Overcoming Struggles in IB Math: Tips for Success

Julia Reising
7 min read

Let's face it - when it comes to math, the world is divided into two types of people in which some just have an easier time than others. For those students who find the subject intuitive, equations and problem-solving come naturally, without much hassle, they’re able to approach extremely difficult tasks, but for many others, math can feel like a foreign language, full of confusing symbols and daunting word problems. This was exactly how math has been for me during my 2 years in IBDP.

If you see yourself in that second group, don't worry - you're not alone! Math may not come as easily, but that doesn't mean you can't become skilled in mathematics with the right strategies and a bit of determination.The key is to approach math with a positive mindset and a willingness to put in the work. Embrace the challenge, and remember that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Math may not be your forte, but you probably excel in other subjects that leave your math-inclined friends scratching their heads.

One engaging way to tackle math in the IB is to think of it like cracking a code. Equations and problem-solving are like puzzles waiting to be solved, which brings us to the first major tip.

  1. Create your own strategy

Math is not just about memorizing formulas or procedures, it is a process of critical thinking and problem solving. To manage this process more effectively, I recommend using two notebooks. The first notebook is a basic notebook where you record the most important information, fundamentals and some examples related to each chapter. The second notebook is dedicated for practice problems only.

Then, get into the habit of approaching each problem systematically. It is important to read the problem carefully and understand exactly what is being asked, the idea behind having your own “instruction book” is to always look back into it whenever you get stuck. If necessary, break the problem down into smaller parts. Identify the important information and find out what mathematical concepts and formulas you need to apply. Whenever I did notes on some fundamental ideas, I would write down each individual step, label them accordingly ( step 1, step 2 etc.) and then move on to problem-solving, in my second notebook, you can see an example of this below

Step by step guide

These examples are fairly simple, I chose them to be this easy on purpose, so whenever I’m stuck I can focus purely on the methodology. However, it is essential to practice solving different types of problems. Don’t just stick to easy problems, but try more complex ones. This will help you learn different problem-solving methods and develop your ability to think creatively.

  1. Comprehensive learning strategy

When starting your practice for final exams, it’s tempting to open up the syllabus, diving straight into it, tackling each topic one by one. Now, this method can work well if you have plenty of time, but if your exams are around the corner, don’t hesitate to switch things up! It can be much more effective to mix in past exam questions or a variety of questions from the Revision Dojo question bank. If you get stuck on a problem, reviewing the concepts as you go can be more efficient. Just remember that flexibility in your approach can lead to better results in the long term. Additionally, mixing different types of questions can prevent burnout from focusing too long on one topic. It keeps your mind engaged and better simulates the actual exam experience, where questions are typically not organized by topic.

  1. Don’t underestimate the power of YouTube!

I can't emphasize this enough: watching others solve past exam papers has been incredibly beneficial for me. Observing someone’s complete thought process from start to finish provided me with insightful, easily applicable tips and helped me recognize that math really is about patterns!By watching experts solve problems, I realized I can learn their thinking and logic strategies. This contributes to a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts and improved problem-solving skills. My preferred method was to first attempt solving some questions on my own and then review the step-by-step solutions. However, when I was pressed for time, especially during the exam season, I found it just as effective to watch the videos and note any important points.

Here are some of my favorite channels:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/@kiddmath
  2. https://youtube.com/@msmoonibchannel?si=0oKuAr2tFRBJA9AF
  3. https://youtube.com/@mrflynnib?si=m3pLVXLxcDsat6pw
  4. Embrace your mistakes

The sense of accomplishment when you finally get through the hard problem can easily turn to frustration when you realize that the answer is completely different from the one on the mark scheme, however mistakes in math are inevitable. The good news is that you can turn them into your greatest learning opportunity. Whenever I did timed practice papers, I would thoroughly review my mistakes with a specific key, which helped me feel less overwhelmed when things weren't working out. Let me show you an example of how I would tackle this.

Past paper review

Now, this is obviously an example including the parts I had the most trouble with. You can adapt this approach to your own needs, maybe you’re the type to always ace your calculations but often make mistakes in basic, fundamental concepts? Generally, review your mistakes and try to shuffle them into a few categories. For example, you can divide it into calculation errors, lack of understanding of concepts, and problem interpretation errors. This way, you can clearly identify where you are weak and improve your skills through supplementary learning that fits each category, sounds much less overwhelming, right?

In conclusion, mastering math, especially within the rigorous framework of the IBDP, may seem daunting for those who do not find it intuitive, but it’s not impossible! As long as you believe in your ability to improve, you will. With consistent effort, effective study strategies, and seeking help when needed, you can overcome challenges and achieve your math goals!