What Are the 5 Hardest IB Subjects you can take?

7 min read

The IB program offers a wide range of subjects, each with its own set of challenges. While all IB courses require dedication and hard work, some are particularly demanding due to their complexity, workload, and assessment methods. Whether you’re an IB student or planning to become one, understanding these subjects can help you prepare for the journey ahead.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is known for its rigorous curriculum and high academic standards. Some IB subjects, however, are particularly notorious for their difficulty. So, what are the 5 hardest IB subjects? Based on student experiences and academic demands, we’ve compiled a list of the most challenging courses in the IB curriculum.

The 5 Hardest IB Subjects

1. IB Higher Level (HL) Mathematics AA

Why It’s Hard:

Mathematics AA HL is often cited as one of the most difficult subjects due to its advanced content and abstract concepts. The course covers a wide range of topics, including calculus, algebra, and statistics, requiring a deep understanding of mathematical theories and principles. The pace is fast, and the level of complexity is high, making it a challenging subject even for math enthusiasts.

Tips for Success:

  • Stay Consistent: Regular practice is key. Solve problems daily to reinforce concepts.
  • Seek Help: Don’t hesitate to ask for help from teachers or peers when stuck.
  • Use Resources: Utilize textbooks, online resources, and past papers for additional practice. RevisionDojo offers free tailored resources like these to help you master difficult topics.

2. IB Physics HL

Why It’s Hard:

IB Physics HL demands a strong grasp of both theoretical concepts and practical skills. Topics such as quantum physics, relativity, and electromagnetism are complex and require analytical thinking. Additionally, the internal assessment (IA) involves designing and conducting experiments, which can be time-consuming and challenging.

Tips for Success:

  • Understand Concepts: Focus on understanding the fundamental principles rather than just memorizing formulas.
  • Practice Experiments: Gain hands-on experience with lab work to excel in the IA component.
  • Review Regularly: Consistently review and summarize each topic to keep the material fresh in your mind. RevisionDojo provides detailed guides and practice questions to reinforce your learning.

3. IB Chemistry HL

Why It’s Hard:

IB Chemistry HL covers a broad range of topics, from organic chemistry to thermodynamics. The subject requires both conceptual understanding and practical application. Lab work is integral, and the IA requires significant effort and precision. The extensive syllabus and the level of detail required make it one of the most demanding IB subjects.

Tips for Success:

  • Use study notes: Ensure a solid understanding of basic chemistry concepts before tackling advanced topics, use study notes. RevisionDojo provides study notes written by people who have actually been in your shoes - all for free.

4. IB Economics HL

Why It’s Hard:

IB Economics HL involves understanding complex theories and applying them to real-world scenarios. The subject requires strong analytical skills and the ability to evaluate economic models critically. The essay-based assessments demand clear and concise writing, making it challenging for many students.

Tips for Success:

  • Stay Updated: Follow current economic events to understand practical applications of theories.
  • Practice Essays: Develop your essay-writing skills by practicing past paper questions.
  • Clarify Doubts: Regularly discuss difficult concepts with teachers to gain clarity. Jojo AI provides direct feedback and examiner-style grading for your diagrams and answers.

5. IB English Literature HL

Why It’s Hard:

IB English Literature HL is challenging due to its intensive reading and analytical writing requirements. Students must read and analyze a variety of texts, including novels, plays, and poetry. The course demands critical thinking and the ability to articulate complex ideas clearly and persuasively in essays.

Tips for Success:

  • Read Actively: Engage with the texts by annotating and taking notes.
  • Discuss Texts: Participate in discussions to gain different perspectives on the readings.
  • Practice Writing: Write essays regularly to improve your analytical and writing skills. RevisionDojo provides comprehensive practice prompts to help you refine your analysis and writing, especially in Paper 2.


The five hardest IB subjects—HL Mathematics, HL Physics, HL Chemistry, HL Economics, and HL English Literature—are challenging for various reasons, including complex content, high workload, and demanding assessments. However, with the right strategies and dedication, you can excel in these courses. Regular practice, seeking help when needed, and staying engaged with the material are key to overcoming the challenges these subjects present.

RevisionDojo is here to support you with tailored resources, expert guidance, and a community of learners. Get started for free today and take your IB studies to the next level.


Q: Can I choose only HL subjects in the IB program?

A: No, IB students must take a mix of HL and Standard Level (SL) subjects. Typically, students choose three HL and three SL courses to ensure a balanced workload.

Q: How can I manage the workload of difficult IB subjects?

A: Time management is crucial. Create a study schedule, prioritize tasks, and break down large assignments into smaller, manageable parts. Regular breaks and self-care are also important to avoid burnout.

Q: Are these subjects hard for everyone?

A: Difficulty is subjective and can vary based on individual strengths and interests. Some students may find these subjects easier if they have a strong background or passion in the respective field.

Q: Can I switch subjects if I find them too hard?

A: It’s possible to switch subjects within the first few weeks of the program. However, it’s important to consult with your IB coordinator and consider the impact on your overall study plan.

Q: How important are these subjects for college applications?

A: Taking challenging IB subjects can demonstrate your academic rigor and preparedness for college-level work. However, it’s also important to perform well in these courses, so choose subjects that align with your strengths and interests.

Choosing the right IB subjects is a significant decision that can influence your academic experience. By understanding the challenges and preparing effectively, you can navigate even the toughest IB courses with confidence.