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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

11 NOV 2020
ib math aa vs math ai

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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


Oh! Check out what HKEXCEL education centre has to say about choosing between Math AA and Math AI!

IB Math AA

IB Math Analysis and Approaches (AA) is all about theoretical math. The module keeps analysing 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. Similarily, 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 afterall :))

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

Let’s keep it simple. If you want to dig deep into the fundamentals of mathematics and perhaps train yourself to take it as a PHD subject, then you should go for Math AA. Taking Math AA will train you to enter field like engineering, data science, machine learning and other mathematics oriented fields etc. The aforementioned are the most interesting career fields that this century has to offer.


However, if you do not require in-depth knowledge of mathematics to climb up the ladder in your desired career path, then you should opt for Math AI. I am talking about fields like economics, arts, etc. If you are one of the creatives and just want to be done with mathematics after you graduate high school, then you can choose Math AA Standard Level. An honest suggestion would be that you should decide between HL and SL depends on your comfort level and not give too much emphasis on the relevance of mathematics in your field. Mathematics is one of those subjects which always come handy, and you will not regret studying it.


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 which 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 visualise the course structure. If you are uncertain about your bachelor 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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