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What does the mathematics community want in the 21st Century?

Updated 7 July 2017

By Deborah Sutch

Some exciting developments are underway in the IB Diploma Programme (DP) mathematics. It is thanks to all the IB mathematics teachers who have given their time to consult with us during the latest development cycle* for DP mathematics. We’ll be ready for teachers to start teaching the new courses in 2019.

The new developments in DP mathematics mean that it remains relevant and rigorous while addressing the needs of mathematics students from 2019 until 2028, at which point the next development cycle will complete and the succeeding new version of the course will be released. We believe the changes to DP mathematics offers more choice to a greater number of students as well as offering schools greater flexibility in the way they group students, schedule lessons and teach the skills and content.

Critical thinking

For employers and universities alike, critical thinking in mathematics is becoming an increasingly valued skill, especially as technology advances making some traditional skills redundant.

Critical thinking in the context of mathematical learning is the ability to recognise where the subject can be used, understand and synthesise technical documents, apply relevant mathematical approaches to familiar and unfamiliar situations, structure logical arguments, be risk aware, understand that technology and mathematics can go hand-in-hand, and interpret the meaning and relevance of solutions. These are all becoming increasingly important and sought-after skills.

How will DP mathematics address this in 2019?

DP mathematics will focus on developing the skills of analysis, abstraction and generalisation, risk awareness and statistical literacy, algorithmic thinking, modelling and inquiry. We also aim to meet the diverse needs, interests and motivations of all our students within the DP and the Career-related Programme (CP).

You are right to think that this is a lot to fulfil. To address this, we have designed two mathematics subjects/routes that will each be offered at standard level (SL) and higher level (HL):

  1. Mathematics: Analysis and approaches course will be offered at both SL and HL. It is designed for students who enjoy developing their mathematics to become fluent in the construction of mathematical arguments and develop strong skills in mathematical thinking. They will explore real and abstract applications, sometimes with technology, and will enjoy the thrill of mathematical problem solving and generalization.
  1. Mathematics: Applications and interpretation course will be offered at both SL and HL for students who are interested in developing their mathematics for describing our world, modelling and solving practical problems using the power of technology. Students who take Mathematics: Applications and interpretation will be those who enjoy mathematics best when seen in a practical context.

Top five questions from the DP mathematics community

  1. Which course should students who want to study mathematics at university take?

Students who want to take a university course with a substantial mathematical element should take Mathematics: Analysis and approaches course. Those thinking about social sciences, humanities, certain economics, statistics and engineering courses and the arts will be well prepared by the Mathematics: Applications and interpretation course.

  1. Are schools and universities consulted about changes during a review?

Yes, and consultation with schools and universities is on-going throughout the seven-year review process (see more about the review cycle further below). There are many ways in which consultation takes place including surveys to schools, universities and of our alumni – we gather reports from our senior examinations team, we conduct expert panel discussions, we carry out literature reviews to consider current trends in mathematics education, we compare our syllabi to other syllabi worldwide, we commission universities to conduct research on the direction of mathematics education and the robustness of our syllabi, as well as gathering valuable feedback from our educator network through workshops, conferences and school visits.

  1. How will the courses be assessed?

SL students will complete two externally assessed written papers and the internal assessment. HL students will complete three externally assessed written papers and the internal assessment.

  1. Will there be any HL options?

In the current DP mathematics higher level (HL) course the student completes the core HL part of the course and also chooses one additional mathematics subject option to study from 4 options available (calculus, statistics and probability, discrete mathematics, or sets, relations and groups.) In the new courses, no options will be available. Instead, however, some of the current calculus option will appear in the Mathematics: Analysis and approaches HL course and some of the current statistics and discrete options will appear in the Mathematics: Applications and interpretation HL course.

  1. Will there still be a Mathematical studies SL course?

The name Mathematical studies SL will cease to exist but the new Mathematics: Applications and interpretation SL course is being designed to appeal to those students who would previously have taken Mathematical studies SL, as well as students with an interest in using technology to solve mathematical problems in practical contexts.  There will be a few new developments suggested from our research in order to make the course more fit for purpose in the modern world.

What are DP mathematics teachers saying about the changes?

“This is a bold change, but I think overall one that may fit better the two principal branches of math, pure & applied.”

“I’m very excited with the direction the IB is trying to take the DP mathematics curricula. It is coming at a time when mathematics education is in a crisis WORLDWIDE which is a result of the subject being reduced to a set of algorithms and rules (with emphasis on the quickest of them) while deep understanding and contextual meaning is left out. I’m looking forward to these changes!”

“Great work done by the review team!!”

“I am very excited about these new Routes. I believe that they have the power to be highly successful and provide all students with the knowledge of mathematics needed to be mathematically fluent in our current highly statistically based world. I would like to advocate that the IB hire skilled individuals to work on the development of these courses full time to develop the structure and resources that will be critical for such a shift. It will be incredibly more cost and time effective to design these courses to the best of their ability now and provide powerful, highly supportive training and resources for teachers before these courses are implemented. Teachers should be facilitators of powerful learning tasks (investigations and modelling tasks), but they should not be expected to be the creators of such tasks.

“I am pleased to see the IB people doing this sort of thing. I thought that not doing such a thing in the recent A-level reform was a missed opportunity. So I hope it gets some support.”–Robert Bowles,  the Admissions Tutor for mathematics at University College London


Route 2 courses (Mathematics: Applications and interpretation course) have the potential to be unlike any other high school math courses, which is phenomenal. But because they will be “new” to the world, current resources (think textbooks) do not exist that support such content and philosophy. It will be critical for the IB to at the front of the development of these resources. Thank you for taking our feedback! These changes are incredibly exciting!”

* The review cycle of an IB Diploma Programme course is a highly collaborative process with the IB community to ensure that curriculum are fit for purpose. The review cycle incorporates the latest educational research and lessons learned from a thorough evaluation of the existing curriculum.

Deborah Sutch is the DP curriculum manager for mathematics. DP coordinators at IB World Schools will continue to be fully supported during the transition to the new curriculum. And will receive ongoing communications, updates on the review process and other useful materials and guidance to help prepare educators and students for these changes.

  • Sepehr Elahi

    What will happen to further math? Will there be an equivalent course for students interested in further studies?

  • Jayashree Lakshmanan

    Literally living math for the past three decades, I am excited and enthused to learn the positive developments coming up in the IB math curriculum. IBDP has always been adopting changes relevant to the ever changing needs of the learning community. I wholeheartedly welcome the formulation of the two streams of math study. Can’t wait to hear more details.
    Jayashree Lakshmanan
    IB math teacher.

  • Kate Taverner

    Hi Sepehr, thanks for your question. I’ve checked with the Academic team and can confirm that the further mathematics higher level (HL) course is being discontinued and the last assessment of the existing course will be in May 2020. We won’t be offering an equivalent course, but students can still gain exposure to this level of mathematics through their extended essay choice or through their internal assessment exploration in whichever of the new HL mathematics courses they take. Our curriculum development team of DP mathematics teachers, curriculum developers and assessment managers worked on the new courses and together took the difficult decision to discontinue further mathematics HL, a decision that was not taken lightly. We appreciate that for a very small number of schools this will have an impact on their mathematics offering and our IB Answers team are here to help with any queries.

  • Stephen Bedding

    Will the current Math Studies IA maintain its current form as a project in the new regime?

  • Stephen Bedding

    Will the paper 1 and paper 2 structures remain as they are or similar?

  • Andrea Guerra

    Will students be able to take 2 courses in Math? For example HL in Application and Interpretation and SL in Analysis and Approaches.

  • Mairianne

    Dear Andrea, thanks for your question. I’ve checked with the academic team and can confirm that due to the common content between the two subjects, students will not be able to take both courses. I hope this helps answer your query. If you have any further questions, our IB Answers team are here to help. Many thanks, Mairianne

  • Mairianne

    Dear Stephen, thanks for your questions. I shared both of your questions with our academic team.

    I can confirm with your first question that “yes, the structures for paper 1 and paper 2 will remain very similar to the current paper 1 and paper 2 structures.

    For Mathematics: Analysis and approaches there will be a non-calculator paper 1 and a calculator paper 2, each with a section A of short-response questions and section B with extended-response questions.

    Mathematics: Applications and interpretation will have short-response questions in paper 1 and extended-response questions in paper 2. Students will be allowed access to a GDC in both papers.”

    In response to your second question, (whether the current Math Studies IA will maintain its current form as a project in the new regime), I can confirm that “both subjects will use the current exploration model with some modifications to the criteria.

    A trial last summer showed that students who produce a Mathematical Studies type project get similar marks when marked with the modified criteria as they did when marked with the current MSSL criteria.“
    I hope this helps answer you queries. If you have any further questions, our IB Answers team are here to help. Many thanks, Mairianne

  • Stephen Bedding

    Thank you for the clarifications Mairianne. I am hoping that the I/A criteria will be even tighter than they are at present. There is still room for subjectivity at present and this leads very easily to competent moderators failing seeds in the online marking.

  • Jack Enos

    Will the rigor level of the Mathematics: Analysis and approaches course at the HL level be comparable to the rigor level of the current HL Mathematics class?

  • Mairianne

    Dear Jack, thanks for your comment. I have checked with our Academic team and can confirm that Standards of rigour where it is required will be maintained in both Mathematics: Analysis and approaches HL and in the new Mathematics: Applications and interpretation HL. I hope this answers your question. If you have any further questions, our IB Answers team is here to help. Many thanks, Mairianne

  • Is there any substitute to Mathematics I.A in near future?

  • Mairianne

    Hi ib elite tutor, thanks for your comment. I can confirm that there will be an internal assessment component in the new courses. The internal assessment task will be the same for both higher level (HL) and standard level (SL) and will be based on the current mathematics SL and mathematics HL exploration model. It will be worth 20% of the total mark. This enables students to undertake a piece of research which interests them and models the type of mathematical activity undertaken in the modern world. If you are an IB educator at an IB World School, you can find more information about this in the April 2017 report on the review available on the programme resource centre which you access by logging in to My IB. I hope this helps. Mairianne

  • Hillary Mccormick

    When will training be available for these new courses.

  • Swati Ray

    When will the training for these changes start?

  • Kate Taverner

    Hi Hillary, subject specific seminars to launch the two new mathematics subjects will take place between February and April 2019. These will be led by experienced workshop leaders who were involved in the curriculum review process, and supported by IB staff. Details of locations and dates for these workshops will be announced on the website around September 2018 ( Hope this helps!

  • Linda

    When is the first trainings on these new programs?

  • Kate Taverner

    Hi Linda, subject specific seminars to launch the two new mathematics subjects will take place between February and April 2019. These will be led by experienced workshop leaders who were involved in the curriculum review process and are supported by IB staff. Details of locations and dates for these workshops will be announced on the website around September 2018 ( Hope this helps!

  • Jill Posta

    When will the curriculum team have a syllabus/course guide for the new math courses? Will it be possible to have the SL/HL courses taught within the same class period?

  • Vinh Nguyen

    How will the Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches compare to the difficulty of the current Mathematics HL in terms of pure mathematics? Is it correct that Maths Applications SL = Maths Studies SL, Mathematics Analysis and Approaches = Maths HL and SL and Maths Applications HL is in the middle?

  • Kate Taverner

    Hi Jill,
    My colleague in the curriculum development team advises that the full guides and teacher support materials for the new mathematics subject will be available early in 2018 along with Subject Specific Seminars to launch the new subjects. We encourage teachers to attend the Subject Specific Seminars to fully understand how the new subjects can be implemented in their schools. In the meantime a fully report summarising the review and including much of the content detail is available in the DP subject group area of the on the Programme Resource Centre.

    She also explained that the SL courses are a complete subset of the HL courses for both subjects so this would be possible. In addition, both subjects share 60 hours of common material where it would be possible to teach both subjects together at both levels. Schools should consider their own circumstances with regard to scheduling, resources, sizes of cohorts, etc., and decide on a model that best suits their circumstances.

    Hope that helps.

  • Kate Taverner

    Hi Vinh,
    Our curriculum manager for mathematics tells me that the comparison between the new and the current subjects is not exactly one-to-one, however, ‘Mathematics: analysis and approaches’ will be similar to the current mathematics higher level (HL) course in terms of its pure mathematics content. Strong mathematicians may also be interested in taking ‘Mathematics: applications and interpretation’ at HL. One of the intentions of the review is that strong mathematicians will have a choice between a ‘pure’ and an ‘applied’ route. Both HL courses have a similar level of demand.

    With regard to the standard level (SL) courses ‘Mathematics: applications and interpretation SL’ is more akin to the current mathematical studies SL than ‘Mathematics: analysis and approaches SL’. Again, students should choose their SL mathematics course depending on their interest whether that be more ‘pure’ or more ‘applied’, and their future career and study aspirations.

    I hope that answers your query.