Common Myths about IB Math

29 Apr 2021

The IB Diploma program is a popular course taken by students between the ages of 16 years to 19 years. Students are required to study at least one course in mathematics; computer science as an elective. IB Math is part of the six subject groups in the Diploma curriculum along with theory of knowledge (TOK), creativity, activity, service (CAS) and the extended essay.

As there are four courses of Math offered by IB, students are spoilt for choice. Many of them are unable to decide on a suitable subject to take. In this article, we hope to dispel some of the common myths and help students make the right decisions to fulfill their career aspirations.


There are four courses in Mathematics that are available,
– Mathematical studies Standard Level
– Mathematics SL
– Mathematics Higher Level
– Further Mathematics Higher Level

We recommend students who will like to study university courses with a strong Mathematical content such as Chemistry, Economics, Geography, Business Studies and Medicine to study Mathematics SL.
There are students who gained admission into Business courses with Mathematical studies but these students may not have an easy time in their first year. Some of the Mathematics modules in first year of business school require knowledge of intermediate Calculus. Mathematical Studies students may find a learning gap in the Calculus they have done in High School and the Calculus taught in University.
On the other hand, Mathematics SL students are able to pass the Math modules in Business School with a lot less effort as Calculus was covered in greater depth in Mathematics SL.

Let us refer to grade distribution for May 2014 and May 2015.
The data is taken from the IBO statistical bulletin for the years May 2015 and May 2014.
36% of the Group 5 category students from the May 2015 batch took Math studies while close to half of the students (49%)  did Math SL.

You can see from the distribution chart above, the percentages of students scoring 7s for Math studies and Math SL are the same (8% each). It is not true that it is easier to score 7s in Math studies. In fact, the percentage of students scoring 6s and 7s are the same for both types of Math.

Let us look at another set of data. The chart below shows the grade distribution for Math studies and Math SL in May 2014. 29,235 students and 38,926 students took Mathematical studies and Mathematics SL respectively. Interestingly, a higher percentage of students scored 6s and 7s in the Math SL than the Math studies exams and Internal assessment.

Hence, it is not true that it is easier to score well in Math studies than Math SL. The grade distribution is almost the same for both subjects.


In the May 2015 and May 2014 batches, 12,003 students and 11,784 students took Math HL respectively.

8% of the students taking Math HL were awarded 7s in both the May 2015 and May 2014 cohortsThese figures are very close to the percentage of students who obtained 7s for Math studies and Mathematics SL!


Some of the more competitive universities may require students to take Mathematics HL. For example, students applying to undergraduate Economics programs at the London School of Economics or Cambridge University will stand a good chance of getting in if they have a 7 in Mathematics HL.

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