The General Certificate of Secondary Education or GCSE is the high school qualification applied and accepted in England, Wales, and Northern Island. Usually, GCSE exams are taken at the end of Year 11 when most students are 16 years old.
On the other hand, the International General Certificate of Secondary Education or IGCSE is a secondary education certificate offered around the globe and beyond the United Kingdom.
This article will explore the theme of IGCSE Vs. GCSE and point out the differences between GCSE and IGCSE to help both students and parents learn the key features of both of these qualifications.
What are the GCSEs?
The GCSE or General Certificate of Secondary Education is a certificate awarded to most high school students in the UK once they finish their 11th year of compulsory education. It acts as a gateway to higher education in the UK.
What are the IGCSEs?
IGCSE stands for International General Certificate of Secondary Education which is based on the same concept as the IGCSE but without a UK-centric curriculum or qualification.
These certificates were first forged in 1988, almost two years after the conception of the GCSE in 1986. The aim of this reformed qualification was to make the GCSE curriculum relevant to the international audience.
Similarities Among GCSE and IGCSE
GCSE and IGCSE are both secondary school certificates meaning that both of them are taken after 11 years of compulsory education. While there is no set age limit to taking either of these exams, most students appear for them by the age of 16.
It takes about two to three years to complete both the qualifications in school.
Both the GCSE and IGCSE are highly regarded for their excellence in awarding educational certificates and both qualifications are important in pursuing tertiary education. They are both readily recognized by the top schools and universities around the world.
Key Differences Between GCSE and IGCSE
While there are countless similarities among the GCSE and IGCSE qualifications, there are some key differences between the two that set them apart.
Location: Where the Exams Can Be Taken
One of the major differences between GCSE and IGCSE is the availability of the curricula. The GCSE can only be taken inside the UK and some other parts of the world including India, Pakistan, Canada, and Australia.
On the other hand, IGCSE is an international qualification that allows students from all over the world to take these exams. You can take the IGCSE in around 145 countries throughout the globe.
Curriculum: What Does the Course Entail
People may wonder why GCSE is only available in the UK and not across the world. The reason is that GCSE is designed in a way that it caters to the local students rather than an international audience. You can judge it on your own by overviewing the course content for both of the certificates.
There is a distinct cultural and contextual difference between GCSE and IGCSE. IGCSE strives to remove any UK-specific content from their curriculum while GCSE insists to promote their culture and history through education.
If you explore the English literature course in the GCSE, you will find that Shakespeare is a compulsory part of the course in the UK. Whereas in the IGCSE, Shakespeare is an optional part that students can pick or leave based on their preference.
Similarly, when you pick up the History subject, you will see that GCSE mandates students to learn about British history and their history course relies heavily on Britain’s past, its wars, royalty, and so on. On the other hand, IGCSE’s history courses focus on the world overall.
Geography is another example of how GCSE is specific to the UK and its surroundings. Their goal is to explore Britain and its colonies rather than focusing on the bigger picture of the world. Whereas IGCSE focuses on understanding the entirety of the world map and the relationships of important countries with each other.
Hence, course content is a defining difference between the two qualifications. IGCSE provides an education that is more diverse, generic, and well-suited to an international audience. While GCSE strives to provide a Britain-specific education to the local students.
Subjects: Which Subjects Do They Offer
The GCSE curriculum comprises some core subjects that are required for the certificate:
- English Language
- English Literature
- Welsh Language (for students who live in the Wales)
GCSE also involves three core subjects that a student must pick as the centre of their education i.e. Biology, Physics, or Chemistry. However, that does not mean that they can’t choose all three. But choosing at least one subject is compulsory.
Students also have to include foundation subjects such as Computing, Citizenship, and Physical Education in their curriculum. These standard subjects are made compulsory by schools so that students can get a well-rounded education. However, foundation subjects can vary from school to school so it depends on which school you are attending.
Now moving on to the optional subjects offered by the GCSE – students can choose from these additional subjects which they have an interest in or want to pursue later in their life. These subjects can enhance their portfolio by showcasing the personality and interests of the student.
Optional students in the GCSE are as follows:
- Arts: Includes art, music, and drama.
- Design and Technology: Includes design and technology, electronics, and computer science.
- Humanities: Includes geography and religious studies.
- Modern foreign languages such as French, German, Spanish, and so on.
IGCSE works in a different way than the GCSE in terms of the subjects. For the IGCSE curriculum, students have to take a maximum of 14 subjects and a minimum of 5. Unlike GCSE which mandates certain subjects necessary to get the certificate, there are no compulsory subjects in IGCSE. This provides students with a greater deal of autonomy over their studies and gives them the freedom to study a variety of subjects.
Students can pick from the major 5 subject groups of the IGCSE curriculum which are as follows:
- Humanities and Social Sciences
- Creative, Technical, and Vocational subjects
However, schools may have certain requirements for students that they must meet. Like GCSE, requirements vary from school to school so it’s better to read up on the school you are interested in.
Coursework: Is it Important?
The GCSE grading scheme depends on both the annual examinations and the coursework throughout the year. Internal assessments are considered fairly important if you are interested in a GCSE qualification.
On the other hand, IGCSE has no coursework requirement. Instead of conducting many internal assessments throughout the semester, IGCSE assesses students based on the examination they conduct at the end of the year.
Recently though, GCSE has reformed their grading scheme to become similar to the IGCSE. As of now, coursework does not contribute to the final grades of students if they are getting a GCSE qualification. For example, in the past 40% of the English language grades were dependent on the coursework which included communication, listening, and written assignments.
However, apart from the theoretical subjects, the creative and practical subjects retain the contribution of coursework because teachers insist that these skills cannot be assessed based on single examinations only. The contribution of coursework in different creative subjects is as follows:
- Food preparation and nutrition: 50% coursework and 50% exam
- Drama: 60% coursework and 40% exam
- Art: 60% coursework and 40% exam
- Music: 60% coursework and 40% exam
- Design and Technology: 40% coursework and 60% exam
- Physical Education: 40% coursework and 60% exam
Exam Dates: When are the Exams Conducted
GCSE exams are conducted annually in the months of May to June. Re-attempts are conducted in the month of November.
IGCSE exams are conducted in November and January for certain subjects and May to June annually.
Which One is Harder – IGCSE or GCSE?
There have been considerable debates on whether IGCSE is harder or GCSE. People have expressed variable opinions on that matter but the answer depends on whether you prefer to be tested on coursework or by examination.
Despite the recent changes in GCSE, the IGCSE qualifications are based on annual examinations and GCSE qualifications depend on a mixture of examinations and internal assessments that are submitted by students throughout the semester.
Due to the contributions made by coursework, GCSE allowed students to rely on more than just a single exam at the end of the year which meant that students could improve their grades throughout the semester. However, Michael Gove – the Secretary for State of Education at the time – changed that when he reformed the grading scheme of GCSE in 2020.
The reformed grading scheme eliminated a great deal of coursework requirements from the GCSE and shifted its assessment to an annual examination.
Another factor that made IGCSE seem flexible is that students can sit these exams in November, January, and May/June. Whereas you can only sit GCSE during the months of May/June.
An interesting opinion in this debate is by the Government of UK which has stated that they believe that IGCSE has failed to reach the high standards that they have built for their students. They believe that the IGCSE exams are not rigorous enough to breed great students and promote a great education.
The Government of the UK believes that it is easier to get top grades in the IGCSEs than it is to achieve the same grades in the GCSE exams. This has also led to a controversy among students attending public schools vs. students attending private students. Public schools in the UK predominantly offer GCSE certificates while private schools offer both GCSE and IGCSEs. This can create a disparity in students of varying socioeconomic statuses and can create a huge gap in education.
The UK government believes the grading scheme can be unfair to the students studying in public schools and getting a GCSE qualification. More private school students will get into their desired universities even if public schoolers are equally or more qualified for the same position.
Should I Take GCSEs or IGCSEs?
The most frequently asked question that high schoolers ask is whether to take GCSEs or IGCSEs. The answer is that it really depends on your academic and professional goals. Something that would be good for others might not work out for you so you need to think of your future plans and research on both the certificates and their pros/cons.
Both of these qualifications are highly regarded and accepted on the way to higher education, both in the UK and around the world. If you are living outside of the UK, chances are that you might not even have the option to choose so IGCSEs are obviously the only pathway for you.
The most important thing that you need to ask yourself is which qualification will help you fulfil your future aspirations. Explore your options and then decide on the certificate that helps you gain more opportunities in the future.
For example, if you plan on living in the UK then GCSEs are more relevant for your career. On the other hand, if you live abroad or plan on moving out then IGCSEs are more commonly accepted and the diverse education can facilitate your transition.
Getting Professional Help
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- Is IGCSE equivalent to GCSE?
Yes. IGCSE is a qualification equivalent to that of GCSE except that it is the international version of the GCSE. Both qualifications are studied at the same time.
- Do universities prefer GCSE or IGCSE?
Generally, universities don’t prefer GCSE over IGCSE or vice versa. Both of these qualifications are accepted and recognized throughout the world and there is no bias.
- Can I sit for GCSE outside of the UK?
GCSE is only offered in a handful of other countries outside of the UK including Pakistan, India, Australia, Canada, and Singapore.