Confused about IB Math AA & IB Math AI?

Know the difference between IB Math AA and IB Math AI. This updated article walks IB students with the new course structure and syllabus

22 DEC 2021
ib math aa vs math ai

It is a big year for International Baccalaureate (IB). First, they announced a syllabus change for their Group 5 Mathematics, and then they cancelled the exams for graduates of May 2020. While the latter is a ‘once in a lifetime’ kind of scenario, the former is but IB’s effort to continuously improve its subjects. This happens once in every seven years wherein IB evaluates one of its subject groups and examines if the way it is being taught is optimal for the changes that the world has gone through over the past seven years. This article focuses on the former. 


IB Math is one of the most demanding subject groups offered in the IB Program. With the emergence of disciplines such as Data Science, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, etc., the field of mathematics has become even more prominent. However, every career path requires math differently. Keeping this in mind, IB has decided to bid farewell to the formerly offered modules; namely IB Math HL, IB Math SL and IB Math Studies. To make the subject more ‘student-friendly’ and to increase its practical relevance, International Baccalaureate Program has introduced IB Mathematics Analysis and Approaches (IB Math AA) and IB Mathematics Applications and Interpretations (IB Math AI).

This article talks about:

  1. What is IB Math AA

  2. What is IB Math AI

  3. Choosing between Math AA and AI and It’s Impact On Your Career

  4. The New Study Structure

  5. The Choosing Process

IB Math AA

IB Math Analysis and Approaches (AA) is all about theoretical math. The module keeps analyzing abstract math theories at its foundation. IB Math AA covers topics like advance calculus and integration to train students in the discipline of pure mathematics. This particular module has been divided into two levels. You already know it! IB Math AA Standard Level (IB Math AA SL) and IB Math AA Higher Level (IB Math AA HL).  Although it is difficult to draw parallels between the new modules and the older ones, one can compare IB Math AA SL to current Math SL and IB Math AA HL to current Math HL.


With IB Math AA HL, students would hone their understanding about topics such as Binomial Theorem, Partial Fractions, De Moivre’s Theorem, L'hospital rule, etc. These are the few new additions to the syllabus which was previously missing from the topics covered by IB Mathematics HL. Similarly, IB Mathematics AA SL covers new topics such as Simple Deductive Proof, Regression, etc. In order to have a better idea about the additions of the new topics, we suggest you check out this comparison chart.


(If you wish to get into an elaborate explanation of IB Math AA, we recommend checking the official guide provided by IB here. Word of caution: The guide has 94 pages in it. Maybe you want to wait until finishing this article. Perhaps you won't need to check out the guide after all :))

IB Math AI

Have you ever found yourself in a mathematics class, trying to understand complicated formulas, questioning if you will ever use this in real life? Well, IB Maths Applications and Interpretations (IB Math AI) is your answer. The module has kept statistics and distribution as its foundation. IB Math AI talks about the practical implementation of mathematical concepts. Once again, the application and interpretation module can be divided into two levels SL and HL. IB Math AI SL is similar to what is currently know as IB Math Studies. It should be noted that IB Math AI HL is unlike any current courses offered currently. 


IB Math HL will cover log and exponential laws intensively. Furthermore, it will introduce more sophistication with random variables and distributions, also known as Poisson distribution. There is a long list of topics which has been put together to curate IB Math AI HL. You can find this long list here. Now, time for some good news! Since IB is sorting out the most relevant topics, it has decided to eliminate Number sets, currency conversion, logic and most of set theory! 

Choosing between Math AA and Math AI and It’s Impact On Your Career

If you’re starting with your IB Diploma Programme journey, you must understand that selecting your DP Mathematics courses is a crucial step to building your career. It is this choice that will influence your eligibility for courses you might want to pursue, offered by the top universities worldwide. It thereby becomes very important for you to make a well-informed choice. 


But before getting started on smartly picking a DP Mathematics course for your career, you might want to get a clearer view of what each course offers and what you will have to study once you choose it. And who better to explain that than the IB itself. Head over to their comprehensive article on the New DP Mathematics courses and then come back here with a much better view of things! 


Now that you are here with all the information you need to make a suitable choice, let’s move ahead. We understand how taxing it can get for you to surf for specifics of each university on your top 20 list. Worry not! We have done the hard work for you so that all that’s left for you to do is to make a good decision without spending hours irritably on the net. We bring to you all the information you need, consolidated in one place; your one-stop guide for choosing a DP Mathematics course.


Before diving into the specifics, here are some general pointers that you must keep in mind:

(The information given below is just a general overview of the matter; to make the final decision you should do some homework on your end as well since it will affect your future decisions)


  • The most important thing is to choose a course that interests you. If you are sure about what you wish to pursue in your higher education, pick a DP Mathematics course that would help you on that path.
  • Also, if you’re unsure about your path after school, the safest bet is to go for a Mathematics course that interests you and which would help you shine through. 
  • If a career in STEM is your calling, choosing an HL course in either Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation or Mathematics: Approaches and Analysis would be beneficial to you
  • If you’re interested in Pure mathematics, HL Mathematics: Approaches and Analysis would be the way to go. But if you’re looking forward to a career in Engineering, Economics or Physical Sciences, either one of HL Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation or HL Mathematics: Approaches and Analysis would be a good choice.
  • Likewise, if you’re hoping to tread a Doctoral path in Mathematics (taking it up as a Ph.D. subject in the future), HL Mathematics AA is suitable. 
  • However, if a career in Social Sciences, Psychology, Business, Design or Natural Sciences excites you, going with the Mathematics Applications and Interpretation course would be enough. 

Now that you have a rough overview of what you should be planning for, we must delve a bit into specifics since most universities have particular requirements which would certainly come in handy while filling out your applications.


The basic order of preference of Mathematics courses, followed by a majority of universities, however, is:

  • HL Mathematics: Approaches and Analysis
  • HL Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation
  • SL Mathematics: Approaches and Analysis
  • SL Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation 


  1. University of British Columbia:

    • IB Mathematics HL or SL  Approaches and Analysis are a requirement for:

      • All Science Programs

      • Land and Food Systems, Forestry

      • Business Programs

      • Media Studies

      • Human Kinetics

      • Bachelor of Kinesiology

    • Maths AI SL or HL will be accepted for any course which does not require Maths AA as a requirement.

  2. McGill: 

    • For all undergraduate programs which have Maths as a prerequisite, the following courses will be acceptable:

      • HL Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches

      • HL Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation

      • SL Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches

    • The programs which have Mathematics as a prerequisite requirement are:

      • Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

      • Architecture

      • Bachelor of Arts and Science 

      • Engineering

      • Human Nutrition

      • Kinesiology

      • Nursing

      • Science

    • For Management, HL or SL Mathematics Courses are prerequisites. 

  3. Cambridge:

    • All programs which have Mathematics as a requirement expect HL Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches to have been opted. 

  4. National University of Singapore (NUS): 

    • For all Engineering disciplines - HL Mathematics Analysis and Approaches

    • For Business Administration - SL Maths AA or HL Maths AI

    • For Medicine - Mathematics courses not required

    • For Computer Science Courses - HL Maths AA or a good performance in either SL Maths AA or HL Maths AI 

  5. King's College:

    • For all Mathematics programs, Physics programs and all Electronic and Biomedical Engineering programs - HL Maths AA

    • Computer Science Programs - HL Maths AI or HL Maths AA

    • Economics, Economics and Management, Accounting and Finance - HL Maths AA or HL Maths AI

    • Psychology programs - HL Maths AA or HL Maths AI

    • Chemistry programs - HL Maths AA or HL Maths AI

  6. Sussex: 

    • For subjects related to Mathematics, Engineering, and Physics, either of the HL Maths courses is accepted.

    • All other courses or streams do not have a requirement of a level.

  7. Oxford:

    • They accept applications of students who have opted for either HL Mathematics AA or HL Mathematics AI

  8. Georgia Tech:

    • They accept both levels for Maths and Science courses but encourage Higher Levels. 

  9. London School of Economics:

    • For programs like BSc Management, A level Maths is the requirement and hence both DP Maths streams will be acceptable.

    • Programs that prefer Further Maths A level strongly would encourage Maths AA but will accept both.

    • Where Further Maths A level is a requirement, Mathematics: Approaches and Analysis will become a requirement. 

  10. Queen Mary University London :

    • Both HL Maths Applications and Interpretation and HL Maths Approaches and Analysis will be accepted. 


This was a small list of universities along with their program subjects’ prerequisites which will give you a deep insight into what the colleges around the globe are looking for. To get a better idea, go to your dream varsity’s website and decide accordingly. We hope this information will prove to be beneficial in this process of picking a Maths level and that you will choose a course that challenges you and helps you realize your dream career. 


Personal tip: Even if you have decided to study business, data science is one of those fields whose basic knowledge will serve you well!

The New Study Structure

There are specific topics that are required for both Math AA and Math AI. These topics fall under the core concepts and will be covered in the first 60 hours of the course. These core topic include basic mathematical concepts. It should also be noted that apart from the core topics, there are certain concepts which are taught in both the branches of Maths offered by IB. However, the way these concepts are approached depending on whether you have opted for Math AA or Math AI. In other words, the common topics will be approached via a theoretical lens if a student is studying it as an AA topic. The same topic will be taught with an 'implementation' mindset if it is being studied in an AI class.


Below is a Venn diagram that helps you visualize the course structure. If you are uncertain about your bachelor's degree, then we recommend you taking Math AA SL initially and then switching to either a level higher (i.e. Math AA HL) or drop down a level (i.e. Math AI HL). Regardless of what you decide to do, you will not have to cover up a lot of study material if you switch within the first 60 hours of the course. Choosing the Standard Level in either of the offered modules will have you dedicate 150 hours towards the subject whereas opting for Higher Level requires you to spend 240 hours on the subject. If the students opt for Standard level for either of the modules, they would have to take two written exams whereas taking the higher level of Math AA or Math AI requires students to take three written papers.




Now, let’s talk about our biggest ally, shall we? The Graphic Display Calculator (GDC). If you opt for Maths AI, then you will be allowed to use GCD in all of your papers (regardless of your level) but taking Maths AA means that you need to do your Paper 1 without the help of a GDC. 

The Choosing Process

Yes, we know this is a lot to digest. So we decided to initiate your thinking process and help you make a decision. For starters, we want to make sure that you understand the courses’ hierarchical structure in terms of difficulty.

From the most difficult to comparatively easy, we have:



  1. Math AA HL

  2. Math AA SL

  3. Math AI HL

  4. Math AI SL


If you are one of those who adore math and want to make it a significant college subject, then you should go all in and choose Math AA HL. It might sound a little scary, but you will be able to ace it provided you find the right help and resources. If you happen to be someone who resents math, then Math AI SL is your answer. Most students get confused between choosing Math AI HL and Math AA SL. So here’s how to think about it. If you are solely interested in the practical implementation of math and don’t care about the theories, then opt for Math AI HL. It will push you towards career paths such as Business, Finance, Competitive Intelligence, etc. But if you are someone who likes to know the ‘how’ behind formulas, then we recommend you to take Math AA SL. Doing so will equip you for careers like Engineering, Computer Science, etc. 


Regardless of what module you choose, you will need its formula booklet. Check out the updated formula booklet for IB Math AA here. And access the IB Math AI formula booklet here. 


We at Nail IB want to be your virtual companion that helps you hustle through your diploma. Our platform is a one-stop website for students providing them with the right resources and all the IB related news at the right time. We offer students automated tests for challenging subjects like IB Physics, IB Biology, IB Chemistry, IB Mathematics, etc, which help them strengthen their fundamental concepts. Our resources include, 'How to Guides' which gives never heard before tips to write premium quality Extended Essays and Internal Assessments. To know more about acing IB, click here.


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