What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
+ add school
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Ultimate Guide to the IB Math SL Exam

What’s Covered:


The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP for short), offers many courses considered challenging and academically rigorous compared to other alternatives such as the APs. Each course is curated so that it allows students to take unorthodox approaches towards studying, while also incorporating traditional exam-based assessments to measure success and progress. 


IB HL vs SL: What’s the Difference?


The two-year long program requires students to pick out six subjects of their choosing, out of six subject groups. One important and often considered difficult subject group is Mathematics, referred to as group 5. Group 5 consists of the following classes:


  • Mathematics in Standard Level (SL) / Mathematics in Higher Level (HL)

  • Mathematics Studies SL

  • Further Mathematics HL


Standard level and higher level courses are separated based on difficulty and amount of coursework. The differences should be noted prior to signing up for a class, and choosing one that best suits your interests and is most relevant to further education (university, college, etc.) is highly helpful. For example, if you aren’t planning on pursuing a degree in a field related to math, engineering, or something that could use credits from a math course, then HL might be an unnecessary load of work. Taking SL instead allows you to use that HL slot for a class that does have a greater effect on your future enrollments in university or college, as you can only take up to three HL classes anyway. 


This guide will be focusing on the coursework of Math SL, but even if you are a student taking HL, you might find it useful to stick around because a lot of the concepts in SL serve as groundwork for harder content in HL!


How Do SL Papers/Exams Work?


In SL, there are two papers in the exam. A paper refers to a test, and in this case we only have two tests, while HL would have three. While both papers are 90 minute long tests, paper one is not allowed to be taken with the use of a calculator, unlike paper two. Both tests are meant to test students on different concepts as well as how students perform without the aid of tools such as scientific and graphic calculators. Depending on the kind of student you are, and what your strengths and weaknesses are, you might find one paper easier than the other!


How are the IB Math SL Papers/Exams Scored?


Like any other exam, each question holds value/marks. Both exams are scored out of 90 points each. Grading is done based on a rubric, where students are not only awarded points for the right answer, but the expected method of arriving at it. Essentially, working and proof of work is required to earn the maximum number of points per question. Adhering to the instructions of the question is imperative as well, for example, if the question says to use a specific method to find an answer, you must. Not following that but providing a sufficient final answer might still earn you zero points in total for that question! 


Previous rubrics for past exams should be studied as equally as the exams itself, as they provide insight into the kind of work and answers that IB qualifies as a “good” answer, or one that might earn you the higher grade. 


In order to calculate your grade for the subject based on the 7 point grading system, IBO uses grade boundaries like this one: 



“Exploration” refers to the internal assessment required for the class, another core component of the overarching grading system. The total grade of your two papers and your exploration/internal assessment, converted into a percentage, is most often how your final grade is calculated, which is also out of a 100. This final score then falls into predetermined grade boundaries, allowing IBO to scale them from 1 to 7, where 4 is a passing grade. 


The nature of this grading system can be beneficial to you, as it allows you to make up for points. For example, if you lost some points in a paper because of exam anxiety or any reason, you can make it up with your exploration!


Final Tips


Exams can be difficult, stressful and not a fun experience, but enough practice and a change in mindset can help alleviate these issues. Try the following tips if you’re feeling stressed around exam season:


Start Studying Early


An obvious but underutilized tip is just starting your exam-studying earlier. Earning the IBDP requires lots of simultaneous achievements, from your extended essay to passing 6 classes (three of which are higher level). Starting your exam prep a few months in advance not only ensures you have the time to be ready for your tests, but keeps you from cramming when other deadlines are also looming over you. 


Take Important Breaks 


Taking meaningful breaks from studying is just as important as the studying itself! Overworking yourself from hours of studying will do more harm than good, so make sure to allocate some time to breathe in between the hours of flipping pages. Try taking a break after learning a difficult concept, and you’ll be surprised at how much easier it would be to grasp the new information after some time off. 


Try It Again


Most students push themselves to perform exceedingly well on their exams, which is ideal but can really burn you out. IB offers the chance to take an examination for a subject up to three times again after failing it. This allows you to not only raise your score, but you can use the time between exam sessions to just study and focus on the failed subjects. Pushing yourself to pass and score well the first time is a reasonable expectation and can be done, but there is also no harm in trying again if needed!



IB can be a great tool for students looking to enter further education, especially in a University. It’s also important to remember your scores in exams aren’t as important as you might think when it comes to university admissions. Instead, showing effort in taking harder classes and proof of determination is more important. For more information about how your chances of admissions stack up, use CollegeVine’s free admissions calculator. This tool uses your GPA, standardized tests scores, coursework and extracurriculars to calculate your chances of getting into your dream school!

Short Bio
Varun is a junior at Arizona State University, Tempe. He aims to share his knowledge of college admissions and the IB Diploma Program with high school students. In his free time, he can be found making music or trying a new recipe!