Academic Group 5 Subjects

How to ace IB Mathematics Paper 1 and 2 assessments?

NOTE: This article is based on the old Math HL syllabus, which is most similar to the current Math AA HL syllabus, however I do hope my general advice will be helpful for any students taking any IB Math syllabus.

In this article, I will share some tips I used which helped me greatly for my IB Math papers. 

Paper Format:

PaperMarksTimeUse of calculator
11002 hoursNo
21002 hoursYes

Before the exam

Formula booklet

You should familiarize yourself with the formula booklet. (analysis and approaches and applications and interpretation – use the one appropriate for you) The respective formula booklets will be given to you during both your exam papers and it is ideal that you know what formulas are already given and what you may need to remember in addition.

Know you GDC

For paper 2 in the old syllabus, you will be given access to a graphic display calculator (GDC). The GDC is extremely powerful and it has many functions that you can use. During your practice, learn how to take advantage of all of them. 

One that I found very helpful was the ability for the GDC to draw the graph of the derivative of a function, thus saving me time in trying to manually work out the derivative of the original function.

Yet, you must remember that during the exam, you will need to put your GDC in press-to-test mode (you will be taught how to do this) which would restrict some functions. You will need to learn how to work around the restrictions before the exam so that you won’t need to worry about not being able to use unallowed functions.

Paper 1

Mental sums

For students taking AA or the old Math syllabus, you will not have access to a calculator so you should practice doing questions without one whenever possible. This makes it much easier to do mental calculations in the exam as you have already been training your brain to do them. I personally regret constantly relying on my calculator during my own revision. It was problematic as I would not trust myself even in very simple calculations and constantly go back to check them.

Paper 2


If the question asks for you to give an exact answer, you probably can’t use your calculator as you will need to leave the final answer in some exact form. However, you can still use your calculator to check if the exact answer you gave has a similar numerical value to the calculator value.

For all other questions, remember to round off the final answer to 3 significant figures or whatever requirement that specific question has.


Be familiar with mark schemes from past papers

While doing past papers, don’t just look at the correct answer in the mark scheme, but also check to see where the marks are given. This will help you know what workings are essential. This will come in handy especially if you get the final answer wrong, as the marker can still give you some method marks for certain working, allowing you to gain some valuable marks.

Long questions with multiple parts

There may be some questions in the paper which have part (a) all the way to (h) or even more! 

If you get stuck on an earlier part, look at what the question in later parts is asking for as these parts are usually related somehow. Sometimes, the answer for an earlier part may even be used in later portions of the question. As such, checking the whole question can give you clues about what the question is asking or about the techniques you can use to solve the earlier parts.

Usually, there may also be some “show” questions which just require you to reach a given answer. You can use these as checkpoints to be confident that you have gotten everything in the question correct so far if you can “show” this answer.

Check your work

If you have additional time at the end of a paper, it would be best if you can go back to check your work as you never know what careless mistakes you have made along the way. This is also a good chance for you to spend time on any questions you may have skipped earlier.

For paper 1: 

  • check your calculations

For paper 2: 

  • work backwards to see if the answer makes sense, or use an alternative method to arrive at the answer if you can think of one
  • Put the values in into the calculator again to check you did not make any typos earlier (especially important as you may not be able to recognise the errors from decimal places)

Write all you working

As mentioned earlier, you are still given partial credit for some workings. Even if you can’t reach a final answer, leave the workings you have written so far as they may be correct and allow you to earn some marks. If you were to cancel all your workings, there will be no way for the maker to justify giving you any marks as you technically “did not” do anything for that question.

Using a pencil

Remember to only use a pencil for rough workings as the marker may not mark things written with a pencil. The only thing that you can use a pencil for is graph drawing. For graphs, remember to use a dark pencil (2B or higher) such that your lines are very visible and the marker won’t miss out on any important details.

I hope that this article has been helpful in your IB Math journey. Wishing you all the best for your Math papers and hoping that these tips will help you achieve the grade you want to achieve!

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