Ranking the hardest IB subjects

Frequently underestimated subjects like English, Biology, and History are often the toughest to score well in because of their rigid marking criteria.

Subject list sorted by the percentage of students who obtained a 7:


Subject Mean Grade % of 7
ENGLISH A LIT HL 4.87 4.90
HISTORY HL 4.69 5.80
BIOLOGY SL 4.69 9.00
MATH APPS SL 4.76 10.60
HISTORY SL 5.01 10.90
ENGLISH A LANG & LIT SL 5.45 12.20
BIOLOGY HL 5.04 14.10
PHYSICS SL 4.92 15.00
CHEMISTRY SL 5.00 15.30
FRENCH AB. SL 5.19 15.80
FRENCH B SL 5.23 16.30
MATH APPS HL 5.20 16.90
SPANISH B SL 5.28 17.10
ENGLISH A LIT SL 5.35 17.40
SPANISH AB. SL 5.30 18.20
ECONOMICS SL 5.36 19.90
CHEMISTRY HL 5.38 23.20
ECONOMICS HL 5.63 24.00
PHYSICS HL 5.35 24.90
Source: IBO 2021


Whilst subjects in the Sciences and Math are tough, they are easier to study because one can start understanding the concepts going from one chapter to the next and then practicing the relevant questions to test one’s understanding.

Subjects such as Literature and History require a totally different study strategy. This is because these subjects demand a very high level of analyses from their students. It is therefore imperative that for these subjects, students work backwards i.e. they need to first understand the grading criteria and then work hard to find a replicable strategy of writing answers to each type of assessment. E.g. For Literature Paper 1 Guided Literary Analysis, every student needs to find his replicable strategy of the most efficient way of understanding the literal meaning of the text provided, the fastest way of deconstructing the artistic and literary elements present in the text, and figuring out his or her own way of brainstorming how these can convey the meaning of what the author could be trying to say and why. Students may practice several past papers, but they rarely try to develop their own successful and replicable strategy.

We would strongly recommend that you work with IB Examiners for these often underestimated subjects in order to find your own successful study strategies. Mastering these subjects should not be time consuming. Look out for our short term courses of 1-2 weeks for these underestimated subjects so that you can quickly learn the strategies you need to get a 7 in these subjects.


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Zeeshan Firasta is the founder of CRACK IB. He was valedictorian at Kodaikanal International School in 2008 achieving an IB score of 41/45 where he was awarded Best Economics HL student. He then went on to study Economics, Business Institutions and Integrated Marketing and Communications from Northwestern University (Kellogg School). He’s also successfully cleared a CFA Level 1 exam in the first attempt, and completed an MSc Finance degree from the Warwick Business School. Zeeshan was the first person in several years from his high school to get a full score in TOK. Since almost no IB teachers were former IB students themselves, Zeeshan is able to provide key insights and strategies in helping make each CRACK IB course solve the real issues faced by IB students and systematically help improve their IB scores.

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