IB Survival: HL or SL Mathematics? IB Math studies The Mathematical Studies SL course “is designed to build conﬁdenceand encourage an appreciation of mathematics in students” who do notexpect mathematics to be a major component of their universitystudies. Its curriculum consists of the following topics: ● Number and algebra ● Sets, logic, and probability ● Functions ● Geometry and trigonometry ● Statistics ● Introductory di erentialcalculus ● Financial mathematics IB Math Standard Mathematics SL is primarily intended for students who “expect to needa sound mathematical background as they prepare for future studies insubjects such as chemistry, economics, psychology and businessadministration,”and its curriculum is a proper subset of the MathematicsHL curriculum. Topics from the following areas form the common “Corecurriculum” for both courses: ● Algebra ● Functions and equations ● Circular functions and trigonometry ● Vectors ● Statistics and probability
● Calculus IB Math HL Mathematics HL is primarily intended for students “with a goodbackground in mathematics who are competent in a range of analyticaland technical skills,” and who anticipate that mathematics will be “amajor component of their university studies, either as a subject in itsown right or within courses such as physics, engineering andtechnology.” Therefore HL students study the Core topics in greaterdepth for a minimum of 190 instructional hours and study at least one ofthe following optional topics (“Options”), for a minimum of 40 additionalinstructional hours: ● Further statistics and probability ● Sets, relations, and groups ● Series and di erential equations ● Discrete mathematics Which one should you take?When considering which level you should take, you should take note ofthe following factors: ● Career aspirations and requirements ● Interest in Mathematics ● General aptitude in mathematics. Career Aspirations and Requirements If you’re applying to the United Kingdom or many other countries, thereis often general subject requirement , and many quantitative programs,(E.g. Economics, Engineering, Computer science, Mathematics, Physics,Technology) require studentsto have taken HL Math. Manyalso stipulate a minimumscore, often something like a6-7.
If you want to study something such as Geography, Biology ,Biochemistry, something that has an element of mathematics, butnowhere as signiﬁcant as courses such as Engineering, the choicebetween HL and SL is unlikely to signiﬁcantly alter you chances ofadmission. HL Mathematics will deﬁnitely o er a boost to youradmissions (again, provided you score reasonably well), but SLMathematics is perfectly acceptable, provided you score a 6-7. However,I wouldn’t recommend math studies if you want to study something thatis science related. Not only may it look not so impressive in the eyes ofan admission o ce, but the depth Math studies goes into will unlikelyprepare you su ciently. If you’re going into a ﬁeld such as Law, English Literature, wheremathematics is literally negligible, then taking Math Studies may work inyour favor. The reasons are quite self-explanatory. A subject such asLaw will put much more emphasize on your qualitative skills thanquantitative – the same applies for a course in English Literature, orFrench, or Latin, or Ancient History. Examples of university requirements: Most of LSE’s quantitative programs have a minimum requirement of 7in HL Mathematics. Whilst this may seem scary, it does make a bit ofsense. These top universities often have 15 applicants for 1 place, theymust ﬁnd set a boundary which to best di erentiate applicants in.Additionally, this minimum requirement also involves a degree ofpersonal consideration. If you can’t even get a 6-7 in the HL course,you’re going to struggle quite badly in an intense British/Asianuniversity course, where you dive immediately into the course, so aVERY strong background in mathematics is almost a prerequisite. In the US, universities are often more lenient, since they tend to practicea ‘liberal arts’ approach to academics, so students are allowed to try abit of everything and then discover what they enjoy best. Therefore,taking SL Math for a course such as economics may not be NEARLY asdisastrous as if you applied to the UK. However, if you still aspire to
some quantitative course such as Economics or Engineering, HL mathsshould deﬁnitely be seriously considered. For example, universities havea list of factors when judging applicants, one being “Course rigor”, orhow di cult your courseload is. If you’re applying to MIT to studyChemical Engineering, SL Math may take your course rigor intoquestion, and thus may put you at a disadvantage. ● Common misconception A common misconception is that if you want to go to Medical School,you must take HL maths. That’s not true. HL Mathematics will deﬁnitelynot hurt and if you score reasonably well, it can only help, but mostmedical schools (especially those in Britain), will require you to take IBHL (or equivalent) Chemistry and ONE of either HL Biology , Physics orMathematics. Interest in Mathematics I’ll presume you’re not a mathematics prodigy who can whizz throughHL Mathematics as if it’s a joke (I’ve actually met someone like thatbefore..). For IB HL Mathematics, you cannot only be “good” at maths,you have to actually “like” mathematics, you have to enjoy doing maths.Why?Well, ﬁrstly because most likely your reference point of “good” isobtained from your current GCSE/O-level studies which you’ve beenconstantly acing without any prior preparation. I’m sorry to say, if you ﬁnd GCSE mathematics easy, and you expect toHL mathematics to be the same, 99/100 times, you’re going to bewrong, and you’re going to ﬁnd out in some very painful way . GCSE andIB mathematics are two completely di erent things. Many teachers emphasize this VERY clearly. There are people who go into GCSEgetting an A* and end up getting a 2 in HL maths. Even the di culty ofSL is noticeably more di cult than GCSE. Therefore, to tackle IB HL and to do reasonably well not only requiresalready developed ability, but also sustained interest to continue topursue the subject even further. You’re going to have to be willing to
sacriﬁce quite a bit of your time doing reviews, studying, whilst many ofyour standard friends chill in the next door party room. Last minutestudying for HL is impossible, don’t even attempt it. Persistence is thekey here. If you’re the type who hates math, and you don’t envision a future careerin anything quantitative, Math studies might work in your favor.‘Di culty’ is a very subjective term, but from what I’ve heard, thedi culty of studies somewhat compares to that of IGCSE level, maybeslightly more di cult due to the introduction of slightly more advancedtopics (E.g. calculus, mathematical ﬁnance, logic). This is great becausesomeone who is already quite strong mathematically can take life a bitmore easy and secure a high grade in one subject. Additionally, for theweaker students math studies gives the student another 2 years tofurther build on the concepts one may not have fully familiarizedhim/herself with in the 2 year IGCSE course. General aptitude in mathematics. Career options and interest is all very important, but general aptitude isdeﬁnitely a factor to consider. If you’re a C student in mathematics,taking HL mathematics immediately may, to put it bluntly, “kill you”.Here are some guidelines of which “possible” IB math course you shouldselect based upon your I/GCSE Predicted Results A* – HL Mathematics A/B – SL Mathematics < B – SL Math Studies Obviously, the ﬁrst two bullet points will to some extent drive yourdecisions. If you want to be a lawyer and you don’t really like math, andyou’re getting an A/A*, you might still tend towards the studies route,even if the chart above shows that you should be trying something likeSL or HL.
Our school suggests the minimum cut-o for HL mathematics to be –A/A*. However, based on past-experience, the people who achieved an“A” have all dropped to SL. Sorry to be blunt and critical, but if you’renot achieving an A* at GCSE level, if you don’t improve signiﬁcantly in avery short period of time, you’re going to struggle with HL math.