Academic Group 4 Group 5 Subjects

Overview of HL Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics (Part 1)

Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics are notorious for the conceptual understanding demanded to excel in the subjects, especially at the HL level. However, taking on this subject combination is rewarding in bolstering one’s analytical and logical thinking abilities. From a more practical perspective, it also accords significant flexibility in meeting the pre-requisites for numerous courses. These are Engineering, economics (HL Math is often required rather than HL Economics), natural sciences, and medicine (although some universities require HL Biology). For those who are considering taking some or even all their HLs in STEM subjects, this article provides some insight into the demands of these 3 HLs that I took and my overall experience managing this subject combination.

HL Mathematics AA: 

HL Mathematics Analysis and Approaches covers a breadth of foundational topics. Many of which are pegged at an introductory college level, from algebra to calculus to statistics.  HL Mathematics has 3 papers:

  • Paper 1 (Non Calculator)
  • Paper 2 (Graphing Calculator)
  • Paper 3 (Advanced Application Questions).

The questions can often be unorthodox and require conceptual understanding – memorising ways to approach questions is an ineffective approach. HL Mathematics also requires completion of an Internal Assessment (IA). A “Mathematical Exploration” whereby one must apply mathematical concepts to model or analyse real world phenomena. 

Should I take HL Mathematics?

A background in pre-calculus is recommended for students taking HL Math. Although, these concepts can be picked up along the way. Given the notorious combination of breadth and rigour, I would advise students to carefully consider before choosing the subject. However, if you find yourself enjoying the analytical thinking behind mathematics, and find pre-calculus manageable, it could be worth considering taking HL Math. 

That being said, if you are confident that your future career does not involve much maths (e.g. medicine/biology/history), I would consider taking SL Maths. This is due to the large disparity in content covered in SL and HL Math. This disparity would free up more time to bolster proficiency in other subjects. For those who do plan to take HL Math, note that AA is recommended over AI as it is more widely accepted as a prerequisite for university admissions.


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