Plant Sciences

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The Part IB Plant Sciences course is a really fun course that covers a wide array of all things plants! Unlike other IB courses, the IB Plant Sciences course has a lot of breadth, covering topics from molecular biology to physiology, epidemiology, ecology and more. This helps to place the topics you study into context and showcases the full range of biological scales you can study. In my opinion, the Plant Sciences department is also a really friendly department that cares a lot about its students. Also, who can forget about the Portugal trip during the Easter break, which is one of the highlights of the course!

All lectures will come with the relevant handouts, and most lecturers’ slides will largely follow the content in the handouts. Lectures will usually be held at 12pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

More information can be found in the very helpful course booklet available on their website: so I will not bore you with too many details. Briefly, the main themes of topics covered are:

  • Michaelmas: Plant genetics, physiology (including nutrients, temperature, water uptake), biochemistry (photosynthesis, sugar processing).
  • Lent: Microbe physiology, epidemiology in plant diseases, plant immunity, plant-microbe symbiosis, plant development, crops and food supplies.
  • Easter: Plants in ecology and conservation, plant genetics.


One unique thing about the IB Plant Sciences course is that supervisions are centralised, and organised by the department instead of your college! This means that the department can find well equipped supervisors to teach the different subjects, and you might often find that you change supervisors during the year depending on the lecture content. This is a good thing though, since you will often get supervisors who are working on the subject area you are studying, and they will have a lot of insight. Additionally, centrally organised supervisions also means that you have an opportunity to meet new friends!


Part IB Plant Sciences practicals are graded – you will have to submit a short writeup or answer some questions per practical. However, this is not as daunting as you might expect, as only the top 5 practical scores are taken into account. This gives you some leeway to make mistakes and learn from them, since some short feedback is also given after your work is graded.

As with the lectures, a wide range of different topics are also covered, which allows you to learn many different techniques! You’ll be exposed to molecular techniques for plant genetic manipulation, instruments to measure photosynthesis and more! There is also a short 4hr field trip in Easter to the nearby woods, where you can learn more about conservation. Additionally, there is a practical where you will have to present about a topic that was covered during an earlier practical, which I thought was really unique. The department does a good job of providing tips and advice on how to give a good presentation, which was a super helpful skill. Lastly, one nice thing about the Plant labs is that a lot of the equipment is very shiny and new, which is great 🙂

EDIT: There was a typo indicating that there is a computational exam for Plant Sciences, this has been removed.

Portugal Field Trip

THE highlight of the part IB Plant Sciences course, though it is optional. It is rare to have the amazing opportunity to go overseas on a field trip, and even rarer to have it at such an affordable price! (It was £120 for 6 days in the past, but details may change from year to year – you may also be able to get your college to cover all of this)

The field trip is a great place to put what you have learnt through the year in context, as they go through a lot of the concepts that you have learnt, but you get to see the plants in their native habitats. Portugal has many different types of environments, so you’ll get to learn about how different plants adapt and do some comparative physiology as well. On top of that, the staff and PhD student supervisors that go with you on the trip are super friendly, and I had an excellent time overall.

Revision and Exams

As with all subjects, it is important to know the exam format to be able to study well for it. The format may change in the future, since my exams were during COVID where we had open-book exams.

  • Paper 1: Short answer theory & practical paper (40%)

Paper 1 is split into 3 sections. Section A has short answer questions, much like what you would have encountered in IA BoC or PoO. Pretty straightforward stuff, but requires you to have a good understanding of all lecture material covered. Section B has practical questions, again like what you might have encountered in IA BoC. Section C is a long practical question, which typically requires you to use multiple practical analysis skills that you have learnt throughout the course.

  • Paper 2: Essay paper (50%)

Paper 2 is an essay paper, and for plants you’ll have to write 4 essays in 3 hours. Pretty tight time limit, though not the worst you’ll encounter in the natsci course. The essay paper is split into 3 sections – Michaelmas, Lent + Easter and synoptic essays. You’ll have to answer 1 question from each section, plus an additional essay from one of the Michaelmas or Lent + Easter sections. The synoptic essays are something unique to Plants Sciences – they require you to integrate information across the different lectures, that are linked by a common theme.

Don’t fear too much about the exams though – the department is one of the most invested departments (in my opinion) in preparing you for exams. There will be multiple exams skills sessions, as well as revision sessions with the lecturers themselves, where they go through the key concepts again and take questions. There are also sessions that will specifically prepare you for the synoptic essays, so don’t worry too much about them!

Useful resources

The plant department webpage:

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