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Advice for IB Math IA - choosing a research question, topic

In this post I will be sharing my opinion on selection of topic for Math IA.

Truth is, different schools have different guidance on this. For example, I know a school that bans Graph and Game theory for selection (I'm against such a policy).

I think the bottom line is:

HL students should not be pursuing a topic inside the SL syllabus.


  1. HL students should choose a topic that is an extension of their syllabus

  2. SL students should choose a topic that is within the HL syllabus

Too often I have seen students not working on their proposal and reading widely till the last minute and in the end settles for something for the sake of getting the teacher's approval. They fail to recognize the importance of reading widely for potential topics and how other reports are written before starting to draft their proposal. Clearly they underestimate the importance of Math IA as highlighted in my previous post.

So, how to go about choosing?

Frankly, there's no magic beans formula. What I typically advise my students is:

1) find a context (finance? search engines algorithms? sports stats?) you are interested in;

2) speak to your advisor/tutor if there's any math/research question worth exploring on;

3) even if it's a "no", think about possible derivatives and logical extensions areas.


a) find a math concept that you have always wanted to know about (noise/signal processing, fractals, blockchains hash functions);

b) speak to your advisor/tutor

I understand my advice above isn't very useful at first glance, but truth be told I practically spend hours discussing with each of my tuition students to settle down on their Math IA topic or Economics IA article (more of this in a future post).

Feel free to contact me at +65 9782 4025 or if you require a discussion.

So my bottom-line is making sure that students learn something from the research process (be it the math concept or the context they are keen on) beyond just clearing an assessment for the sake of it.

Of course getting a decent score is the real-real bottom line!

For interested readers, feel free to study some samples here:

Alvin, AcesMath

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