3 reasons behind the latest IB math reform

Since 2019, the IB mathematics syllabus has undergone major reforms.

The original Math Studies, Math SL, Math HL and Further Math were replaced by Analysis and Approach (AA) and Application and Interpretation (AI). AA and AI both have HL and SL respectively.

IB has completed the last exam using the pre-reform syllabus in November 2020, and will start the first exam using the reformed syllabus from May 2021.

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So what is the story behind this reform? There are mainly three reasons for it:

1. Routine curriculum adjustment and reform every seven years to meet universities’ mathematical requirements for students

According to the IB’s official explanation, it will review and upgrade the syllabus of each subject every seven years to ensure that students have the most effective subject knowledge for college learning and future employment. In mathematics, critical thinking & problem solving have become “increasingly valued skills” in recent years, according to IB.

Therefore, IB added Applications & Interpretation (AI) and retained the Analysis and Approach (AA) to meet the different needs of most industries for theoretical applications.

Such a reform also allows schools to better classify courses based on students’ various needs in math learning. It will also give math, a required subject, more practical values for students with other academic interests and help them transition better to college-level studies.

2. To encourage more students to choose Math HL

Judging from students’ selection of IBDP Math levels in the past few years, a reform seems urgent as well. Official data from May 2017 showed that the proportion of students who chose Math HL over SL is only 15%, significantly lower than other mainstream subjects.

For instance, almost 90% of students chose IB History HL over SL. The same is true for English Literature HL.

Why are so few students willing to choose Math HL? For one, it’s more difficult than most people think, and the scores are not as friendly as some humanities courses. While most IB students might be able to comprehend the course contents of Math HL, they can’t seem to apply the abstract mathematical theories and knowledge in assignments and exams.

From this perspective, after dividing the courses into two HL options, AAHL and AIHL, the latest IB mathematics reform might encourage more students with different academic interests to choose high-level courses.

3. To emphasize the use of graphing calculators and mathematical software

Graphing calculators and mathematics software play increasingly important roles in the development of the math subject. The new curriculum emphasizes students’ ability to use graphing calculators or other more advanced software for mathematical modeling. It also focuses on the ability to use abstract mathematical theories to solve real-life problems, which will prepare students to use these tools in different fields in the future, and increases the efficiency of practical problem-solving. This is an overarching trend of STEM development that merges math and technology.

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From our analysis of the IB math reform, it’s easy to see that the IB curriculum is renowned internationally precisely because it constantly keeps itself updated based on industry trends. For students, the IB Mathematics curriculum reform will provide them with more academic freedom and professional convenience in the long run.

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