Every parent wants their children to have solid foundations as they head into their final years of schooling, whether aiming to follow A-Levels, the International Baccalaureate, the Advanced Placement program or the national curriculum. As your child reaches their mid-teenage years, parents have incredibly important decisions to make. The qualifications they gain at this stage of their educational pathway will play a vital role in mapping out their journey through higher education. Among the potential pathways is the International General Certificate of Secondary Education, or IGCSE.
As being one of the most worldwide recognised qualifications, the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) is a content-rich programme designed to prepare students for further study wherever they are situated in the world.
Drawing on knowledge from some of Everest Education’s most experienced tutors in Maths, English, and Science, this article is going to unpack exactly what the IGCSE is, how it compares to the IB MYP, and what advantages it can bring depending on your family preferences.
1. What is IGCSE?
IGCSE is the abbreviation of the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE). It is one of the most recognised qualifications around the world for end of secondary school, equivalent to O-Level, UK GCSE, fifth form or year 11 in respective countries and schools, before a student proceeds to higher education qualifications, such as Advanced Placement, A-Levels program or International Baccalaureate diploma.
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IGCSE courses are renowned for developing vital educational skills, including recall of knowledge, oral skills, problem solving, initiative, teamwork and investigative skills. The resulting qualification provides a foundation for higher level courses, such as A-Levels, the Advanced International Certificate of Education, the North American Advanced Placement programme and the International Baccalaureate.
IGCSE offers a flexible course of study that gives candidates the freedom to choose subjects that are right for them, whilst providing them with a broad knowledge base and lifelong skills.
2. Where is IGCSE accepted and recognised?
IGCSE is a high profile qualification. It has exactly the same value in admitting students to institutes of further education and employment as the UK equivalent – GCSE.
- IGCSE is comparable with GCE O Level and the UK GCSE
- IGCSE has an excellent reputation among international schools worldwide
- IGCSEs are recognised as a reliable record of attainment which counts towards entry to universities and colleges around the world
- A good grade (i.e. C or above) in IGCSE English as a Second Language is accepted for entry by almost all universities in the UK and many in the USA, Canada and Australia as evidence of adequate competence in the English language.
3. Who can take IGCSE?
IGCSE is designed to be taught as a two year course for students aged 14 to 17 years. In some countries IGCSE courses last just one year and there are no formal age regulations.
In most subjects there is a choice between core and extended curricula, making IGCSE suitable for a wide range of abilities. Students can enter for the level that is most appropriate for them and this need not be the same across all subjects.
4. How many subjects does IGCSE offer?
IGCSE offers more than 70 subjects. Students are required to take a minimum of 5 or maximum of 14 subjects. The core subjects are English, Mathematics and Sciences. Students can also choose other subjects ranging from Social Sciences (commonly Accounting, Business Studies, Economics, Sociology) to Arts & Technology (commonly Computer Studies, Information & Communication Technology, Art & Design).
Candidates enter and sit for a minimum of seven subjects selected from the five IGCSE curriculum areas:
- Group 1: Language
- Group 2: Humanities and Social Science
- Group 3: Sciences
- Group 4: Mathematics
- Group 5: Creative, Technical and Vocational
Cambridge ICE is awarded to candidates who pass in at least 7 Cambridge IGCSE subjects, including 2 from Group 1 and 1 from Group 2-5.
5. How is IGCSE taught?
At school, students are encouraged to study a wide range of subjects at IGCSE level, at the same time. In order to follow a broad and balanced curriculum, many students take courses from each of the IGCSE groups, particularly if they’re aiming to go on to further education. This can lead to the award of the International Certificate of Education – an additional qualification that recognises students who pass exams in seven or more subjects, including two languages and one subject from each of the other groups. However it is also possible to study a free choice of IGCSE subjects.
The syllabus is set by Cambridge, but the exact way it is taught will depend on each school. The course differs for each subject, but throughout there will be a mix of assessment methods, including coursework, practical exercises, oral and listening tests, projects and written examinations.
6. Examination Information
IGCSE courses usually take two years to complete and exams are taken at the end of that period. Examinations are held in May/ June and October/ November each year with results issued in August and February respectively. Students must enter for IGCSE through a registered CIE Centre.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Why might the IGCSE be a good choice for my child?
The IGCSE is accessible to those of almost all levels of ability. The questions are often differentiated in terms of levels of difficulty to meet the needs of both the most able student as well as those who find academics challenging. Because most assessment takes place at the end of the course, it allows students whose first language is not English more time to learn over the course of the programme before demonstrating their learning at the end. The IGCSE is certainly a good option if you know your child has strengths in assimilating knowledge and demonstrating this knowledge in exam conditions.
IGCSE is also popular among homeschooled students, as it allows students from alternative education and adults students to sit for the exam and continue personal education advancement at any age.
- Does the IGCSE lay good foundations for the higher international education program?
Yes, the IGCSE is designed to be a preparation for further international study, such as the A-Levels, or IB Diploma Programme, as well as entry to international universities. In fact, we observe that students who have done the IGCSE tend to have a very solid understanding of foundational concepts to build on in the IB DP.
It is also considered an advantage of the IGCSE that assessment is held under exam conditions. By contrast, the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) does not include exams so for MYP students the IB Diploma may be their very first experience of an external exam, a situation in which some students thrive and for which others need to practice.
So, in terms of content knowledge, the IGCSE lays excellent foundations for any higher international program, even if it is IB, AP or A-Level.
- How to choose suitable IGCSE subjects for my child?
Most schools require students to take a minimum of 5 or 6 IGCSE subjects which must include the 3 compulsory subjects of English, Science and Maths. Alongside these ‘core’ subjects, students can choose from a number of different subjects in areas such as arts, humanities, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and sports.
IGCSE subject choices should take into account your child’s interests, her future study and career plans, the subjects she has studied and done well in so far, and of course which IGCSE subjects her school offers.
Parents and students should also consider which subjects your child wants to study at A-level (or pre-university A-level equivalents such as International Baccalaureate or Foundation) and at university.
If she already knows which degree subjects or universities she is interested in, check whether they specify any particular GCSE subject grades in their prerequisites. It’s important to remember that top-ranking universities will consider the quality of the IGCSEs that we have taken rather than the quantity. Taking a smaller number of IGCSEs will not inhibit your chances of a successful application, as long as you achieve strong grades in the subjects that you take.
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