Cracking the Code: Strategies for Excelling in IB Math AA and AI

Not sure whether to pick Maths AA or Maths AI to maximise your IB Maths mark? You have come to the right place. Let us compare the two and show you how to get top marks in IB Maths.

7 months ago   •   6 min read

By KIS Academics
Photo by Dan Cristian Pădureț / Unsplash

Maths in IB

Maths is one of the core subjects in the IB program meaning every student has to take a maths class one way or another. The IB offers two distinct maths courses, Analysis and Approaches (AA) and Applications and Interpretations (AI),  each designed to provide students with different skills to align with their future studies. It can be tricky however to decipher which one is the best for you and at what level.

For that reason, we’ll be going through the differences between the maths courses and how to maximise your marks for both.

The IB offers both Maths AA and AI at both standard level (SL) and higher level (HL). If you are a full diploma candidate, one of these courses is compulsory to take during your IB life.

Well, what's the difference then?

Generally, AA is characterized with learning more about mathematical theory and conceptual work with less focus on real-life application. It holds a strong emphasis on the construction, communication and justification of mathematical arguments and proofs. Students are expected to rigorously learn important mathematical concepts and solve abstract problems.

Maths AI in contrast leans more towards the real-life application of mathematical concepts in place of diving deeper into theory. It has a larger emphasis on applicable and modelling maths while still including more traditional components. Students are encouraged to solve real-world problems and interpret them utilizing mathematical tools. It will help to develop strong graphing and technological skills.

To sum it up, AA students will focus more on theory and diving into the why of maths while AI students will look at how it can be implemented in the real world.

The table below shows how many hours each class spends on certain topics.

As you can see, as an AA student you will be looking more at Calculus, Numbers and Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry. An AI student will look at Statistics and Probability and Functions in greater depth owing to the real-world applications.

Which one should I choose then?

When choosing between the two it is important to look at what you want to do in university. In general, STEM fields such as engineering and computer science prefer AA while economics or management prefer AI. It is important to get clarity from both your university and your career counsellor before you make your choice.

If you are not looking to do anything with maths in the future, AI is generally seen as the easier class as it tends to be simpler for many students to digest. AA will challenge your mathematical thinking more and perhaps be a sterner test for some. However, it comes down to personal preference and previous history with maths as well.

Standard level or Higher level?

When choosing between SL and HL versions of these courses it is important to keep a few things in mind. Again seeing what your universities require is a big factor as certain countries do accept SL for certain courses.

Maths at the Higher level will most certainly challenge you and is known as one of the hardest courses in the whole of the IB. If you do not have to take it at a higher level, you will be much better served during your IB life.

But that does not mean the standard-level courses are not challenging. Many students take SL thinking it will be a walk in the park but it is not like that at all.

Now let’s dive into some of the ways you can get that 7 in maths!

Tips for IB Maths Success

Do not skip class lectures

While this is generally recommended for all your classes, it is especially important in maths. The way your teacher will be able to explain things is much more digestible as compared to you learning it on your own.

Constant upkeep

Maths at the end of the day is also a skill and one you will forget if you do not keep up with it. Try to do at least 15 minutes of problems every day to ensure you don’t forget older concepts or practice current problems that come up again


Whether you are in AA or AI, your graphing calculator is your best friend. It is a big learning curve from a normal scientific one and something you will have to get used to. The faster you can get with the graphing calc, the better it will serve you on a test and save you a few minutes if you are especially fast.

Knowing the exams

For AA, paper 1 does not permit a calculator while paper 2 and paper 3 (HL only) do. As such, you’ll also have to be comfortable doing non-calculator calculations at a good pace. Luckily for AI students, calculators are allowed in all papers. They also ask slightly different styles of questions so prepare for all papers equally.

Managing your time

Be sure to allocate sufficient time to all topics and not only the ones that feature more prominently. If you are really aiming for a 7, you cannot have a weak topic as the margins in maths are low.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Do not shy away from doing practice problems, that is the primary way you can do well in exams. Learning the theory is important but applying that and seeing unknown problems is what really tests your mettle. Do plenty of past papers and practice questions!

Internal Assessment

The internal assessment (IA) challenges students to explore an area of mathematics with their own personal interest. It involves the use of formulae, graphs, diagrams, and tables to create a 12 to 20-page report. The important part is it accounts for 20% of your overall maths grade.

When looking at the overall maths course, you want to maximise the amount of marks you have prior to heading into your final exams. Here are a few tips on how to do well on your IA.

Real-life application

The hardest part of the IA is coming up with a good idea that you can explore in a detailed and mathematical way. Look for areas in your life that can be thought of Mathematically. That could range from sports to hobbies or even other classes, the limit is endless. The quicker you get your idea down, the more time you’ll have to work on the IA itself.

Dedicate time

This is not an assignment that can be done in one night. Mathematical writing is distinct from other classes and you will have to take time to carefully manage your writing and explanation.


Don’t be scared to revise your IA two, three or four times. It is common practice. If you can get your writing done early, those few days can be used to look at the IA with fresh eyes and you’ll find many mistakes

First draft

Your teacher is only allowed to give you formal feedback once which is your first full draft. Try getting as much done as possible as after that, the feedback they give is limited and only verbal.


An often disregarded part of the IA is how well it flows from one topic to another. Put an emphasis on making it readable and follow logical steps. Don’t jump from one idea to another randomly, give a reason as to why you went that way or what your logic was

Final picture

At the end of the day, maths is a subject everyone has been doing throughout their educational lives and that does not change in the IB. The choice between AA or AI and HL or SL depends on a variety of factors but primarily to do with future studies and your comfortability with the subject. AA looks more at the theoretical side while AI at its real-world application. Both are challenging in their own regards but can be easily managed if you keep some of the tips above in mind and make an effort to succeed.

Want more personalized study guidance to help drastically improve your marks? A private tutor can make the biggest difference!

Written by KIS Academics Tutor for IB English, Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology, Muhammad Ammar. Muhammad will be pursuing a degree in medicine and has received stellar reviews from his past KIS academic students. You can view Muhammad’s profile here and request him as a tutor.

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