How to use your GDC calculator to get the best IB Maths score?

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Careless mistakes and erroneous calculations can lead to dropped marks and lower Maths IB scores. 

What if there was a way to save time in exams, simplify calculations and lower the chance of errors? There is a solution, and it is probably already in your backpack – an IB Graphics Display calculator, also known as a GDC.

We have talked with Meera, one of our most experienced IB Maths teachers and examiners to get her advice on how to make the most of your IB graphing calculator in your study and exams. 

In this guide, we’ll explain how to transform your GDC into a valuable tool to analyse problems, visualise concepts, and ultimately, secure a top score.

We also take you through the pros and cons of various models so you can choose the best calculator for your IB Maths exams.

What is a GDC Calculator

Standing for Graphical Display Calculator, GDC offers advanced mathematical capabilities. Unlike a scientific calculator, which primarily performs basic arithmetic and scientific functions, a GDC has a more powerful processor and a high-resolution display. This allows it to not only perform complex calculations but also to:

  • visualise relationships between variables and solve equations graphically;
  • calculate means, medians, and standard deviations, as well as create histograms and scatter plots;
  • carry out calculus operations, such as finding derivatives and integrals.

A GDC calculator for IB will come in handy to save time and improve errors in your calculations. IBO allows graphic calculators in papers of both Analysis and Approaches (AA) and Applications and Interpretation (AI), at both SL and HL. The exceptions are Paper 1 for AA and Paper 2 for IA since they focus on problem-solving skills and don’t require extensive calculations.

How to Use a Graphic Calculator – Expert Tips

Just the fact that you can take a GDC to your IB Maths exam doesn’t necessarily guarantee an automatic boost in your performance. You need to learn how to use it properly.

Here, Meera our IB examiner and tutor explains how to do it.

Optimise Your GDC for Accuracy and Efficiency

  • When solving Calculus problems involving trigonometry, ensure your GDC is in radian mode. Formulas in the booklet (arc length, sector area, etc.) all require radians for accurate results;
  • Familiarise yourself with manual window adjustments and zoom settings. Sometimes, crucial parts of a graph might only be visible with the correct window settings;
  • Knowing how to find the correlation coefficient (r) on your GDC is a valuable skill for analysing relationships between variables;
  • Utilise the built-in equation solver and apps to tackle simultaneous equations and find polynomial roots efficiently. Often, this proves faster than manual methods;
  • The table function is helpful for visualising sequences and series. Set the step size to 1 to explore term numbers. For highly precise solutions, consider using the graph or equation solver;
  • It is important to get used to how your GDC displays features like asymptotes on graphs.

Balance GDC Use with Exam Requirements

  • Some questions in your Papers will require exact solutions, meaning you can’t rely solely on approximate GDC outputs. However, you can still use an IB calculator to verify your manual calculations;
  • Start with a sketch graph, a portion of a table, and your work leading up to the point where the GDC becomes beneficial. DO NOT include calculator commands or keystrokes in your work.

IMPORTANT NOTE –      Always show evidence of your work even when using the GDC. This way, the examiner will not assume that you simply guessed the answer.

Improve Time Management

  • Whenever possible, take advantage of your GDC’s capabilities to avoid tedious algebraic manipulations. This will allow you to save valuable exam time to spend on answering more questions and checking your work;
  • While some problems might require initial algebraic steps, you should shift to using your calculator for IB Maths exams at the first opportunity (for example, whenever can benefit from its solve, graph, or table functions). Again this will help you achieve a higher IB Mathmatics score by saving you time.

GDC Exam Preparation Steps

  • Ensure you’ve deleted any unapproved programs from your GDC to avoid wasting time during the exam if a supervisor needs to check your device;
  • Fully charge your calculator and bring extra batteries! The last thing you want is to run out of power during your exam. Believe me, every year there is a student without a calculator as they had not checked the batteries;
  • Double-check that your IB calculator is an IB-approved model. If your school hasn’t provided specific recommendations, you can verify your model’s eligibility here.

GDC Tips: Conclusion

A GDC is a valuable tool able to help you succeed in your IB Maths exam. However, even the most sophisticated calculator won’t replace a solid foundation in mathematical concepts. You still need to rely on your knowledge as well as a set of skills such as Maths problem solving and analytical thinking.

But what if things are not as great in this department as you hope for? A tutor can help! At TutorsPlus, we boast a team of knowledgeable and experienced IB Maths tutors who are glad to assist you in achieving your goals. Whether you’re struggling with understanding Maths concepts or want to effectively prepare for your exams, we are here to lend a helping hand.

If you’d like to book tuition with Meera or any other of our tutors, please contact us at 022 731 8148 or info@tutorsplus.com.

Meera holds a BA in Science Education from the University of Melbourne and is currently the Head of Maths and the IB Coordinator at the International School of Hanover. Prior to this, she taught at colleges and grammar schools in Australia. She has over 30 years of experience teaching in various educational settings and specialises in IB Maths MYP and Diploma AA (HL and SL).

We hope you enjoyed our blog on IB Maths AA exam strategies. If you are interested in more articles about IB Maths click here.

By Sara Lloyd

Sara has been an education consultant for TutorsPlus for 15 years, and is an expert on international IB education.  She is also a parent of two lively children.

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