About the Cambridge International A-Level

The following information relates to the Cambridge International A-Level in mathematics which is a qualifcation typically sat by students in English-speaking international schools.

The Cambridge International A-Level Mathematics (sometimes referred to by its old abbreviation, CIE)  is an A-Level Mathematics qualification typically sat outside of the UK. It is divided into various modules:

  • Pure Mathematics 1 (Paper 1)
  • Pure Mathematics 2 (Paper 2 – only available as part of the AS-Level)
  • Pure Mathematics 3 (Paper 3)
  • Mechanics (Paper 4 – Optional)
  • Probability and Statistics 1 (Paper 5 – Optional)
  • Probability and Statistics 2 (Paper 6 – Optional)

First of all, mathematics can be even more broadly categorised into two separate strands: pure and applied.

Pure Mathematics:

Pure mathematics is the backbone of all mathematics. The name pure refers to the fact that the mathematics is just that; pure; mathematics for the beauty and sake of mathematics. This includes topics such as quadratic equations, trigonometry, algebra and calculus. In pure mathematics you will not necessarily see it applied to real-life situations. Applied mathematics takes the skills and techniques of pure mathematics and applies them to real-life situations. Mechanics and statistics are two examples of strands of pure mathematics that you will encounter in the Cambridge International A-level in mathematics.

Applied Mathematics:

The phrase “applied mathematics” refers to when pure mathematics is used and applied to real-life situations. In the Cambridge International A-Level in mathematics, you will have the choice of studying content from two distinct areas of applied mathematics: mechanics and statistics.


Mechanics is the mathematics behind physics. The mathematics you will encounter in the mechanics modules of the Cambridge international A-Level in mathematics will involve the mathematics behind how forces act upon objects, about how energy is transferred between objects when they collide, about how to calculate expected paths of objects when projected through the air. Of course, these are only a few examples but they should give you a broad idea of what the study of the mathematics behind mechanics involves.


Statistics is the study of data and uncertainty. Trying to take knowledge of past events and using this to make decisions about future behaviour. For example, most companies trawl through data about customer habits and use this data to spot patterns and make decisions about how much of each of their products to buy/produce to satisfy customer needs and maximise profit. Alternatively, in the recent COVID-19 pandemic, vast quantities of data were used in creating the models that were used to inform the action that governments would take in order to control the spread of the virus. Financial markets, businesses, transport providers (to name but a few) all rely on the analysis of data to inform their decisions so statistics is a vital area of study when looking to embark upon a career in the modern world.

In order to achieve the full Cambridge International A-Level in Mathematics, the following combinations of units are valid:

Compulsory Modules: Pure Mathematics 1, Pure Mathematics 3

Optional Modules: Either of the following two combinations:

  1. Mechanics and Statistics 1
  2. Statistics 1 and Statistics 2

This is a very difficult question to answer and one you may feel you are blindly being pushed into making without necessarily having the background knowledge to make an informed choice. A number of things must be taken into account before making the decision:

  • What are you most interested in?

Often students make the mistake of choosing a degree/career without really exploring what they are interested in and then fitting their education around this choice. However, it is so important to be interested in what you are studying; interest often drives success. Educationally, you should always choose to study things that interest you most as this, in turn, should shape you choice of degree and career going forward. So, from the description above, from your research and from your experience of your studies so far, ask yourself: “which of the above descriptions of statistics and mechanics interest me most?”  and “do I want to study one or both of these options?”.


  • What degree course are you planning to study?

Although (as mentioned above) this should not be the main driver in your decision, it certainly will form part of the decision making process. You may not have an idea yet of the specific degree course that you want to choose, but often by this point you will have a good idea of what subjects interest you and roughly what direction you are headed in. For example, if you are looking to go down an engineering or physics route, then the mechanics options are the most beneficial. If your interest is in finance then statistics would be the recommended options. I will stress though that your choices should be based on your interest and very well thought out.


  • What are your strengths?

This, once again, is tightly intertwined with the above two points. You will typically by better at the things you are most interested in and you will typically be more interested in the things which you perform the best in. And this is definitely something that should be considered when choosing your optional modules for Cambridge International A-Level mathematics.

Each module choice has an exam paper associated with it which can be sat at two times during the academic year: November and June. Typically most exams are sat in June and the November sitting of the exam is used for students to resit papers they want to do better in (more about this below).

The exams have the following timings and weightings:

  • Pure 1 – 1 hr 50 mins – 75 marks – 30% of the A-Level
  • Pure 3 – 1 hr 50 mins – 75 marks – 30% of the A-Level
  • Optional Modules – 1 hr 15 mins – 30 marks – Each 20% of the A-Level

Yes. But there are time limits on doing so. Your AS modules can only count towards a full A-level qualification within 13 months of originally taking the exam.

For example, say you sat Pure 1 and got 80% and sat Mechanics 1 and got 50% in June 2023. These two modules constitute an AS-Level in Mathematics.

If you intend to use these results (plus two more exams) to achieve a full A-Level, whether or not you decide to resit them in  November 2023 or June 2024, those two results can be used to contribute to a full A-Level 13 months after the original sitting of the exam, giving you two resit opportunities. If you are disappointed with your full A-Level results and, for example, wanted to resit in November 2024, these two modules would have expired in terms of using them for a full A-level and you would also need to resit these.