IGCSE: What it is and other important information

What is IGCSE?

IGCSE stands for ‘International General Certificate of Secondary Education’ and is the ‘international’ version of the GCSE qualification which is available in many countries around the world. The GCSE qualification is taken by students in Year/Grade 10 – 11 to prepare them for further pre-university levels, such as A-levels.

IGCSE vs GCSE: Are they the same?

GCSE, or the General Certificate of Secondary Education, marks the completion of Secondary Education in the UK. British students will typically take their GCSE exams at the end of Year 11 when they are 16 years old. Students outside of the UK who are interested in an international British education qualification are able to complete the IGCSEs. The GCSE and the IGCSE are very similar and both are taken by students around the world before they move onto their pre-university education.

The differences between the IGCSE and GCSE are minor. Historically, the main difference between the IGCSE and the GCSE qualification was the inclusion of a greater amount of coursework in the GCSE syllabus, whereas the IGCSE mainly used final exams at the end of the course to assess the students’ knowledge. This was due to the fact that IGCSEs were designed for international students who did not necessarily speak English as a first language. More recently, however, the UK government has changed the format of the GCSEs to include a lot of the coursework and now assesses and assigns final grades for many subjects based predominantly on the end of course exams. 

The GCSE course content was traditionally designed for a primarily British rather than an international audience, and this is reflected in the course content of some subjects. GCSE exams are sat annually in May/June, with the option to retake the exams in November. Whereas, IGCSE exams are available in November and January (for certain subjects) and also in May/June each year, giving students more opportunities to take and pass the exams.

The main difference, however, is that GCSE qualifications are only available in the UK and certain schools in a small number of other countries, such as Canada, Australia and India. Whereas the IGCSE is by nature ‘international’ and can be taken in over 150 countries worldwide.

Cambridge IGCSE vs Edexcel IGCSE

Cambridge IGCSE is a popular international curriculum, which is globally recognised and valued. Edexcel is a subsidiary of the publisher Pearson and offers IGCSEs alongside a full range of UK qualifications. They are both respected bodies with equal value attributed to their qualifications.

Edexcel is more focused on the UK, therefore their difficulty level, course and exam paper structure is more compliant with the UK system. Meanwhile, Cambridge IGCSE is an independent entity and has the freedom to set its own structure.

There is no major difference in the syllabus or curriculum, but there are a few major topic differences depending on the courses a student picks. For example, in Cambridge IGCSE Physics, there is more compulsory material to study where the student has more choice over their material if they are studying through Edexcel.

IGCSE subjects

There are 70 subjects available with Cambridge International GCSE including 30 languages and these subjects can be studied in any combination. Some schools require students to take a minimum of 5 or 6 IGCSE subjects which must include English, Science and Maths as compulsory subjects, however, this will also depend on the legal education requirements of your country. Amongst the usual traditional school subjects offered, students can also choose to study Travel and Tourism, Development Studies and a vast array of different languages.

How many subjects are compulsory for IGCSE?

Cambridge IGCSE offers a flexible curriculum, with a choice of over 70 subjects in any combination. There are no compulsory subjects and students are free to study a range of subjects. However, the country in which you reside may require you to take a minimum number of subjects, some of which may be compulsory. For instance in South Africa, students typically choose 8 subjects, of which English Language, Mathematics and a Second or Foreign Language are compulsory.

How to study for the IGCSE exams

The best tip for studying for the IGCSE exams is to consistently go through the work and study for the long-term so that you stay ahead of the curve. Use multiple sources when you study so that you have the broadest base of knowledge possible and work through past exam papers. Lastly, set a revision timetable for yourself, then stick to it!

What happens if you fail IGSCE?

If you fail any of the IGSCE subjects you have the option to retake the exams. If you're retaking IGCSE English or Maths, you can retake your exam as early as January, whereas you will need to retake any other subjects in May/June.

Does IGCSE count as a GCSE?

IGCSE is widely regarded as equivalent to the GCSE qualification which is taken by students in Year/Grade 10 – 11 in the UK to prepare them for further pre-university level study, such as A-levels.

Is IGCSE accepted by universities?

Cambridge IGCSE is widely recognised by higher education institutions and employers around the world as evidence of academic achievement.