International General Certificate of Secondary Education

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International General Certificate of Secondary Education

The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) is an English language based examination similar to GCSE and is recognized in the United Kingdom as being equivalent to the GCSE for the purposes of recognizing prior attainment. It was developed by University of Cambridge International Examinations. The examination boards Edexcel and OxfordAQA also offer their own versions of International GCSEs. Students normally begin studying the syllabus at the beginning of Year 10 and take the test at the end of Year 11. However, in some international schools, students can begin studying the syllabus at the beginning of Year 9 and take the test at the end of Year 10.[citation needed]

The qualifications are based on individual subjects of study, which means that one receives an "IGCSE" qualification for each subject one takes. Typical "core" subjects for IGCSE candidates include a First Language, Second Language, Mathematics and one or more subjects in the Sciences.

Exam boards[edit]

Cambridge IGCSE[edit]

Cambridge IGCSE exams are conducted in the months of February (India only), May and October, and the results are released in May, August and January respectively. The exams are set by Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE), which is part of the Cambridge Assessment that also includes the OCR GCSE examination board. As of January 2021, there are over 70 subjects available and schools can offer them in any combination.[1]

The Cambridge examination board offers an ICE (International Certificate of Education) group qualification for candidates who achieve 7 subject passes A*-C across the following groups:[2]

The ICE is awarded in three grades: Distinction, Merit and Pass. It requires 2 passes in Languages, and one pass in every other group, whilst the seventh subject may be in any group to qualify for an award.

In addition, to award top candidates, Cambridge awards "Outstanding Achievement Awards" in the categories of "top in country" and "top in world" for each subject.[3][4]

Pearson Edexcel International GCSE[edit]

Edexcel International GCSE exams are conducted in June and January. The exams are set by Edexcel which also sets GCSE exams in the UK.[5]

OxfordAQA International GCSE[edit]

OxfordAQA International GCSE exams are conducted in May/June and November. The exams are set by OxfordAQA (Oxford International AQA Examinations), which is a joint venture between AQA which sets GCSE exams in the UK and Oxford University Press (OUP).

LRN International GCSE[edit]

LRN International GCSE exams are conducted in January, May and November.

Comparisons with GCSE[edit]

Before changes to GCSE first taken in 2017, the IGCSE was often considered to be more similar to the older O-Levels qualification than the current GCSE in England, and for this reason was often argued to be a more rigorous and more difficult examination.[6] Before the early 2010s, most schools offering the IGCSE were private international schools for expatriate children around the world. However in the 2010s, an increasing number of independent schools within the United Kingdom also began offering IGCSEs as an alternative to conventional British GCSEs for international IGCSE subjects, on the supposed basis that it is more challenging than the national curriculum.[7] A comparison between GCSEs and IGCSEs was conducted by the Department of Education in 2019. The study found that it was easier to achieve a grade A in English Language and English Literature in IGCSEs but harder to achieve a grade A in science subjects. Most other subjects were roughly equivalent.[8]

Grading, courseload, and awarding[edit]

The International General Certificate of Secondary Education has the same grading as GCSE.[9] The change from a A*-G grading system to a 9-1 grading system has led to 9-1 grade International General Certificate of Secondary Education being made available.[10] Before, this qualification was graded on an 8-point scale from A* to G with a 9th grade "U" signifying "Ungraded". This measure of grading was also found in the UK GCSE. Most IGCSE subjects offer a choice of tiered examinations: Core or Extended papers (in Cambridge), and Foundation or Higher papers (in Edexcel). This is designed to make IGCSE suitable for students with varying levels of ability. In some subjects, IGCSE can be taken with or without coursework.

At one time the "A*" grade in the GCSE did not exist but was later added to recognize the very top end of achievement. In the case of Further Mathematics, an extra A* grade was added for students that can "demonstrate sustained performance in higher-level maths skills such as reasoning, proof and problem-solving."[11]

Recognition and equivalence[edit]

The qualification is recognized by institutions[quantify] in the world. It also allows further vocational education and is often considered the baseline for employment.

Its academic worth is comparable to many secondary school curricula worldwide, such as England's GCSE, the North American GED or high school diploma, Hong Kong's HKCEE,[12] Singapore's O-Level,[13] and the Indian CBSE, ICSE and HSC courses. The IGCSE prepares students for further academic study, including progression to A Level and BTEC Level 3 study, Cambridge Pre-U, IB Diploma Programme and other equivalents. It is recognised by academic institutions and employers around the world and is considered by many institutions as equivalent to the standard GCSE.[citation needed]

Hong Kong[edit]

The IGCSE exam is widely used in international schools. Students in Hong Kong can take the Cambridge exam board as well as the Edexcel exam board, either at their school or registering through the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) as individual candidates.[14]

Singapore & Malaysia[edit]

The IGCSE exam is predominantly used in international schools, while other schools offer it as an alternative to O Level exams.[15]

United Kingdom[edit]

The official status of IGCSEs has changed several times in the UK.

In 2013 the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) allowed more use of IGCSE subjects in state-funded schools. Ofqual allowed the use of Cambridge IGCSE exams under the name of "Cambridge International Certificates".[16] Initially, 16 Cambridge IGCSE syllabuses received UK government accreditation. Following that, the UK government announced that the 16 accredited Cambridge IGCSE syllabuses could also be funded in state-maintained schools. Subsequently, Cambridge IGCSE German and Spanish were also accredited and funded, taking the total number of accredited and funded Cambridge IGCSEs to 18. For accreditation purposes, the syllabuses are referenced as "Cambridge International Certificates" in the UK, although they are known across the world as Cambridge IGCSEs. The IGCSE is offered by two examination boards in the UK, one being Edexcel, and the other one being AQA.[17]

However, from 2017 the government decided to exclude IGCSEs from official performance tables, and consequentially entries from state schools have fallen.[18] So that whilst "international GCSEs no longer meet the condition of funding; however, they do continue to count as equivalent to GCSEs for the purposes of recognising prior attainment."[19]

In 2018, 91% of IGCSE UK entries in core subjects were in private schools, and about 75% for all subjects.[20]

United States[edit]

While the number of North American schools offering the IGCSE remains small, some homeschooling educators are said to be choosing the IGCSE instead of a typical North American high school curriculum. According to many of these educators, the IGCSE curriculum may be more advanced than a typical North American secondary school course by at least one year.[21]


During the COVID-19 pandemic, all IGCSE examinations due to take place in May/June 2020 were cancelled, along with GCSE and A-Level exams that year. As of 31 March 2020, the CAIE had decided to guide schools to predict students' grades through evidence like mock examination results.[22]

On 30 April 2020, Pearson Edexcel announced that grades for the May/June 2020 exam would be calculated using information from schools. Schools were asked to provide an assessment grade for each student, as well as a ranked order of students within each grade by 29 May 2020.[23]

For the June 2021 exam series, CAIE plans for exams to go ahead in countries that are permitted and safe, and countries where exams cannot take place due to government directives will switch to school-assessed grades using evidence like student coursework and mock exam results. There are also adjustments, exemptions, and special considerations available for schools that applies for them.[24]


  1. ^ "Cambridge IGCSE curriculum". Cambridge International. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  2. ^ "Cambridge ICE". Cambridge Assessment International Education. UCLES. Archived from the original on 13 October 2019. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  3. ^ "India's talented students excel at Outstanding Cambridge Learner awards". University of Cambridge International Examinations (Press release). 7 September 2010. Archived from the original on 18 March 2012. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  4. ^ Saleem, Samia; Sakina, Rida (1 February 2011). "High achievers: On top of the (Cambridge) world". The Express Tribune. Archived from the original on 5 February 2011. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  5. ^ "About International GCSEs". Pearson Qualifications.
  6. ^ "Q&A: GCSE v IGCSE". BBC News. 5 March 2009. Archived from the original on 11 March 2009. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  7. ^ Malnick, Edward (29 January 2015). "Private schools should drop 'less challenging' IGCSEs, says Education Secretary". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 31 January 2015. Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  8. ^ "Comparing international GCSEs and GCSEs in England 2018" (PDF). Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  9. ^ "GCSEs and equivalents". GoStudyUK. 3 April 2019. Archived from the original on 21 April 2019. Retrieved 7 January 2021.
  10. ^ "How 9-1 grading will work". Cambridge Assessment International Education. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  11. ^ "New maths IGCSE may lead to 'super A*', experts say". BBC News. BBC. 17 June 2011. Archived from the original on 12 April 2019. Retrieved 17 June 2011.
  12. ^ "About HKCEE". Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. Archived from the original on 14 October 2008. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  13. ^ "General Information". Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board. 14 December 2010. Archived from the original on 5 January 2011. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  14. ^ "International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) Exam". Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  15. ^ "Pearson Edexcel International GCSE ('O' Level)". Insworld Institute. Archived from the original on 3 April 2015.
  16. ^ "Accreditation requirements of 'IGCSE' qualifications for pre-16 students". Ofqual. 14 October 2010. Archived from the original on 8 March 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  17. ^ "IGCSE Past Papers". London Science Tutors. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  18. ^ Robertson, Alix (10 August 2017). "iGCSE results will not be published this year". Schools Week. Learning & Skills Events Consultancy and Training Limited. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  19. ^ "16 to 19 funding: maths and English condition of funding". GOV.UK. 28 August 2020. Archived from the original on 7 January 2021. Retrieved 7 January 2021.
  20. ^ Helm, Toby (29 December 2018). "Exam reforms boost private pupils in race for universities". The Guardian. Guardian News & Media Limited. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  21. ^ Stone, Andrew (2003). "A Higher Standard of Excellence". Homeschool World. Archived from the original on 9 November 2012. Retrieved 7 January 2021.
  22. ^ "Novel coronavirus - Information for schools about the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak – What can we help you with?". Cambridge International. 31 March 2020. Archived from the original on 31 March 2020. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  23. ^ "Covid-19 (Coronavirus) update | Pearson qualifications". Pearson Edexcel. 5 May 2020. Archived from the original on 5 May 2020. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  24. ^ "June 2021 exam series". Retrieved 20 April 2021.

External links[edit]