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Detailed information about the IB math curriculum and how our IB math tutor can help

In this blog post, we will explain the IB math syllabus and how our IB math tutor can help. When students are enrolled into the IB Diploma, they must choose a first language, a second language, a math subject, a science subject, a humanity and an art subject.

Thus, IB math is a compulsory subject that all students have to take. There are 4 math subjects for students to pick from: Math standard Level, Math higher level, math studies, and further math. Our IB math tutor can help students on all 4 of these subjects.

As different students have different needs, abilities and interests, students should pick their IB math subject carefully. Students need to consider their ability, their interest, their academic plan and their career aspirations when picking the appropriate math subject.

IB Math SL

The focus of the IB math SL course is to introduce key mathematical concepts and techniques to students. Compared to IB math HL, the rigour of IB math SL is much less. Moreover, students will be required to solve real world problems using appropriate mathematical techniques.

The IB math course are for students who have basic understanding of mathematical concepts and have foundational mathematical skills. After completing the IB math SL course, students an have a solid ground to pursue mathematically-related subjects in university, such as chemistry, economics and business.

Some of the key objectives of the IB Math SL course are as follows:

  • Learn to appreciate mathematics and its elegance

  • Understand fundamental principles related to mathematics

  • Be able to communicate clearly in problem solving

Below are the major topics and units in IB math SL

  • Algebra

  • Functions

  • Trigonometry and Circular function

  • Vectors

  • Probability/statistics

  • Calculus

  • Internal assessment (mathematical exploration)

In all IB test and exams, to get a good mark, students are expected to demonstrate the following:

  • Understanding and the ability to recall and apply relevant concepts

  • Problem solving skills and application of concepts to solve problems

  • Ability to communicate solutions in a concise and logical manner

  • Ability to use technology to help solve problems

  • Ability to solve real-world related math problems

There are 3 major assessments for all IB math SL students:

  • Paper 1: the paper 1 is an exam that takes 1.5 hours and covers all the topics listed above. It accounts for 40% of the student’s final score. This paper involves extended response and short response questions. What distinguishes this paper from the paper 2 is that in paper 1, students are not allowed to use the graphic calculation

  • Paper 2: Similar to the paper 1, the paper 2 takes 1.5 hours and is 40% of the student’s score. In this paper, students can use the graphic calculator.

  • Mathematical exploration: This is essentially the internal assessment for IB SL students and accounts for 20% of the marks. Students need to pick their own topic in mathematics to explore.

IB Math HL

Math HL is noticeably harder than IB math SL, and are for students with good analytical skills and a strong mathematical background. The course is well suited for students who plan to pursue math-heavy subjects in university, such as engineering and physics. Students with a strong passion for mathematics are encouraged to pick IB math HL.

The core syllabus topics in IB math HL are essentially the same as the Math SL students. However, Math HL students are required to study each topic in much more depth. In other words, although the topics are the same, IB math HL covers more advanced techniques.

In addition to the core syllabus topics, IB Math HL students are required to pick one of the option topics to study. These topics include:

  • Statistics and probability

  • Sets, relations and groups

  • Calculus

  • Discrete mathematics

These option topics are more advanced and are often studied in university.

In terms of the assessment, IB math HL students need to face 4 of them:

  • Paper 1: Similar to Math SL, the paper 1 is a test on the core syllabus and students are not allowed to use the graphing calculator. However, in IB math HL, the paper 1 only accounts for 30% of the total score but is 2 hours long. This is because more advanced concepts are taught in IB Math HL

  • Paper 2: Again, the paper 2 is similar to math SL in format and is a paper where students can use their graphic calculator. The exam is 2 hours long and counts for 30% of the marks.

  • Paper 3: This paper is purely a test of the option topic that the student studies. It is only 1 hour long and counts for 20% of the marks

  • Mathematical exploration: This is essentially the same as the Math SL mathematical exploration.

IB math studies

This course is designed with a stronger emphasis on statistics and the real world application of mathematics. Typically, students who are weaker in math and are interested in pursuing social science subjects in university would benefit taking the math studies course.

The mathematic studies course have a number of unique objectives:

  • Develop research skills of students

  • Develop problem solving skills

  • Ability to formulate mathematical arguments

  • Ability to recognise patterns

  • Ability to use mathematical modelling

For the assessments, there are 3 of them

  • Paper 1: accounts for 40% of the student’s grade and is 1.5 hour exam on 15 short response questions

  • Paper 2: accounts for 40% of the student’s grades and is 1.5 hour exam on 15 short response questions

  • Practical work: This is the internal assessment for math studies students, where students are required to collect mathematical data, analyse data and evaluate data

IB further math

IB further math is for students who have an extremely strong aptitude for mathematics. In fact, most IB schools in Hong Kong do not offer further math. It is designed for students who aim to pursue mathematics in university. Each topic is studied in a very high level of depth. Students taking this course would also be taking IB math HL at the same time.

Topics covered:

  • Linear algebra

  • Geometry

  • Statistics and probability

  • Sets, relations and groups

  • Calculus

  • Discrete mathematics


  • Paper 1: 2.5 hour exam and counts for 50% of the student’s grades. Graphic calculator is allowed

  • Paper 2: 2.5 hour exam and counts for 50% of the student’s grades. Graphic calculator is not allowed

Which IB math subject should you pick?

This really depends on your ability in math and your future aspirations. For students aiming for math intensive subjects in university, such as engineering, physics, math, and economics, math HL is certainly suggested. This is because these subjects often requires students to have at least a level 6 in Math HL in order to be admitted. For other students who ave a decent ability in math, we would suggest taking the Math SL, which is a good course to develop a student’s logical thinking ability. Then who should take math studies? Students who are weak in math and have no interest in pursuing math related subjects at all during university are suggested to take math studies. This is because math studies is the easiest math subject there is and with good effort, most students should be able to secure a Level 7, which can help boost the student’s overall score.

How is our IB Math course being developed?

In our IB math tutor team, we have over 10 tutors. All of our IB tutors uses the same teaching approach and the same teaching style. So how was our teaching style developed?

When HKExcel first started in 2013, our founding partner Edward began to develop teaching materials for the IB math course, starting from Math SL, and then progressing to Math HL, math studies and further mathematics. Edward has a very unique philosophy about teaching and learning. He believes that repetition and systematic learning is the key to learning math. In the IB math exam, there are various types of questions that can show up for each topic. These types of questions repeat over and over again every year with slight variations. Through continuous drilling, students are able to master each type of question and can conquer all the types of questions in the exam.

To start, Edward gathered all the past IB exam question papers and sorted the exam questions first into topic. Then, after careful analysis of the questions, he was able to sort all the questions into types and see the patterns in the exam. Based on this careful analysis, Edward create notes for each sub-topic which teaches students how to solve different types of questions one by one. Moreover, he created mock IB exam questions for each type of question to ensure that students get enough practice.

During the first 2 years, Edward was the core IB math tutor at HKExcel, teaching over 5 hours everyday to various groups of IB students and over 100 IB students every week. During this period of time, over 80% of his students scored a Level 6 or more and he taught over With this much teaching experience under his belt, Edward started to record his teaching. These teaching videos were first placed on our online tutorial portal Up till today, then videos have helped over 1 million IB students in various IB topics and the IA.

As HKExcel’s IB math tutor team expanded, we had to train our tutors to teach in the same method as Edward. The notes and videos produced by Edward became extremely useful. All new tutors watched Edward’s videos to learn how to teach each topic and used Edward’s notes with their students. These note and videos are extremely comprehensive and there is a note for every sub-topic. To give you an idea, we have over 50 notes for each IB math syllabus.

Besides watching our videos and using our notes, our IB math tutors always undergo one-on-one role playing training with Edward. This is because we believe that a tutor’s communication skill is extremely important. Firstly, a tutor should communicate with a highly positive attitude which inspires a student’s confidence. Secondly, the tutor should be able to observe the student’s weaknesses and target them accordingly. Thirdly, the tutor should be able to really connect with their student, and the make the subject more enjoyable for their student. All of these communication skills are required to be a highly competent tutor. As a result, we have role playing training to help our tutors develop these skills.

Before the real IB exams, our IB math tutor also offers intensive revision courses for our students, Normally, these intensive courses are held in April during the student’s study leave. This intensive course is extremely important to students, because it provides the necessary question drilling to help ensure students are very well prepared for the final exams. Moreover, in the intensive course, we will have mock exams for students so that they can know their weaknesses and to work on them specifically.

How do we help students on the Math IA?

The Math IA is also known as the math exploration and it accounts for 20% of the student’s total grade. Our IB math tutor can help students in the following ways:

  • We can help students to select a topic that matches the student’s aptitude and interest and is also relatively easy to score a L7

  • Guidance on how to perform research and evaluation

  • Help ensure that the IA meets the criteria required for a Level 7

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