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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)
Varun Srinivasan
5 IB Guides

Ultimate Guide To IB Chemistry SL Exam

What’s Covered:


The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) provides popular college-level courses for high school students, often thought to be equally (if not more) challenging and academically rigorous compared to other alternatives such as the APs. Each course is curated so that it allows students to take interesting approaches towards studying through researching, while also incorporating traditional exam-based assessments to measure metric of success and progress. 


IB Chemistry is a flagship course that teaches students to take unorthodox views in science. It pushes students to take a lab-first approach to learning instead of a textbook. Part of succeeding in IB Chemistry is to tackle the exams with confidence, which is exactly what this blog is about. By familiarizing yourself with IB Chemistry, you can feel more confident on exam day and succeed!


IB HL vs SL: What’s the Difference?


Classes in IB are separated into two sets, standard level (SL) and higher level (HL). During the two-year long program of IBDP, students pick six subjects to study from different groups. They will also determine which subjects are HL or SL. 


HL is generally considered more difficult than SL due to increased levels of coursework and academic expectations, with students taking HL being expected to write university-level research papers by the end of the program. Taking HL classes, however, is a great way to streamline the selection of your major in further education. For example, if you’re thinking of getting into a university as a chemistry major, IB Chemistry HL would look great on an application for that! HL classes are designed in such a way that, when you enter university, you’re equipped with the foundational knowledge needed to boost the start of the course.


How Do IB Chemistry SL Papers/Exams Work?


Usually SL examinations are shorter in length and amount of coursework covered compared to the HL exams. The IB Chemistry SL exam has 3 papers within it:


  • Paper 1: 30 Points (MCQ) / 45 minutes long
  • Paper 2: 50 Points / 75 minutes long
  • Paper 3: 35 points / 60 minutes long


Paper 1 is the multiple choice question (MCQ) exam, with 30 questions in total. You have about 1 minute and 30 seconds per question, which should be fairly reasonable for Chemistry SL MCQ questions. Most people find paper 1 to be the easiest of the three. A calculator is not allowed for this exam, but you do get data booklets with all relevant information required for the completion of the paper.


Paper 2 is considered the most difficult and rigorous part of the examination in almost any science subject in IB. Paper 2 is full of structured, written response questions that require proof of calculations and the use of various formulas. Calculators are allowed, as well as the data booklet. Paper 2 is considered much harder due to the fact that questions involve written responses, along with the fact that you have 1 minute and 25 seconds to complete every mark. 


Paper 3 has two sections. Section A is a singular data-based question with many subsections. This question is usually based on experimental work and lab techniques. You may be asked to explain the process and steps behind a certain experimental procedure, such as electrolysis. You are also expected to demonstrate awareness of any safety measures in the lab too. Section B has another singular question with numerous subsections, but the question depends on what your option selection for the course is. 


Option selections in IB are seen in many subjects. Regardless of HL or SL, when you take a subject, you are requested to choose one additional chapter to study on top of the required coursework for your class. For example, in Chemistry SL your options for the extra coursework can be from the following:


  • Material Sciences
  • Biochemistry
  • Energy
  • Medicinal Chemistry


Depending on which selection you’ve made, section B of paper 3 will have questions pertaining to that coursework. How good you are at paper 3 boils down to how comfortable you are with your optional selection!


How are the IB Chemistry SL Papers/Exams Scored?


Along with exams, each year’s exam sets contain associated rubrics and mark schemes that show answers to questions from every paper. Mark schemes not only tell the grader what the right answer is supposed to be, but also the best method to arrive at such an answer, via working and scratch work. This is why if a question asks you to solve a problem using a specific formula, it’s best to adhere to the rules for the maximum number of points earned.


When preparing for your examinations by studying previous papers, also study the rubrics so you understand what is expected from you as you answer the questions. 


In order to calculate your grade for the subject out of 7, IB uses grade boundaries such as this one:


Please note that the grade boundaries change every examination season. For the latest versions, please reach out to your teachers and your school.



“Practical Work” refers to any internal assessments done during the program. Internal assessments are assignments and school-based exams that are usually graded by the school/teacher instead of an external source. These IAs can include time in the lab, presentations and maybe homework. 


The total grading system uses all these scores for each paper, added up all together. Then, the percentage of points earned from all sources, divided by the number of total points available, can be compared to the “final” column. Based on where that percentage lands between 14 to 100, you can find what your grade for the class is, which ranges from 1 to 7. 


Final Tips


Practice Your Weak Papers


If you feel like a certain paper is more difficult for you, spend more time practicing this paper! Most students struggle with paper 2, and in the process of studying for paper 2, they find themselves ready for the other two papers. Don’t wait till the last month before exams to start studying, the earlier you start the more time you have to patch your weak areas!


Spend Extra Time in the Lab


Since paper 3 is mostly about experiments and lab technique, you might need to spend a lot more time learning practical chemistry in the lab in order to succeed in paper 3. Find a concept that you aren’t thoroughly knowledgeable about yet, and take it to the lab. Through experimentation and research, you might understand the concept better via some visual and hands-on learning!


Take Advantage of Free Points


Internal assessments can make or break your grade. They can be considered free points, usually given in the form of homework assignments from your teachers! Don’t miss out on these opportunities and make the most of them. Homework and essays are common forms of IAs for students in IB, and they help total to a better understanding of tricky concepts as you practice them. 


How Does the IB Chemistry SL Exam Affect My College Chances?


The exams have little effect on your chances of admission into a university, but showing course rigor by taking difficult classes like Chemistry SL does. Universities care more about your determination to stick with a difficult class for two years instead of how good your scores are, as long as they’re at least passing. 


There are tons of other factors that matter when it comes to college admissions, and it can be hard to picture what your chances are when it comes to a specific school. Thankfully, CollegeVine’s admissions calculator is a tool that makes it much easier to keep track of exactly this! The tool takes note of your extracurriculars, standardized test scores and GPA, along with much more, to calculate your chances of getting into a university of your selection!

Short Bio
Varun is a recent graduate from Arizona State University, Tempe, with a degree in Computer Science. He aims to share his knowledge of computer science, the IB Diploma Program, and all things college-related with high school students. In his free time, he can be found performing DJ sets or cooking!