Because individual students have different needs, interests and abilities, four courses in mathematics are available:
- mathematical studies standard level
- mathematics SL
- mathematics higher level
- further mathematics standard level which will become a higher level course in 2012 with first examinations in 2014.
These courses are designed for different types of students: those who wish to study mathematics in depth, either as a subject in its own right or to pursue their interests in areas related to mathematics; those who wish to gain a degree of understanding and competence better to understand their approach to other subjects; and those who may not as yet be aware how mathematics may be relevant to their studies and in their daily lives. Each course is designed to meet the needs of a particular group of students. Therefore, great care should be taken to select the course that is most appropriate for an individual student.
In making this selection, individual students should be advised to take account of the following types of factor.
- Their own abilities in mathematics and the type of mathematics in which they can be successful
- Their own interest in mathematics, and those particular areas of the subject that may hold the most interest for them
- Their other choices of subjects within the framework of the Diploma Programme
- Their academic plans, in particular the subjects they wish to study in future
- Their choice of career
Teachers are expected to assist with the selection process and to offer advice to students about how to choose the most appropriate course from the four mathematics courses available.
Mathematical studies SL—course details
This course is available at standard level (SL) only. It caters for students with varied backgrounds and abilities. More specifically, it is designed to build confidence and encourage an appreciation of mathematics in students who do not anticipate a need for mathematics in their future studies. Students taking this course need to be already equipped with fundamental skills and a rudimentary knowledge of basic processes.
The course concentrates on mathematics that can be applied to contexts related as far as possible to other subjects being studied, to common real-world occurrences and to topics that relate to home, work and leisure situations. The course includes project work, a feature unique within this group of courses: students must produce a project, a piece of written work based on personal research, guided and supervised by the teacher. The project provides an opportunity for students to carry out a mathematical investigation in the context of another course being studied, a hobby or interest of their choice using skills learned before and during the course. This process allows students to ask their own questions about mathematics and to take responsibility for a part of their own course of studies in mathematics.
The students most likely to select this course are those whose main interests lie outside the field of mathematics, and for many students this course will be their final experience of being taught formal mathematics. All parts of the syllabus have therefore been carefully selected to ensure that an approach starting with first principles can be used. As a consequence, students can use their own inherent, logical thinking skills and do not need to rely on standard algorithms and remembered formulae. Students likely to need mathematics for the achievement of further qualifications should be advised to consider an alternative mathematics course.
Because of the nature of mathematical studies, teachers may find that traditional methods of teaching are inappropriate and that less formal, shared learning techniques can be more stimulating and rewarding for students. Lessons that use an inquiry-based approach, starting with practical investigations where possible, followed by analysis of results, leading to the understanding of a mathematical principle and its formulation into mathematical language, are often most successful in engaging the interest of students. Furthermore, this type of approach is likely to assist students in their understanding of mathematics by providing a meaningful context and by leading them to understand more fully how to structure their work for the project.
Mathematics SL—course details
This course caters for students who already possess knowledge of basic mathematical concepts, and who are equipped with the skills needed to apply simple mathematical techniques correctly. The majority of these students will expect to need a sound mathematical background as they prepare for future studies in subjects such as chemistry, economics, psychology and business administration.
The course focuses on introducing important mathematical concepts through the development of mathematical techniques. The intention is to introduce students to these concepts in a comprehensible and coherent way, rather than insisting on mathematical rigour. Students should wherever possible apply the mathematical knowledge they have acquired to solve realistic problems set in an appropriate context.
The internally assessed component, the portfolio, offers students a framework for developing independence in their mathematical learning by engaging in mathematical investigation and mathematical modelling. Students are provided with opportunities to take a considered approach to these activities and to explore different ways of approaching a problem. The portfolio also allows students to work without the time constraints of a written examination and to develop the skills they need for communicating mathematical ideas.
This course does not have the depth found in the mathematics HL course. Students wishing to study subjects with a high degree of mathematical content should therefore opt for the mathematics HL course rather than a mathematics SL course.
Mathematics HL—course details
This course caters for students with a good background in mathematics who are competent in a range of analytical and technical skills. The majority of these students will be expecting to include mathematics as a major component of their university studies, either as a subject in its own right or within courses such as physics, engineering and technology. Others may take this subject because they have a strong interest in mathematics and enjoy meeting its challenges and engaging with its problems.
The nature of the subject is such that it focuses on developing important mathematical concepts in a comprehensible, coherent and rigorous way. This is achieved by means of a carefully balanced approach. Students are encouraged to apply their mathematical knowledge to solving problems set in a variety of meaningful contexts. Development of each topic should feature justification and proof of results. Students embarking on this course should expect to develop insight into mathematical form and structure, and should be intellectually equipped to appreciate the links between concepts in different topic areas. They should also be encouraged to develop the skills needed to continue their mathematical growth in other learning environments.
The internally assessed component, the portfolio, offers students a framework for developing independence in their mathematical learning through engaging in mathematical investigation and mathematical modelling. Students will be provided with opportunities to take a considered approach to these activities, and to explore different ways of approaching a problem. The portfolio also allows students to work without the time constraints of a written examination and to develop skills in communicating mathematical ideas.
Further Mathematics SL – course details
Further mathematics, available as a standard level (SL) subject only, caters for students with a good background in mathematics who have attained a high degree of competence in a range of analytical and technical skills, and who display considerable interest in the subject. Most of these students will intend to study mathematics at university, either as a subject in its own right or as a major component of a related subject. In particular, the course is designed to allow students to learn about a variety of branches of mathematics in depth and also to appreciate practical applications.
The nature of the subject is such that it focuses on different branches of mathematics to encourage the student to appreciate the diversity of the subject. Candidates should be equipped at this stage in their mathematical progress to begin to form an overview of the characteristics that are common to all mathematical thinking, independent of topic or branch.
All categories of candidate may register for mathematics HL only or for further mathematics SL only or for both. However, candidates registering for further mathematics SL will be presumed to know the topics in the core syllabus of mathematics HL and to have studied one of the options, irrespective of whether they have also registered for mathematics HL.
Examination questions are intended to be comparable in difficulty with those set on the four options in the mathematics HL course. The challenge for candidates will be to reach an equivalent level of understanding across these topics.
This course is a demanding one, requiring students to study a broad range of mathematical topics through a number of different approaches and to varying degrees of depth. Students wishing to study mathematics in a less rigorous environment should therefore opt for one of the standard level courses, mathematics SL or mathematical studies SL.