IB Maths Syllabus Changes

Timothy Hoffmann

2 new courses, Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches and Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation, will replace the old maths courses from 2019/20 onwards. In this article, we break down the key differences and how these may impact you.

Why is the IB introducing the new courses?

After a 7-year review, the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) has decided that the 2 new courses will replace Mathematical studies, standard level, higher level and further higher level. They have described the new courses as “relevant and rigorous” and offer “more choice to a greater number of students”.

Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches

This course has been created for students who “enjoy developing their mathematics” and wish to study the “construction of mathematical arguments and develop strong skills in mathematical thinking”. This has a focus on algebra, geometry and calculus at HL, with a relatively even spread across the 5 topics at SL. You will be answering both abstract and applied questions, which will consistently challenge you to think in different ways. Consequently, the IBO pitch this course to those who enjoy the “thrill of mathematical problem solving and generalisation”.


Assessment: 3 externally assessed written papers and the internal assessment


Ideal for those wanting to go on to study:

  • Mathematics
  • Engineering
  • Physical sciences
  • Mathematical economics


Mathematics: Applications and Interpretation

This course has been developed for students who wish to “develop their mathematics for describing our world, modelling and solving practical problems”. Both the SL and HL course emphasise statistics and probability – a key application of mathematics in subjects such as Economics and Psychology. This course will also use more “technology” during lessons as part of its focus on statistics. The IBO state that this course will suit students “who enjoy mathematics best when seen in a practical context” as it will place a greater emphasis on the application of mathematical concepts.


Assessment: 2 externally assessed written papers and the internal assessment


Ideal for those wanting to go on to study:

  • Social sciences
  • Natural sciences
  • Medicine
  • Statistics
  • Business
  • Engineering
  • Applied economics
  • Psychology
  • Design


How do they compare to the old courses?

The IB suggest the following equivalences:

Old course New course
Mathematical Studies SL Applications and Interpretation SL
Mathematics SL Analysis and Approaches SL
Mathematics HL Applications and Interpretations HL or Analysis and Approaches HL


In addition, the existing optional modules available for Higher Level students will be combined into the 2 new courses. For example, the Analysis and Approaches HL course will include the previous optional calculus module, whilst the Applications and Interpretation HL course will incorporate the statistics optional module currently available. 


What does this mean for university applications?

Most universities are treating the 2 courses as equivalent, with either being accepted at SL for any degree that requires the current Mathematics SL course. However, the University of Bath has stated they are only accepting applicants who study the Analysis and Approaches HL course for any degrees in Mathematics and some courses will only accept SL Analysis and Approaches (not SL Applications and Interpretation). King’s College London has requested Analysis and Approaches HL for Maths, Physics and Engineering degrees, but have followed all other universities that, at the time of writing, have agreed to accept either Analysis HL and Approaches or Applications and Interpretation at HL where they currently require Mathematics HL. Please follow the IBSCA page for updates from universities here: http://www.ibsca.org.uk/how-uk-universities-are-responding-to-the-ib-maths-changes/. In addition, please check the admission requirements for your chosen course and university, and if in doubt, contact the university themselves.


How will this impact me beyond the IB?

The IBO has emphasised that the new maths course focuses on critical thinking. This is an important skill to have in the classroom and in the workplace. This will allow you to challenge the status quo, question your assumptions and make rigorous and informed choices. As the IBO highlight, technology is “making some traditional skills redundant”, so the ability to think critically, especially in mathematics, is fast becoming a sought-after skill.

Whichever path you choose, we hope that you thrive in the new maths environment! If you want advice on which maths route to choose from IB graduates who have gone on to study at Oxford, Cambridge and King’s College London, please get in touch with us.

Please see the IBO website for more information on these course changes: https://www.ibo.org/university-admission/recognition-of-the-ib-diploma-by-countries-and-universities/latest-curriculum-updates/mathematics-curriculum-changes/

Please also see the “revised courses” section of this IBSCA publication for more details on what subjects each of the 5 topics will include: http://www.ibsca.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/IB-update-5-3-18.pdf