All IB Diploma students have to follow a maths course at either standard or higher level. Until now, there were three choices: Maths HL, a tough(ish) course for good mathematicians; Maths SL, better for those who didn’t want the standard of maths required at the higher level, but still needed, or enjoyed, a course with a reasonable level of mathematical content; and Maths Studies SL, for those, frankly, who weren’t mathematically orientated, and which contained topics such as financial maths and logic, which didn’t require a high skill level.

For courses starting 2019, with first exams in 2021, the landscape has changed. It was decided that, since in all other subjects the SL content was a subset of the HL content, the same should be true for maths. But simply having a single Maths HL and a single Maths SL course would be very tough on the “non-mathematicians.” So now there are four courses to choose from, two at HL and two at SL. How do you choose which to take? In very simple terms:

Maths Analysis and Approaches HL/SL:    These are very similar to the current HL and SL courses, albeit with a number of significant changes to the syllabus content. As is the case now, calculators are only allowed in Paper 2, so it will be necessary to carry out some procedures “by hand” (for example, solving quadratic equations). Vectors have disappeared from SL, but the Statistics and Probability section has been expanded to include, for example, sampling techniques and piecewise models.

Because there is now no HL option course (paper 3 now consists of long, investigative-style questions), the HL syllabus has been enlarged – especially the Calculus topic. 

You will need to be a good mathematician to do HL MAA, and reasonably good to do SL MAA – you should have an intuitive feel for the subject and, if possible, you should enjoy maths!

Maths Applications and Interpretation HL/SL:  In some ways the SL MAI course is like the old Studies course, although much of the content is different: it’s a practical course, with great emphasis on real-life uses of maths, and mathematical modelling; and the HL MAI course has no parallel with existing courses, but has the same practical basis. Calculators are allowed in all papers but, in return for not having to use nearly as much algebra as in the MAA course, you are expected to know your calculator inside out.

The topic headings (Number & Algebra, Functions, Geometry & Trigonometry, Statistics & Probability, Calculus) are the same for MAA and MAI, and there is a common core of content in the two strands, but once you move beyond the core, the MAI content is very different from MAA. The HL content is not as mathematically demanding in MAI, but there is a great deal more to remember by way of methods and techniques.

Which course do you go for? The IB suggests the following:

For Analysis and Approaches: “This course is intended for students who wish to pursue studies in mathematics at university or subjects that have a large mathematical content; it is for students who enjoy developing
mathematical arguments, problem solving and exploring real and abstract
applications, with and without technology.”

For Applications and Interpretation: “This course is designed for students who enjoy describing the real world and solving practical problems using mathematics, those who are interested in harnessing the power of technology alongside exploring mathematical models and enjoy the more practical side of mathematics.”