Comparing A-Level Maths and IB Math HL: Which one is right for you?

Comparing A-Level Maths and IB Math HL
IB Math HL Student

A-Level maths and IB math HL are two of the most popular and prestigious math courses among high schoolers. Both of these courses can help develop your understanding of maths, but they offer different experiences.

What are the key differences between IB maths and A-level maths? International Baccalaureate (IB) Mathematics Higher Level (Math HL) students must thoroughly study algebra, calculus, functions and equations, circular functions and trigonometry, matrices, vectors, statistics, and probability. Unlike the IB Diploma, A-level maths does not require students to follow an overall program—for example, no recommendation as to the expected hours of study (Source:

Read on to find out the differences between A Level Maths and IB Math HL. You might also enjoy reading: A Level Math Vs. AP Calculus BC: Which one is harder?

IB Program Vs. A level: The Basics

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is defined by the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) as a demanding pre-university program that leads to examinations and is designed for highly motivated secondary school students aged 16 to 19.

The IB Program is a comprehensive two-year international English, French, and Spanish curriculum. It typically allows students to complete the requirements of their national or state education systems by incorporating the best elements of national systems without being based on anyone.

The IB program combines a traditional and broad curriculum with three crucial additional aspects: theory of knowledge (TOK), Creativity, action and service (CAS), and an extended essay.

All IB program students must complete a mathematics course; four options are available to cater to different abilities and levels of student interest. 

  • Mathematics HL
  • Further mathematics SL
  • Mathematical methods
  • And mathematical studies. 

Each course aims to deepen a student’s understanding of mathematics as a discipline and boost confidence and facility in mathematical language.

A Levels Certifications

Unlike the IB Diploma, A levels certifications do not require students to follow an overall program. Each A-level subject can be completed as an independent qualification.

For instance, A level does not recommend the expected study hours because the qualification is available for many candidates, including adult students possibly taking a single subject out of general interest.

Every A level is divided into six units of approximately equal size, with three of these units set at AS level, defined as the standard expected of a student at the end of the first year of a two-year course.

4 types of A-level maths (Source: AQA):

  • A-level Mathematics
  • AS Mathematics
  • A-level Further Mathematics
  • AS Further Mathematics
Comparing A-Level Maths and IB Math HL
Comparing A-Level Maths and IB Math HL

Differences Between A-Level and IB Qualifications

There are two key differences A-Level and IB qualifications:

  • IB Diploma is a single full-time course of study for 16-18-year-olds. At the same time, A levels are single-subject qualifications that can be taken by people of any age and in combination with any other qualifications or with none.
  • A-Level and IB qualifications use quite different grading scales.

If you wonder between A Level and IB, which one do top universities prefer, I wrote a whole article that I encourage you to read.

A Level Maths

Typically, A Levels are qualifications offered by the UK education system. A Level Maths is designed to prepare students for higher-level study and develop skills in problem-solving, analysis, abstraction, and logical reasoning.

This two-year maths program covers algebra, calculus, geometry, and trigonometry, as well as other topics such as probability and statistics. The syllabus also includes elements of mechanics and discrete mathematics.

At the end of the course, students take an exam set by an examining body such as Edexcel or AQA.

IB Math HL

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program offers an international qualification that can be used to apply to universities around the world. IB Math HL is designed for those who plan on majoring in mathematics or a related field at the university level.

IB Math HL covers topics from algebra to calculus to statistics; however, it goes into more depth than A Level maths does on certain topics such as trigonometry or analytical geometry.

In addition to this deeper understanding of core mathematical concepts, students will also be expected to apply their knowledge to real-world problems through research projects and investigations. At the end of an IB Math HL, there is an externally assessed exam that tests all areas covered in the syllabus.

Course Structure

A Level Maths is an advanced course that covers all aspects of mathematics in depth. It is divided into three sections – Core Mathematics, Mechanics, and Statistics – each with its own set of topics to study.

Generally, A Level Maths topics covered in each section will vary depending on the specific syllabus chosen by the student but generally include calculus, algebra, trigonometry, vectors, vectors, geometry, and probability theory.

On the other hand, IB Math HL is a more focused course than A Level Maths. It focuses on developing students’ understanding of algebra, trigonometry, calculus, and statistics while also introducing them to more advanced concepts, such as complex numbers and matrices.

In addition, the IB syllabus also includes an optional topic that students can choose to study according to their interests or career goals. This option allows students to tailor their education to their individual needs.


A Level Maths exams are typically taken at the end of Year 13 (the final year of secondary school). Students have to sit three exams, one for each section, which cover all the topics studied during the course.

Each exam has its own assessment criteria, which assesses how well students have grasped different concepts from the course material.

IB Math HL exams consist of two components; one written paper and one oral paper, which must be completed within a single day.

IB exam written paper covers all topics studied during the course while the oral paper focuses on assessing how well students have understood key mathematical concepts from their course material as well as their ability to apply them in new contexts or solve unfamiliar problems.

Is IB HL Maths Harder Than A Level Maths?

IB Maths HL is relatively easier than A-level Math, particularly A-level Further Maths, because A-level Further Maths requires a stronger foundation. However, many students find IB Math HL exam questions more complex than A-level ones; both require students to do a lot of practice questions.

IB Math, in general, is more challenging than A-level Math because IB Math exam questions are much more complex.

The truth is that there is a lot of content for IB Math, especially HL, but only a little less than A-level further maths. But most students find the IB Math exam extremely hard because the IB math exams are often cross-topic, requiring students to apply knowledge from many topics.

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In Conclusion

Both A-Level Maths and IB Math HL offer rigorous curricula that will challenge and provide excellent opportunities for high school students.

Before deciding between A Level maths and IB Math HL, I encourage you to consider your future plans carefully. If you are looking to pursue your studies in the UK, then A level might be a better option for you.

However, if you are looking for an internationally recognized program I encourage you to consider IB Math HL, as it will give you a much more comprehensive understanding of core mathematical concepts that will serve you well at the university level and beyond.


I am Altiné. I am the guy behind When I am not teaching math, you can find me reading, running, biking, or doing anything that allows me to enjoy nature's beauty. I hope you find what you are looking for while visiting

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