What is the IGCSE and is it the right choice?

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One of the ways to ensure solid academic progress (leading to acceptance to prestigious universities) is to take the IGCSE, designed to prepare students for the next step of their educational journey (whether IB, A Level, AP, or local country high school certificate).

In this post, we are going to shed more light on what IGCSE is, how it differs from GCSE, its strong and weak points, and more things that you should know about it. This will allow you to choose wisely and get ready for IGCSE if it meets your needs.

We will also compare it to the MYP, and talk about the pros and cons of choosing to do IGCSEs depending on your situation.


What is IGCSE?

Before we give a definition of IGCSE, let us first explain what GCSE is.

First introduced in 1986, GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education, an academic qualification available for students during their high school years.

Usually, high school students complete 2 years. The majority of students take the final exams after 10-11 years in school, i.e. around the age of 16. GCSE is a common choice for UK schools, although some schools in Canada, India, and Australia offer it as well.

GCSE is focused on studying a range of subjects including English language and literature, science, maths, STEM subjects, arts, and humanities. The qualification is an excellent choice for students who wish to progress to pre-university studies such as A-level or IB.

Simply put, the IGCSE is the international equivalent of the GCSE.

For example, along with studying English, students can have a course in their native language. Overall, IGCSE has a wider availability of subjects, especially when it comes to languages.

It is a prestigious and highly recognized high-school qualification for those who seek further academic education in their home country, the UK, and abroad.

The aim of the IGCSE is to be an inclusive examination allowing international students around the world to access this content-focused curriculum.

The GCSE programme is also differentiated for a range of abilities, as it offers the “Core” and “Extended” level papers in key subjects.


What is the Difference Between GCSE and IGCSE?

Exam boards have designed both IGCSEs and GCSEs similarly. In fact, UK universities treat both equally.

At the same time, although there are no fundamental differences, IGCSE is not an exact copy of its UK-based counterpart.

Here are the key ways the qualifications differ:

  • GCSE can be obtained in the UK (and a few other Commonwealth countries), whereas IGCSE can be completed in 150 countries worldwide. If you study in the UK, you can get either qualification.
  • As part of your examination, GCSE requires students to submit coursework. This practical work is compulsory. In IGCSE, on the other hand, coursework is generally optional, and it is more common for subjects studying art and design rather than science. This is due to the fact that many international schools are unable to provide ample access to laboratories, field trips, or other means to gain practical knowledge.
  • The content of the GCSE and IGCSE curriculums have certain dissimilarities. As we have already mentioned, the IGCSE course tends to put more emphasis on the context and cultural aspect of the country where it is studied.
  • GCSE exams normally take place in May and June (with the exception of English and Math, which can often be sat in November). IGCSE exams, in contrast, are held in November and January, and some of the subjects have exams in May.

Happy IGCSE student

How does the IGCSE Grading System Work?

Grading is one more thing that distinguishes the IGCSE.  The former relies on the number system, where 1 represents the lowest grade and 9 is the highest. When it comes to the latter exam, it relies on a letter system that ranges from A* (the best score) to G (the lowest score).

You should also keep in mind that some UK schools that offer IGCSE can utilize the 9-1 system rather than A-G.

The exam grade calculations are based on the individual criteria of a subject, exam board, and exam format. Normally, they correlate to the number of marks a student receives after the assessment of their examination paper. Below, is an example of marks that lend a certain grade:

A* – 90-100

A – 80-89

B – 70-79

C – 60-69

D – 50-59

E – 40-49

F – 30-39

G – 20-29


What are the IGCSE Exam Boards?

Each school offering IGCSE is free to choose an exam board at its own discretion. An exam board is a body that authorises and issues the qualification. Also, it prepares and marks exam papers, and awards grades.

There are three recognized exam boards for IGCSE qualifications: Edexcel, Cambridge International Examinations (CAIE), and Oxford International AQA.

The value of the IGCSE doesn’t depend on an exam board. In fact, universities value high IGCSE grades from all exam boards. This means that if you get a high grade on your exam regardless of which board awarded it, it will be highly regarded by any university.

That being said, the exam boards do set exams differently. For example, CAIE sets four papers for the Geography exam while Edexcel prepares a single 3-hour exam.


Which is harder IGCSE or GCSE?

From the standpoint of course content, GCSE and IGCSE are pretty much on the same level.

As we have already noted, students need to create coursework for GCSE, which has an impact on a final score. For many, it is much easier to write coursework during an extended time of study than cram for exams in a relatively short period. IGCSE, in contrast, is much more focused on exams. Many students find this approach to be stress-inducing since much more is at stake.

Today, GCSE is much more dependent on exams than it used to be. This makes it more similar to IGCSEs now.

One more aspect to consider when it comes to GCSE and IGCSE differences is exam schedules. GCSE exams take place in May and/or June, while IGCSE can be sat in May/June, November, and January.


The Pros and Cons of Taking IGCSEs

IGCSE can become one of the steps toward obtaining further international education, whether it be IB or A Level. Many teachers note that students who successfully accomplish the IGCSE have a deeper understanding of the subject knowledge. This is especially true for sciences since IGCSE blends theoretical study with practical application.

One more benefit of IGCSE is its exam-based assessment. By the age of 16, these students will have experience of external exams, whereas their peers who choose the path of IB MYP don’t encounter external assessment until 18.

Having IGCSE results at 16 and IB or A Level results at 18 can offer universities a more rounded view of students’ academic performance.

In fact, getting excellent grades can lead to lower offers from universities, if the IB/A Level predictions are also strong.

Observations show that exams at earlier stages of the education journey allow some students to perform better under pressure. In some cases, the stress of exams pushes students to achieve more. Whereas without the exams they may have sat back and relaxed.

Teachers often say that students who underperform in the IGCSE get a shock to their system, then have a chance to turn their performance around two years later in their final exams.

However, switching between IB and IGCSE programs has its downsides as well.

For instance, some students turn out to be unfamiliar with inquiry-based approaches and assessment criteria. Also, their research skills might not be as strong as those of IB students coming through the MYP Programme.

In addition, the stress of such important exams at the age of 16 can create undue pressure. In the current post-covid environment of increased pressure on teens, this is an important factor to consider.

As most of the IGCSE grade is made up of exams at the end, students who learn English as a second language have more time to learn before the final exam.


Is the IGCSE the Best Preparation for the IB Diploma?

We would love to give you one simple answer to this, but unfortunately, it is not that clear cut and depends on the student.

For example, some students need two additional years to mature. So they can reach a place where they are ready to excel in external exams.  So, for these students, the IGCSE can come too early and can result in poor grades. These then have to go on transcripts and University applications.

For others, exams at 16 are a great trial run, and the good results will strengthen their application to further education.

So the answer is frustrating. The IGCSE is ideal preparation for the IB for some students and not for others. This means the key challenge is figuring out which kind of student you are!


Get Ready for IGCSE with TutorsPlus

It is both a challenging and rewarding exam. You must work hard to nail it. If you feel a little nudge wouldn’t come amiss, TutorsPlus can help. As a team of experienced IGCSE teachers and examiners, we can help you pass your exams with flying colors.

Whether you need exam help or specific subject tuition, we are just a call or email away. Get in touch today.

Get to know more about our IGCSE tutoring and how it can benefit you at 022 731 8148 or info@tutorsplus.com.

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