IB Math – What’s the difference between AA vs AI?

Every seven years, the IB reviews its subject curriculums to ensure that students are equipped with the right skills for their time.

Most recently, IB has undertaken a restructuring of its math curriculum in which the previous categories of Math Studies, Math Standard Level (SL), Math Higher Level (HL) and Further Math have now been replaced by Math Analysis and Approaches (AA) and Math Application and Interpretation (AI), each offered at Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL).

These changes are applicable for the May 2021 assessment cohort and beyond.

The purpose of these changes is to provide students with more flexibility in their choice of mathematics pathways while also improving practically relevancy of the curriculum in this digital age.

So, what are the differences between Math AA vs AI?

IB Math AA vs AI - what's the difference?

Quick summary

Math Analysis & Approaches (AA)

What’s it similar to?

  • Standard Level (SL): Similar to old Math SL
  • Higher Level (HL): Similar to old Math HL

Who’s it for?

  • Standard Level (SL): Students who are moderate at math & intend to study economics or sciences after high school.
  • Higher Level (HL): Students who are strong at math & intend to pursue maths or engineering after high school

Math Applications & Interpretation (AI)

What’s it similar to?

  • Standard Level (SL): Similar to Maths Studies
  • Higher Level (HL): NEW

Who’s it for?

  • Standard Level (SL): Students who are not strong at math & do not intend to study math-based subjects after high school
  • Higher Level (HL): Students who are strong at math but do not intend to study math-based subjects after high school

Math Analysis & Approaches (AA)

Mathematics: analysis and approaches is 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 also be fascinated by exploring real and abstract applications of these ideas, with and without technology. Students who take Mathematics: analysis and approaches will be those who enjoy the thrill of mathematical problem solving and generalization.

Essentially, Math AA is tailored towards deeper abstract and theoretical understanding of mathematical concepts.

It incorporates topics such as advanced calculus and proof by induction, and there is one paper without a calculator.

You will also have the option of picking between math AA SL and HL, and as with your other subjects, the coverage of content is naturally greater in HL.

Although it is difficult to draw parallels between these categories and the old categories, Math AA SL is most similar to Math SL and Math AA HL is most similar to Math HL.

Math Application & Interpretation (AI)

Mathematics: application and interpretation is for students who are interested in developing their mathematics for describing our world and solving practical problems.They will also be interested in harnessing the power of technology  alongside exploring mathematical  models

Math AI is for students who enjoy mathematics when applied to a practical context. Topics such as statistics, distributions, matrices comprise a core part of its foundation and you will have access to a calculator for all papers.

As with Math AA, you have the option of picking between AI SL and AI HL. Math AI SL is most analogous to Math Studies, however Math AI HL is unlike any of the previously offered math courses.

One interesting part to mention is that AA and AI do share topics in common.

They first cover the same 5 topics but with varying emphasis in each area. These topics are:

  • Number and algebra
  • Functions
  • Geometry and trigonometry
  • Statics and probability
  • Calculus

These topics fall under the core concepts and will be covered in the first 60 hours of the course.

However, the way these concepts are approached will depend. They will be approached via a theoretical lens if a student is studying it as an AA topic but the same topic will be taught with an ‘implementation’ mindset in an AI class.

Do universities prefer AA or AI?

In general, if you are someone who enjoys math and would like to opt for a math intensive degree like physics, engineering, or pure math, then Math AA HL would be the ideal choice.

When it comes to specific requirements for the UK, most universities are still finalizing their prerequisites (especially for the 2021 intake). A few such as Cambridge and King’s College London have indicated an explicit requirement for Math AA HL for their math-heavy courses.

However, Oxford and Edinburgh have stated they have no preference for either the Analysis and Approaches (AA) course or the Applications and Interpretation (AI) course. So, unless stated on their website, it is worth reaching out to the admissions office at your chosen university to seek further clarification.

If you’re someone who does plan to pursue a moderately math-linked course such as economics or sciences, most universities would still prefer having Math AA, either at SL or HL.

On the other hand, if you absolutely resent math, and would prefer to take courses such as law, arts, language or social sciences, then there usually are no specific math requirements for your chosen course. You would be most comfortable with Math AI SL.

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