chemistry, food science, petrochemical science and more.


Physics Higher Level


Physics HL requires students to be multi-disciplined right from the start. Studying this subject comes with the prerequisite that students be comfortable with complex mathematical concepts and equations - including calculus, differential equations, and vector algebra. Many of these mathematical techniques are crucial to a student’s ability to grasp the necessary abstract topics that physics covers.


Just a few of the most important theoretical topics that students will need to study as part of their Physics HL course include quantum mechanics, relativity, and particle physics. Developing maths skills, an understanding of complex theories and the ability to visualize and think critically about the physical world at both macroscopic and microscopic scales is what makes Physics HL one of the hardest IB subjects you can take.


Successful Physics HL students can look forward to careers in research science, mechanical engineering, astrophysics and astronomy, data science, medical physics, technology and much more.


History Higher Level


History HL is considered to be one of the hardest IB classes you can take because of the vast amount of information that students have to retain. The curriculum often covers multiple centuries and encompasses global history, including political, social, economic, and cultural themes. With this in mind, students may feel overwhelmed due to the extensive reading, research, and memorization required of them.


Having a strong grasp of when historical events occurred is not enough, though. Students must also be able to critically evaluate different perspectives and understand the nuanced biases and interpretations surrounding historical events and their sources. Additionally, students will have to come to terms with philosophies like those held by Marxism, postcolonialism and feminism.


History HL students also have to be able to compile all their knowledge into well-crafted essays, which further adds to its reputation as one of the hardest subjects in IB.

History majors can look forward to careers such as historians, archivists, museum curators, educators, journalists, researchers, anthropologists, government and public service, legal professionals and much more.


How Tuition Can Help You Pass the Hardest IB HL Subjects with Flying Colors


In addition to what students learn at school, they can receive an extra push of encouragement, a lot more personal attention and personalized explanations of complex topics from tuition centers. The best tutors will take the time to understand each student and provide them with all of the following five advantages that other students simply will not have access to.


1. Expert Knowledge – Tuition centers pair students with tutors who are experts in their given field and particularly on how to help students succeed in their IB exams. These tutors possess in-depth knowledge of the subject matter, curriculum requirements and assessment criteria. They can provide clarification on complex concepts, offer additional resources and guide students through challenging topics.


2. Personalized Attention – In a class setting, teachers need to balance their time between explaining new concepts and attending to several students at the same time. In a tuition center, students get one-on-one time with tutors who can pinpoint strengths and weaknesses, address any gaps in understanding, and offer personalized guidance to enhance performance. This can be a huge motivating factor for students.


3. Exam Preparation - Tutors can provide practice materials, past exam papers, and strategies for approaching different types of exam questions that are found in the IB curriculum. This targeted approach can help students develop effective study plans, time management techniques, and exam-taking strategies to get amazing grades even in the hardest IB classes.


4. Supplemental Learning – Sometimes, students need more material or a different approach to understand the complex topics covered in IB. Tutors can expand upon the material covered in school, offer alternative explanations and introduce different perspectives on the subject matter.


5. Regular Assessments and Feedback – It is imperative that students do not fall behind when studying the hardest subjects in IB. Tutors at tuition centers can conduct regular assessments throughout the school year to ensure that students are on top of the subject matter. Feedback will also be provided so students know exactly where and how to improve.


If you would like to attain the best possible results in your studies, HKExcel has the expertise to help you master even the hardest subjects in IB.


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