The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) is an English language curriculum offered to students to prepare them for International Baccalaureate, A Level and BTEC Level 3 (which is recommended for higher tier students). It is based on the GCE O-Level and is recognized as being equivalent to the GCSE. The IGCSE was developed by University of Cambridge International Examinations. The examination board Edexcel offers its own version, the Edexcel International GCSE. Students begin learning the syllabus at the beginning of year 10 and take the test at the end of year 11.
The IGCSE is an international alternative to many popular national curricula. However, unlike many school-leaving qualifications in many countries, the IGCSE is not a group award or “certificate of education”. It is a qualification based on individual subjects of study, which means that one receives an “IGCSE” qualification for each subject one takes. For this reason, schools worldwide have different expectations about how many IGCSEs students should take. Typical “core” curricula for IGCSE candidates include a First Language, Second Language, Mathematics and one or more subjects in the Sciences. IGCSE candidates then choose a number of additional courses ranging from Social Sciences to Creative Arts.
The IGCSE is predominantly exam-based, meaning they are not actual certified “courses”, but rather exams that test knowledge in individual subjects in the same way as Advanced Placement exams and SAT Subject Tests. For this reason, it is also a viable option for many home-schooling educators or in Adult education, when one is seeking a qualification but has no time to attend full-time school classes. Its academic worth is comparable to many secondary school curricula worldwide, such as England’s GCSE, the American GED or high school diploma, Hong Kong’s HKCEE, Singapore’s O-Level, and the Indian CBSE or ICSE 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 recognized by academic institutions and employers around the world and is considered by many institutions as equivalent to the standard GCSE.
Cambridge IGCSE provides a broad and flexible study program and covers subjects from a variety of areas: Languages, Humanities, Social Sciences, Mathematics, Creative, Technical and Vocational. 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. Cambridge IGCSE allows teaching to be placed in a localized context, making it relevant in different regions. It is intended to be suitable for students whose first language may not be English and this is acknowledged throughout the examination process.
Cambridge IGCSEs are studied in more than 70 subjects by students in over 120 countries worldwide, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Oman, El Salvador, Cambodia, Canada, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Serbia, Sweden, Denmark, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, Hong Kong, India, Bahrain, Qatar, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, UAE, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Ecuador, Vietnam, Singapore, Bulgaria, Sudan, Myanmar, Portugal and Cyprus among others.
The IGCSE is often considered to be more similar to the older O-Levels qualification than to the current GCSE in England, and for this reason is often argued to be a more rigorous and more difficult examination. Up until recently, most schools offering the IGCSE were private International Schools for expatriate children around the world. However, an increasing number of independent schools within the United Kingdom are now also 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.
In addition, some public schools in the United States are also becoming Cambridge examination centers. Currently, 11 such centers exist within the US, offering the CIE IGCSE curriculum. Schools offering the IGCSE often also offer the more advanced AICE Diploma or CIE International GCE A-Levels which, as with IGCSEs and GCSEs, differ in subject content and examination from British GCE A-Levels offered by UK examination boards.
Grading, course load, and awarding
The IGCSE is graded on an 8-point scale from A* to G with a 9th grade “U” signifying “Ungraded”. This measure of grading is also found in the UK GCSE. Previously, the “A*” grade in the GCSE did not exist, but was later added to recognise 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.”
International schools around the world normally allow students to study anywhere from 5 to 14 IGCSE subjects. Like the situation in the English Baccalaureate, 5 core subject passes at C or above is the minimum required.
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:
- Group I: Languages
- Group II: Humanities and Social Sciences
- Group III: Sciences
- Group IV: Mathematics
- Group V: Creative, Technical and Vocational
- Group VI: ICT
The CIE is awarded in three grades: Distinction, Merit and Pass.
In addition, to award top candidates with the uppermost achievement, Cambridge awards “Outstanding Achievement Awards” in the categories of “top in country”, and “top in world” for each subject.
Recognition and equivalence
The qualification is recognized by many institutions in the world. Many students finishing the IGCSE move on to post-16 study, in preparation for exams such as the A-Levels.
Recognition and accreditation of the IGCSE in the UK is growing. As of now, only independent schools can easily offer IGCSE subjects, though the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) is allowing more use of IGCSE subjects in state-funded schools. Ofqual allows the use of Cambridge IGCSE exams under the name of “Cambridge International Certificates”.
So far, 16 Cambridge IGCSE syllabuses received UK government accreditation. Following that, the UK government announced that the 16 accredited Cambridge IGCSE syllabuses would also be funded in state-maintained schools. Since then Cambridge IGCSE German and Spanish have also been 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 U.K., 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.
The UK Government’s School Performance Tables included the percentage of students who received the new English Baccalaureate (EBacc). It is awarded to pupils who achieve A*-C grade passes at GCSE, or IGCSE, in maths, English, the sciences, a language, and geography or history. Cambridge IGCSEs were the only IGCSEs to be included in the first EBacc. Cambridge IGCSE Biology, Chemistry, English, French, Geography, German, Greek, Hindi, History, Mathematics and Spanish all count towards the measure. More Cambridge IGCSE subjects will count towards the EBacc next year following their accreditation by Ofqual and subsequent funding in state schools. Over 500 UK schools, including 200 from the state sector and 438 independent schools, offer IGCSEs in the UK, and it is popular worldwide. In independent, ISC member schools, 38.7% of Year 11 exams were IGCSEs.
While the number of American schools offering the IGCSE remains small, some homeschooling educators are said to be choosing the IGCSE instead of a typical American high school curriculum. According to many of these educators, the IGCSE curriculum may be more advanced than a typical American secondary school course by at least one year.
The bi-national, jointly-funded US-UK Fulbright commission under the United States’ Fulbright Program suggests that GPA conversions can be done to allow for the differences between the GCSE (8-point) and US (5-point) grading scales.
Though this equivalence between an IGCSE and a US high school diploma exists and there are US colleges and universities which accept IGCSEs for admission, the Fulbright commission advises students who have completed their IGCSEs at 16 to take the GED test as well, if they plan to directly enter American universities without holding post-16 qualifications, such as the IB Diploma, A-Levels and BTEC Level 3qualifications.
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