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What’s the difference and which one should I do?

When I matriculated from Thomas More College in 2005, only one advanced Mathematics curriculum existed as an option for extension in High School. That option was Additional Mathematics (dubbed Addmaths for short) and it existed as an additional subject as part of the Senior Certificate at the time and was examined within that framework by both government and private schools as part of the DBE and IEB assessment bodies respectively. Today, high school learners are presented with 3 options (AP Maths, Alpha Maths or the Admaths exam) which can be quite confusing for parents and teens. Here I unpack the history and differences between these programmes so that parents and learners can be better informed on which to choose. 

The history of Advanced Mathematics

In 2008, 2 years after I had graduated from High School, the National Senior Certificate underwent some significant changes. The differentiation within subjects as higher and standard grade was done away with. In Maths this meant that Higher and Standard grade Mathematics was replaced with Core Maths and Maths Literacy respectively. Also at this time, the Department of Basic Education decided to remove Additional Mathematics as an additional subject within the framework of the National Senior Certificate. Resourcing and accessibility reasons were cited for the decision at the time: Many schools did not have the teaching expertise nor the resources (time and money) to offer this advanced subject to their learners and, if it wasn’t broadly accessible to all learners then shouldn’t it be done away with altogether in the interest of equal opportunity? 

Unfortunately, this decision was to the detriment of learners with a keen interest and high aptitude for Mathematics who needed to be extended in their educational journey. 

Passionate educators from both private and government high schools recognized this problem and worked together with the IEB to try and persuade the Department of Basic Education to reinstate Additional Mathematics as a subject within the National Senior Certificate. Unfortunately, it was to no avail. 

At this point, two curricula emerged as alternatives to the discontinued subject of Additional Mathematics (Addmaths); Advanced Programme Mathematics and Alpha Mathematics. 

Advanced Programme Mathematics was championed by the IEB and retained a very similar curriculum structure to the original Addmaths subject with two compulsory modules (Calculus and Algebra) and then an elective module which is a choice between Graph Theory and Matrices, Finance or Statistics.

Alpha Mathematics also covers similar concepts in Calculus and Algebra but then instead of having a choice of elective modules, it incorporates matrices, vectors and power sequences into one consolidated syllabus. 

Deciding to use IEB AP Maths

While both curricula are very valuable in better preparing learners for university study, the major difference between them lies in the assurance surrounding their administration and certification and the resultant recognition that this attracts from local and international universities. 

Alpha Mathematics is run and administered privately by their founding team and is not registered with a quality assured assessment body while Advanced Programme Mathematics is administered by the Independent Examinations Board who are quality assured by Umalusi; the quality assurance council for general and further education and training in South Africa. The IEB have invested significant resources in order to register Advanced Programme Mathematics as an additional qualification for which learners can receive a broadly recognized certificate.

Beyond this, the IEB have benchmarked their Mathematics and English Advanced Programmes with UK-NARIC so as to ensure that they are more recognized by European universities. UK-NARIC measured the IEB’s Advanced Programmes in Mathematics and English as comparable in demand to the UK A-levels. The UK A-levels are the highest levels achievable in high school on the Cambridge system (sometimes referred to as Grade 13) and with this the IEB has ensured that their Advanced Programmes are globally relevant.

To validate their global relevance, the IEB’s Advanced Programmes are cited “as suitable further study” where further study is indicated as an entrance requirement (over-and-above a straight-A pass on the National Senior Certificate) for South African applicants to the 3rd highest ranked University in the world; Cambridge University. Advanced Programme Mathematics is also a prerequisite across all programmes for South Africans applying to the prestigious University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Anne Oberholzer, the Chief Executive of the IEB, put this succinctly in a recent article published relating to the matter when she said,


“The reality is that the NSC is not only recognised by all South African universities, but also by a substantial number of top universities across the globe. If the NSC is offered in conjunction with the Advanced Programme courses, it opens doors to even the most prestigious universities across the globe.”

IEB 2019 Matrics fly high with 98.82% pass rate | iol.co.za | Published 7th January 2020

In 2018, Wits University took the decision to allow the incorporation of the Advanced Programmes (Advanced Programme Mathematics, Advanced Programme English and Advanced Programme Afrikaans) into their Admission Points Scores (APS) such that learners who take these subjects and perform better in them relative to their other non-compulsory core subjects can leverage their AP results for admission. This further indicates how respected the Advanced Programmes are at tertiary institutions.

So while the educational benefits of Alpha Mathematics are possibly comparable, its recognition from a tertiary admissions perspective is not and it does not present learners with an additional qualification on successful completion of the course as is the case with the IEB’s Advanced Programme Mathematics.

Now what about Admaths, what is that?

Addmaths is, firstly, the colloquial abbreviation for the original subject (pre-2008) Additional Mathematics. A variation on this term also became the name of a pioneering provider of courses that prepared learners for the Additional Mathematics exam. This educational provider dropped one of the “d’s” and called themselves Admaths; a very smart move. When Additional Mathematics was done away with in 2007, Admaths (the educational provider and not the subject) continued to prepare learners for the IEB’s Advanced Programme Mathematics exam (as the subject largely remained the same). In a similar fashion to Alpha Mathematics, Admaths (the education provider), as of last year (2019), started to administer their own Admaths examination and while they are pursuing international accreditation from an organization called Swiss Eduglobe for 2020, it is not clear (at the time of writing) whether their private examination and certificate is accredited locally or internationally. Admaths (the education provider) does, however, continue to prepare candidates for the IEB AP Maths exam in parallel with their private examination.

So what examination should you take and prepare for – AP Maths / Alpha Maths / Admaths?

I took Additional Mathematics (now AP Maths) back in 2005 when I was in High School and I can attest to the enormous benefit and advantage that it provides when going into University. I went on to qualify as a Chemical Engineer from the University of KwaZulu-Natal with a Masters degree and there is no doubt that Additional Mathematics (now AP Maths) helped me to complete and excel in my qualification in minimum time. Each of these programs will be of benefit from a learning perspective however from a credibility, recognition and tertiary access perspective Advanced Programme Mathematics by the IEB is undoubtedly the best choice. It’s the reason that we at Advantage Learn provide courses to prepare learners for AP Maths and not the others.

In short, if you have a choice to study towards one of the three examinations (AP Maths, Alpha Maths or Admaths) then choose AP Maths. If AP Maths is not an option for you, first qualify why (think online learning) and then, if the reasoning surrounding that “why” is reasonable, at least make sure that you do one of the other programmes. Extension in Mathematics is critical for high potential learners at a High School level.

Read more on why Doing AP Maths is a great idea or sign-up to study Advanced Programme Mathematics with Advantage Learn.

About the author
Crispian Lees

Cris is our Executive Product Director at Advantage Learn. A chemical engineer by qualification, he is passionate about Maths and Science education and is a proud South African and Durbanite.

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