How to Get a 7 in the NEW IB Maths AA & AI Exams 🎲
A practical step-by-step strategy for you to conquer both the new IB Maths AA and AI curriculums.
The IB mathematics curriculum has gone through significant changes and studying all of it online hasn't helped. There's been an added friction to learning because it's considerably more difficult to learn concepts if the teacher isn't in the room to explain them to you.
But we, as students, need to stay determined to understand what we don't know.
"I don't believe in the idea that there are a few peculiar people capable of understanding math, and the rest of the world is normal. Math is a human discovery, and it's no more complicated than humans can understand." — Richard Feynman
Maths is so complex and abstract in our heads. Most of my friends have claimed that they just aren't math people. But this is only a myth. As Feynman has aptly put, math is a skill and it can be learnt by any student.
You need to identify your gaps in knowledge, be smart about how you study and simply do a lot of tough math problems to stretch your understanding and make breakthroughs. Follow every step of this verified method and you will get that 7 in the new IB maths curriculum.
For a clear and comprehensive overview of the changes in the new Mathematics syllabus, have a look at this resource:
Table of Contents:
Step 1: Scoping the Content Out
Before you begin your maths revision, you should break down every topic and categorise it into smaller topics. Why? In order to understand and learn effectively, we need to find out where new knowledge fits in the bigger picture.
Get a blank piece of paper and make a bullet list of all the topics, sub-topics and question types you are about to practise.
This is a bit unorthodox for maths revision because most of us would just jump straight into practice. But "scoping" the topic forces you to sort each question type out and fit the knowledge in your existing mental frameworks.
1.1 Understand & Analyse the Subject Guide
The mathematics AA/AI subject guide is paramount for your success in the subject. The IB is very specific and the questions they test in the exams are all listed out in the syllabus of this guide. Thoroughly read and understand the "Content" and the "Guidance/clarification" sections of the syllabus. If you do this before a study session, it will direct your learning and show you every question type that the exam can test you on.
1.2 Create a List of all Question Types
Make a list of every possible type of math question for all topics that the IB could assess us on, with examples. Use it to identify your knowledge gaps.
We are tackling a syllabus that hasn't been fully tested before. Hence, it is imperative that we make sure we are aware of every possible question type that could appear in the mathematics exams. Go through each unit's sub-topics in the syllabus of your subject guide and make a list of all the questions that be tested in the new exams.
This technique will guide your entire revision process because it serves as a personalised check-list of questions the IB can ask you. Use it to identify your weaknesses! A few tips to enhance this technique:
Give one good example of each question type using previous past papers and question banks.
Highlight each topic's question types in green, orange or red based on how well you understand each one after giving them a quick practice go. Identify your weak topics.
Analyse past paper questions to add and modify the list of question types. Keep in mind that some types of questions would've been added or removed from the new AA/AI curriculum.
The bonus here is that you are putting effort into scoping and fitting each piece of knowledge into the wider picture!
1.3 Standardise the Easy Questions & Find Patterns
Throughout the rest of your revision, identify and standardise the common and easy questions. All of the papers include guaranteed marks from questions. Highlight these question types on the list you created above. Additionally, look at a few 2021 exam prediction videos and articles from experienced IB examiners. Obviously, this should not be relied on but it gives you an insight into the more standard questions that you can focus on to secure the easier marks.
But be aware, that papers contain questions that are partly and completely original. These marks are extremely important if you are aiming for even a 5 and the only way to secure them is through sound conceptual understanding.
Step 2: Fill in the Huge Conceptual Gaps
"Practise, practise, practise" was the only phrase I heard in IB maths. Obviously, doing questions is the most vital form of revision but:
Without understanding the conceptual basis of the topic you will not be able to solve unfamiliar questions in the maths AA and AI exam.
Having a broad conceptual understanding of the questions is even more important because of the switch to Mathematics AA and AI. Both exams test some completely new topics that require an in-depth understanding.
The two key steps to consolidate your conceptual understanding are a) Addressing your pre-IB gaps of math knowledge (underrated but very valuable) and b) Finding compatible teachers (online and in-person) to guide your learning.
2.1 Don't Ignore Your Foundational Gaps!
We all have those pesky knowledge gaps stemming from grade 8. The math topics you never understood and never bothered learning. You're lying to yourself if you say you don't.
Personally, my pre-IB math gaps included concepts like doing logarithms and completing the square. I ignored them until the final exams and I wish someone just sat me down and told me to go learn the simple concepts!
Before we try to understand complex IB concepts we NEED to fix up our foundational pre-IB gaps in math knowledge.
I know it's embarrassing and it's annoying, but go to your teacher after class and ask them to teach you the basics, no matter how far back these gaps go. They will be happy to help you out. This is absolutely crucial and it is overlooked by most students. Dissect the types of mistakes you make in questions and thoroughly read every point on your subject guide to identify these foundational gaps. Dedicate time to re-revise the basics and you will see an exponential rise in your scores.
2.2 Finding Compatible Teachers (Online + Offline)
A good teacher is crucial in helping consolidate your conceptual understanding of all new topics you need to learn in the course. The truth is that you won't always click with your math teachers and when you don't get a topic in class, you end up feeling really deflated. But you have to recognize that the problem isn't you.
Sometimes, the explanations you get aren't compatible with the way you learn. So, find another way to understand the concept!
This was such a simple lesson to take in but when you internalise it, your mindset towards learning changes. If you don't get a question or topic, then go to your teacher after class. If they can't help, then go ask people in the class who understood the concept. It's very simple.
Most of the time, asking others did help but I never felt fully certain about a topic until I started watching Youtube tutorials from Patrick JMT, Exam Solutions and Khan Academy. They explained most concepts directly from our syllabus in easily digestible 5-10 min videos.
Youtube teachers can teach you every single objective in the Math AA and AI syllabus. It was always my go-to when I needed to learn concepts.
But there is a downside to simply hitting the search button on Youtube. Most videos are unlikely to provide us with IB-specific content. Instead, they may be targeted towards university or PhD students. So don't waste time experimenting with videos to watch.
Tip #1: Use ibmathsresources.com
They have compiled videos for all topics specific to the IB maths syllabus using two excellent youtube channels: Patrick JMT & Exam Solutions. Both channels create golden videos that explain complex concepts through very simple methods. I used this resource to revise all of Statistics and properly understand Trigonometry topics too.
The website has indexed all extra videos for the new AA and AI syllabus as well.
Tip #2: Continue to practise questions whilst you grasp the concepts
The best method of learning is actively recalling the content you just revised. We can all confidently watch a video and claim to understand it. But unless you can close the tab and do 3-5 questions that will test the knowledge you just gained, you have not retained it effectively.
Attempting practise questions and testing ourselves on major concepts is the #1 effective way to start learning. You need to force your brain to recall and actively retrieve any knowledge of the topic you have. This is the most powerful way to understand and retain everything for your exams.
Tip #3: Always update your list of question types + review the AA/AI syllabus
To direct your learning and revise content that specifically focuses on your Math AA/AI exams, review the question types you need to know and thoroughly understand the topics in your syllabus. After understanding the concepts and practising questions, highlight the question type on your list in red, orange and green based on your understanding. Always update this list of question types. It's a full overview of your understanding of the maths syllabus.
Step 3: Targeted Practise Questions
As mentioned previously, practising questions throughout your revision is imperative to getting a 7 in Mathematics this year. Target a specific topic and start practising the different types of questions. Make sure you are doing questions to learn throughout the entire learning process, not just at the end.
Use the subject guide's syllabus to remain aware of the questions that have been removed and added to the new AA and AI syllabus.
Since the 2021 exams are the first ones for the new Mathematics curriculum, it is important to remember that recent past papers don't contain questions for certain new topics such as the AI syllabus' Voronoi diagram. Similarly, not all questions in these past papers are going to be relevant in the new syllabus such as vectors in the AA and AI SL syllabus.
3.1 Spaced Repetition + Active Practise
Spaced repetition is a heavily researched technique that is simple and highly effective for learning almost anything. For mathematics, spacing your revision out in timed intervals is vital for learning and retaining maths skills and knowledge long-term.
Allow yourself to forget what you learn so your brain has to work harder to recall it.
The way I do this is by practising a batch of question types once, then after 3 days, and then after 10 days. Use no resource while practising these questions and force your brain to work it out. Doing this forces your brain to active recall.
The more you push yourself in one revision session, the more you will retain and the less you will need to revise for your exams.
3.2 Tracking Mistakes and Weaknesses ft. Question Types
Documenting the mistakes you make is crucial for your progression. Several steps in this method emphasise tracking your weaknesses. My personal suggestion is to use the previously mentioned comprehensive list of question types to do so.
Every time you revise or practise a type of question, colour code it green, orange or red based on your level of understanding.
Use this list and the subject guide to track your weaknesses and strengths. The benefits to this are:
You focus your revision on the 'red' or weak topics and don't waste excessive time practising topics you're already good at (used to be a huge problem for me🤦♂️).
Every possible type of question the IB can assess and your level of understanding for it has been accounted for, so you will never just 'forget' to revise the topic.
It is an extremely simple practise that requires NO effort. You just have to modify the colour of the topic you just practised and you automatically keep track of everything.
After getting used to keeping track of the topics I'd revised, I started using a google spreadsheet to note down my specific habits and mistakes whilst answering questions. It is key to use the mark scheme to find patterns and note down the exact parts of a solution that you are struggling with.
This is a step up and I'd highly recommend it if you want to achieve a 7.
3.3 Elite Tips + Techniques to Solve IB Math Questions
The reason most of us get deflated when studying math is when we feel stuck or don't understand how to solve the question. But this is when we must persevere and change strategy.
Identify and isolate each concept of the problem.
Math builds upon itself: complex concepts are built upon the simple ones. Most questions in the paper require multiple components to be solved. Therefore, identify these components and split them up into multiple problems that isolate just one operation. Now, review and practise solving each component of the problem individually. Only devote your time to solving the parts in tandem once you've mastered solving them individually.
Work with a problem that uses smaller numbers and no decimal points.
Using bigger numbers with decimal points confuse and distract you from the actual concept you need to practise for the exam. So if you're stuck, choose whole numbers that you can solve in your head. This will allow you to solely focus on the concept you don't understand.
Reverse engineer the step-by-step solution on symbolab.
Only review the solution after you have thoroughly attempted to understand and practise the problem. Expending mental effort is the most effective way to stretch your understanding of the topic. Please internalise this. But once you absolutely need to look at the solution, a) use the mark scheme to find patterns for the types of things the IB will give marks for BUT also, b) go on symbolab.com, type out the problem and get a more detailed step-by-step solution. This was especially useful for my weaker concepts.
Follow this step-by-step guide to achieve that 7 in both mathematics AA or AI. It is designed to give you a holistic understanding of the course and help you follow a highly effective learning process. Revise for the exams in half the time. Good luck!