I often hear people say, “Wow, you’re in HL Math? You must be really smart!” or, “HL Math? That’s too hard for me.” While at first this appealed to my sense of ego, I quickly became frustrated. In my opinion, HL Math doesn’t deserve its reputation.
What does a typical class consist of? You sit down, listen to the teacher and take notes, and then do homework if there’s time left in class. The only difference between HL and SL is that in HL you cover more concepts from each unit. As for these additional topics, HL Math includes mathematical induction, complex numbers, and of course the IB school specific option, which is discrete mathematics (consisting of number theory and graph theory). Teachers sometimes imply that this course goes at a rather frightening pace, but I don’t agree; we’ve spent classes going over things, and of course extra help is always available.
I recently came to an interesting realization that applies to math and science. There are two ways of doing a problem: a) memorizing the steps involved and then mind-numbingly following them, or b) actually understanding the theory behind certain concepts, and why one does a certain operation. An example of this would be finding the equation of the normal to a quadratic function at a point (a very simple pre-Calculus concept). The steps are as follows: find the derivative (in this case the slope) using the power rule, take the negative reciprocal, then input that number and the coordinates of the point into the equation of a line. My method for doing this problem would be to think about what a normal is and why one does all of those operations. On SL Math tests and exams, the questions are really just variations on textbook questions, so method a) would suffice, but the HL questions are new and demand more thinking, so be prepared to apply method b).
If you are looking to go into a math-based university program such as engineering or business, I strongly suggest taking this course—it can only serve as preparation for the future. You don’t have to be a “genius” to do well either; I was originally placed in Y1 core math, and now I am doing very well in HL.
Frankly, I’m sure a lot of you hardly spend much time looking at the Maths box on your course selection form, but if you’re really on the fence between any of them, it’s between this course and one of the others (if you’re actually deliberating between Studies and HL: lol). SL Math has more students than Studies and HL combined, though numbers do change from IB1 to IB2 as some students elect to switch from SL to Studies over the summer of IB1. As with all courses, if you immediately feel like you have made a poor choice in the first month of IB1, it is always (kind of) possible to switch, although it might change your schedule.
The IB has now created an exploration paper, instead of the portfolios which you might have heard about, where you have to write about something related to mathematics that you are interested in. This is brand new and both HL and SL have to do it. It’s not as long as an extended essay and you only have to do one in the two years so that’s not too bad.
It all boils down to some overblown perception of difficulty when it comes to Math, but I don’t believe it should. If you are genuinely interested in Math, take whatever you want. HL Math (as explained above) is entirely possible if you put in the work, as is SL. I got 70s from Grade 7 to 10 and I definitely don’t get 70s today.
That was the carrot, here is the stick. Even if you’re not genuinely interested in Math, many business/science programs will make you take Math courses that are much harder than SL, so you’d best get used to it. Once again, the perceived problem with Math is and always will be that it is somehow a check-box; something that one either has or has not. In truth, it is cumulative. Do your work. The more work you do, the more so-called “talent” you will have.
If HL Math is a 10 on the difficulty scale and SL Math a 7, Studies is around a 5. Units include: quadratics, factoring, sinusoidal functions, venn diagrams, statistics, and yes, linear equations. Effort is required for a decent mark, but those who exert themselves slightly more can easily achieve markbands higher than in SL Math. Those who plan to apply to business/commerce/science/engineering/etc. usually opt for SL Math. For anyone applying to arts and humanities programs, I highly recommend Studies. A 6 in Studies always looks better than a 5 in SL Math.
The Unnamed Studies Warrior