How to choose your Maths IA topic

The Maths IA accounts for a big chunk of your final score (20%). Plus, if you do well, these points are in the bag before you even step into the exam hall.

You can see why it is worth putting in the effort to choose the right Maths IA subject, right?

But like many students, it is common to struggle when trying to choose the best topic.

Fear not!  We are here to help.  Click here to reach our IB Maths teachers for help with your IA, or just the topic choice and question to allow you to get the best grade possible.  You are in safe hands as many are also IB Maths Examiners.

Like our tutor Vineet, one of our IB Maths IA Examiners and certified IB teacher. In this article, he takes you through the steps you need to follow to choose the best Maths IA topic for you.

He knows what is talking about, as he has taught IB Maths in international schools in New Zealand, Russia, and also China, and specialises in teaching Maths IAs.


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But how do you choose the right topic for your Maths IA?

So we know that the IA is an individual piece of research undertaken by the student and requires students to explore an aspect of mathematics at a deeper level. But most importantly, the IA is not a separate project, it is an integral part of your learning.

Actually, you will find that every Maths topic you are learning has the potential to develop an IA topic.

If any of the five topics tickle your mathematical curiosity you can start working on your IA topic as early as in Grade 11.

However, I recommend starting when you have had a full explanation of the requirements from your class teacher.  But, most importantly, do stick to the deadlines that they give you.

Above all, this is to avoid you becoming overwhelmed by deadlines crashing together in your IB2 year.

Should I use one of the online lists to help me?

As an examiner, I want to see the aspect of personal interest in an IA.  As a rule, the more individual the topic is, the more care and attention the student tends to put into the work. So, I would recommend not using one of the published lists.  By the very fact that it is on the internet thousands of students will have looked at them and chosen the same topics.  Think of the poor examiner come marking time!

Also, the subject needs to interest you.  After all, you’re going to spend a lot of time working on it.  There may be better ways of selecting an area of mathematical exploration that you are going to write 6-12 pages about than choosing from someone else’s list.

It shouldn’t be too narrow or too broad.

Sometimes this feels like an impossible balance when choosing a Maths IA topic.  But, perhaps this can help.

It needs to be broad enough that your essay can answer all the criteria of the marking criteria.  So check any potential topics against the in-depth rubric, a simplified version is here below.

Criterion A


Criterion B

Mathematical presentation

Criterion C

Personal engagement

Criterion D


Criterion E

Use of mathematics


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Example exploring IA topics for Algebra and Number

So I can make this a little bit clearer, let’s give you an example of an IA topic below that can be developed while you are studying Algebra & Number. At the same time, I have outlined the steps to go through when deciding what is the best IA Maths topic for you.

Step 1 – Brainstorm IA ideas

When trying to choose your own IA topic you can brainstorm potential ideas within the course topics that most interest you.

Binomial theorem is one of the subtopics of Algebra and there are so many interesting aspects of binomial theorem that can be explored in much detail.

Binomial theorem – IA options exploration – Brainstorm
  • You could look at Pascal’s triangle and patterns in Pascal’s triangle to start with.
  • Almost everything in Math can be proved unless it is an axiom? So why not prove Binomial theorem. The proof of this theorem is an HL topic which uses mathematical induction to prove this result. However, to be able to use mathematical induction you need to have a conjecture and you could develop/ form a conjecture which is neither sighted in SL nor in HL? Once a conjecture is formed you could either use induction or could use Calculus to prove this theorem.
  • You could look at the binomial theorem for rational exponents.
  • De Moivre’s theorem is a case of binomial and it can be seen as an application of this theorem within mathematics?
  • If you looked at extending binomial expansions to trinomial expansions, you will find some interesting ideas such as Pascal’s pyramid.
Step 2 – Assessment of the ideas to find the best topic for you

These are some of the questions you can ask yourself.

Does it have the potential for mathematical exploration?

Is it too easy?

Is it too hard – remember it is often mistakenly thought that the level of Maths needs to be above IB level.  This is not the case.

Are you excited about the idea of working on it?

Make sure your chosen idea has a strong link with an area of Maths in your IB syllabus.

Step 3 – Write your research question

Make sure your language is clear and simple.  it won’t be a high-scoring IA just because it sounds complicated! In fact, you might find it pulls down your marks overall.

This means doing some in-depth research to assess if the question has the depth required for this length of the essay.

Importantly, this is more than googling around the internet for a few hours.

Go to research papers, mathematical publications, and journals. Keep track of your sources. As citing credible sources in your bibliography, academic honesty is also an important aspect of your IA.

A final thought

IA stimulus could come from other learning disciplines such as Economics, Geography, Physics, Biology or Sports can be intriguing or appear more exciting. However, based on my experience of over 10 years as an IB Math HL/ SL teacher, and an IA Maths Examiner, if it’s a Math IA then surprise, surprise it should revolve around Maths. Maths is the main actor. Criteria E: Use of Mathematics that has the highest marks among other criteria.

Finally, if you are still feeling lost or confused why not work with one of our tutors to help find the best IA topic for you?  Here is some more information about our IA specialist tutors across all IB subjects.

Either one-to-one or by joining one of our online group courses you needn’t feel at a loss. Vineet is an IB Maths Examiner, and certified teacher. He has taught in international schools in New Zealand, Russia, and also China. At the same time, he specialises in teaching Maths IAs.

Vineet is a highly experienced maths teacher and IB examiner. If you would like tuition with Vineet, get in touch at or fill out the form below.

For more details on the IB Diploma Maths course visit the IBO page.

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