Study Series Week 1: MATHEMATICS HL

study guide for math - Somya Dugga

Writer: Rafatul I. 

Visual: Somya D.

Editor: Kay Shi 

Taking Math as a Higher Level course can be one of the most demanding and rigorous choices you can make in the IB. It requires the ability to adapt to unfamiliar situations and to be on top of your organizational skills. However, I can say with confidence that Math has had the largest influence on my revision strategies. The techniques I’ve learned, I’ve been able to apply to all my subjects. 

Although the IB Curriculum has now been revised, and Math is now separated into two courses: Analysis and Approaches and Applications and Interpretation, the same study skills are still applicable. Rote memorization is quite an inefficient technique in Math due to the diversity and rigor of math problems. Technique and precision are also key in math alongside accuracy so it is imperative that you revise all parts of it carefully and thoroughly. 

Here are five strategies I believe are key for revising Math:

Strategy #1: Use Google Classroom Resources 

First, there are numerous types of assessments for Math in the IB, including written Paper 1 (Non-Calculator), Paper 2 (Calculator), and Paper 3 (Math HL Option) assessments. Students must also complete the Math Internal Assessment (IA) on a topic of their choice, using mathematics to answer an investigative research question. The IA is especially important and coming up with a solid idea that has a strong mathematical foundation can be very time consuming, and so starting early is key. For almost every other assessment, there will be review questions posted on Google Classroom with full solutions along with lesson slides. Using these resources effectively will be key to your success. 

Mr. Hillman, the Math Department Program Leader and Math HL teacher, recommends doing practice questions in a testing environment and trying your best to solve a problem, rather than immediately turning to the solution if you get stuck. This technique (active recall) will help you maximize your learning while minimizing the amount of time you need to spend grasping mathematical concepts. He also advises re-reading questions carefully rather than checking answers, as you may have missed key parts of the question rather than having errors in your arithmetic. 

Strategy #2: Study Groups

Math classes heavily encourage collaboration between students to come up with ideas, solutions, reasoning, and discourse on what’s being learnt. Students may also work collaboratively on informal projects such as making posters on new mathematical concepts or explaining a particularly difficult proof to their peers. Having a study group with friends can allow everyone to benefit as problems and solutions are articulated to each other, and can actually boost memory. However, make sure that you do work independently and that your assessed work is original.

Strategy #3: Use the Textbook

It’s important to keep up with homework from the textbook as it often contains a dynamic range of problems that test different areas of your thinking. Textbooks also have fully worked-out solutions, explanations, and references. They contain introductions to units and problem solving strategies that you may need to apply when working out solutions yourself. They also contain problems of varied difficulty and can simulate assessment conditions. Using Study Guides can also be helpful to guide your revision. 

Strategy #4: Get Involved with Math

The simplest way to do this would be to remain focused in class. But, sometimes that’s a bit hard to do. Thankfully, there are countless other ways you can get involved. Doing the “Problem of the Week” will help you formalize your math skills, especially for logic puzzles and proofs. Another way is to read books on Math, such as How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg; you can also just as easily borrow books from teachers. There’s also lots of cool Math videos on YouTube such as those made by Numberphile and TED-Ed.

There’s also numerous Math Competitions that occur every year, and participating in them is often as easy as signing up. David (12), Co-President of LOGic club, notes, “Math competitions are one of the best ways to get involved with Math and other like-minded individuals.” He’s participated in several competitions, including the Canadian Senior and Intermediate Mathematics Contests (CSMC), Euclid, Math Madness, and Purple Comet. One of his biggest highlights were the, “fun and games in collaborative competitions that involved collective thinking and using my mind creatively.” David also recommends doing “One Question A Day” and attending “Mathematical Fridays (now Thursdays).” 

Strategy #5: Learning and Problem Solving Techniques for Math

Besides these revision strategies, another important aspect of Math is using the proper learning and problem solving techniques. This can help you frame problems better, speed up your arithmetic, and boost your decision-making abilities, making it easier to arrive at the correct solution. Most math teachers have posters of the key problem solving strategies in their rooms such as “Look Back” and “Assign a Variable”. Still, putting these techniques to practice takes deliberate effort and comes with practice. Even so, a problem a lot of students face is Math Anxiety, which are the increased feelings of unease students experience when approaching math problems. But, research by Professor Jo Boaler of Stanford University on Overcoming Math Anxiety and Fear suggests that students learn math better when they work on problems that they enjoy rather than working on assigned math drills and exercises. This can also be supplemented by an enjoyable study environment and shaking up your routine once in a while. 

The last tip I’d like to leave you with is “Spaced Repetition” or what Mr. Hillman refers to as doing Math “Little and often.” This technique has repeatedly been shown to boost long-term understanding and recall and will minimize the amount of time you need to spend revising. 

Works Cited

“Research Shows the Best Ways to Learn Math.” Stanford Graduate School of Education, 29 Jan. 2015,