IGCSE and GCSE - What is the difference?

(46 Posts)
Lollybrolly Sun 27-Jan-13 14:52:08

DDs school say they do IGCSE in a majority of subjects and they are selling this as an advantage. We have a meeting about course options in a few weeks so would like to have a basic understanding. So far I know they do IGCSE in science.

I know little about GCSE other than I was the 1st year to do it back in 1986.

Can anyone explain simply what the difference is and if there are any advantages/disadvantages please.

bulby Sun 27-Jan-13 15:04:25

The I stands for international and historically was taught In British international schools meaning the curriculum is more suitable for international candidates. An examplemight be that in IGCSE Biology the pupils may not learn about how to brew beer as this would not be appropriate in middle eastern countries.
They are no harder or easier than GCSE but some schools have jumped in a band wagon to try make them selves seem more academic by teaching them. I've taught both and 'hardness' wise there is really no difference.

complexnumber Sun 27-Jan-13 15:48:49

As bulby has stated, IGCSE's are designed for overseas schools.

A big difference was that there was no coursework obligation in many of the courses, meaning it was all down to a couple of exams. Many consider this to be more rigorous.

I do believe maths IGCSE to be harder than GCSE.

TotallyBS Sun 27-Jan-13 16:58:44

bulby: I find it a bit worrying (for your students) that you, as a teacher, find GCSEs and IGCSEs to be the same in terms of difficulty. I may not have your presumably extensive teaching qualifications but I have looked at both, from the viewpoint of a pushy parent, and they are in no way the same. It's like saying O levels and GCSEs are the same.

solidfoundation Sun 27-Jan-13 17:04:50

Complexnumber, does the IGCE maths syllabus include any calculus, do you know?

olivevoir58 Sun 27-Jan-13 18:06:56

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6055169

This is an interesting article, a couple of years old but still relevant. I think that basically (certainly for maths), the igcse content is harder but the exam questions are more straightforward. 94% of igcse candidates pass maths at C+ compared to only about 60% of gcse candidates. This makes me think that actually there's not a lot in it and Igcse might even be easier to pass!

Remember that pretty much all pupils in the country have to be entered for GCSE maths/English, which has an impact on the pass rate. And "only" 60% is really pretty high when you consider that accounts for the top 4 pass-grades out of 8.
IGCSE entries aren't statutory, and for a long time weren't even counted in league tables in State schools. They are at the moment, and because there isn't the same dicking around (technical term for Gove's 'improvements' to education) with the pass rates, they are attractive for state schools with ever-increasing demands on pass rates for maths and English GCSE. There is coursework for the one English Language IGCSE I am familiar with, but it's essentially reading comprehension and writing, no set texts. (There would of course be set texts for the Literature course).
That doesn't really answer your question, to be fair...

gelo Sun 27-Jan-13 19:17:58

solidfoundation iGCSE does include some very, very elementary calculus. The questions don't really require any understanding to answer and some teachers have found that low ability candidates find it easier to pick up the marks for the simple differentiation just applying the rules than getting the marks on some of the questions targetted at the lower grades (thus meaning some candidates find it easier to reach a 'C' grade on iGCSE than on GCSE).

TotallyBS Sun 27-Jan-13 19:27:13

olive: interesting reasoning.

May I suggest an alternative view. IGCSEs tend to be taken at highly selective Indies where a significant proportion of students get 10 GCSEs at A to C. The more able students will be steered towards IGCSEs.

In other words,iGCSEs appear to be easier because it is usually the high achieving pupils or schools that take the exams.

Lollybrolly Sun 27-Jan-13 22:39:34

Ah interesting - thanks for the input.

DD is at a selective school and although quite academic in Sciences and Languages she has to work her socks off to remain in the mid stream maths set.

I dont know until we go to a parents options meeting in a couple of weeks which subjects will be GCSE and IGCSE.

Am off to have a read of the link Olivevoir58 posted.

happygardening Mon 28-Jan-13 03:51:30

The Latin IGCSE is significantly harder a very experienced Latin teacher and friend involved with both says that part of the IGCSE is AS level standard for example the set text for this years paper would never be found on a GCSE paper. Another friend who teaches maths quickly looked at the IGCS text book and thought after this cursory glance the maths also looked harder. I have recently assisted DS1 revise for the higher level GCSE science exams and then looked at the IGCSE text books for science and it appeared to me that the subjects were covered in a more in depth fashion in fact I was a bit shocked at how basic the science was for GCSE. I also understand all IGCSE exams are less prescribed.
Lolly don't despair re the maths my DS1 (yr 11) was up until half way through last term the worst mathematician in the world suddenly (literally) its all fallen into place and with minimal effort on his part and has just ben entered into the higher GCSE paper and predicted a B.

Jobforlife Mon 28-Jan-13 11:31:07

My DD is doing all IGCSEs this summer, as we are at an international school abroad. For sciences, the advantage for the school is that there is no modular exams and it's all tested after the two years of study (year 10 and 11). In fact, there is basically no coursework for any of the subjects... It's much more akin to doing the old O levels really. Advantage in Maths is that Edexcel also have a Further Maths IGCSE which my daughter will take. This is helpful for bridging the gap between the IGCSE and AS level Maths.

hellsbells99 Mon 28-Jan-13 11:42:40

The maths GCSE (at least for Edexcel) has got harder lately. The exam in November was very difficult as there are a lot more functional type questions and not as much pure maths questions. The grade boundaries ended up beeing lowered as they had set such complicated questions.

happygardening Mon 28-Jan-13 12:15:49

Jobforlife there is course work for Eng Lang IGCSE, worth I believe 25% of the mark, both my DS's schools do it and I think they are different examining boards.

Phineyj Mon 28-Jan-13 12:22:05

They are definitely more academically demanding. I can assure you that the superselective grammar where I work wouldn't offer them otherwise. It costs money and time to offer alternative courses, but the result should be better preparation for sixth form.

gelo Mon 28-Jan-13 12:42:58

Phiney, you naivity is touching. I'm sure if a school (superselective or not) found a qualification that their students were achieving higher grades in (thus boosting their league table position) and that could be argued to be more academically demanding they would jump at it.

It's also worth noting that more academically demanding doesn't necessarily mean more difficult (at least it depends how you are defining easy/difficult). Better preparation for A level doesn't necessarily mean more difficult either (it may just be a more relevent lead in to the A level syllabus - or have terminal exams which in spit of A levels being modular (currently), people always seem to think is a better preparation (maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but if that's all that's better about iGCSEs then it's not that much).

I think the jury is out as to which is more difficult personally. There are plenty of teachers that have taught both who find their students achieve more highly at iGCSE which would suggest they are easier, but even there it might just be that the course is more engaging so the students work harder. With the freedom from controlled assesments in iGCSE, teachers have more teaching time so that might account for raised grades too.

happygardening Mon 28-Jan-13 13:46:41

"Phiney, you naivity is touching"
gelo I find your cynicism equally touching!
All the teachers I've spoken to about IGCSE's including those teaching both at the same time and who often have no axe to grind (?unlike you) say that the IGCSE is harder. As I've already stated one of the set text pieces for 2013 Latin IGCSE is I'm told by a teacher with 40 years experience of teaching latin only found in AS papers never GCSE papers so that is proof that the Latin is harder.
But why does it matter if the IGCSE is harder unless you are worried that your child is going to struggle more and therefore get lower grades which is what the OP is obviously worried about. The other comment I frequently hear from teachers in both state and independent sector about the IGCSE is that it is better preparation for A level/Pre U. It may not be because it is harder because I don't see that being more in depth has to mean that. Also more and more I hear students again form both sectors saying what a shock they found AS\A levels in comparison to their GCSE's so anything that can make the transition easier should be welcomed.

frantic53 Mon 28-Jan-13 13:54:42

Not a teacher but just wanted to say, if it's any help, that DD2 took IGCSE maths and got an A without any real effort. Then went to sixth form college and took maths and really struggled, only getting a C for AS. I don't know if it prepared her any better for the AS maths but it was still a huge jump as far as she was concerned.

gelo Mon 28-Jan-13 14:03:50

happy, latin is a bit niche and has always been know to be a tough option. For what it's worth there's a huge range of difficulty within GCSE. When ds did his (GCSE not iGCSE), his teacher toyed with putting the class in for AS as well as he said there wasn't much difference in difficulty as the GCSE was so tough. Another exam board thought the gcse was so difficult they split in in half and students now get two gcses for the same amount of work.

Schools are very mindful of league tables whatever they may say, so I do think phineys statement was a little naive though it was probably rather unkind of me to say so.

For some views on what teachers think on iGCSE vs GCSE see:

English
http://community.tes.co.uk/forums/t/637291.aspx?PageIndex=2
"The iGCSE also has a coursework +exam + speaking and lisetning option which is what I have done with my students. The courswork is just that: 3 pieces, 500 - 800 words long, that can be drafted. I entered 70 boys who had all been shafted by the grade boundary shift and would have got C's when we entered them for the AQA exam at the end of year 10 (something we have found really motivating in the past). 69% of them got C's or above (4 got A's and 9 got b's this is higher than they would have got with AQA) in the iGCSE. Tbe courswork allows you to be creative and engage your students in interseting topics/ current affairs. My boys have loved it. "

Maths:
http://community.tes.co.uk/forums/t/493092.aspx?PageIndex=1
"As go the differences from the standard GCSE there are some differences in topics, the addition of set theory, differentiation of polynomials, function notation (domain, range, inverse etc)...

But as others have commented the questions tend to on the whole be more straightforward in style and have less contextual issues (in part as they are designed to be sat by people whose first language may not be english!)

I personally find the style more closely matches that expected of them when the reach A-level so they find the transition a little easier as not all the topics are new..."

happygardening Mon 28-Jan-13 14:14:24

Perhaps it depends on the examining board I didn't realise until recently that there is more than one examining board writing IGCSE's and just like GCSE's there seems to be different levels.
Cambridge International Examination board claim the IGCSE is "excellent preparation" for the harder Pre U.
Gelo point "the course is more engaging so the students work harder. With the freedom from controlled assesments in iGCSE, teachers have more teaching time so that might account for raised grades too." is also very valid I personally found the science GCSE very dull and bland. IGCSE's are taught at my DS's school and I believe the general consensus from all that I have read is that the IGCSE is more interesting from both the teachers and pupils point of view.

morethanpotatoprints Mon 28-Jan-13 14:20:19

Many H.ed dc and dc attending other types of out of school education take IGCSE's as they are unable to do GCSE's due to the coursework element.
I think they are a good alternative but as yet have no experience to judge standard or comparison between GCSE.

Jobforlife Mon 28-Jan-13 17:10:57

happygardening Yes, you're right... there is a little bit of controlled assessment for English, and I think there's some for Geography, although my dd doesn't take this.
Given that the majority of my dd's cohort do not have English as their first language, I guess it's just a practical thing that the papers don't have reference to English specific things... It amazes me how they grasp the likes of Jane Austen with all the cultural associations when they come from other countries!

solidfoundation Mon 28-Jan-13 18:49:15

Thanks, Gelo, for filling me in re the calculus.

happygardening Mon 28-Jan-13 19:39:00

OP you can look up at the exam syllabus on line my DS is doing the Cambridge IGCSE but I'm sure excell do the same thing. I've looked and I don't think calculus is on his syllabus (I don't actually know what it is it may have another mathematical name) he is doing calculus but that is because at his school they do the Pre U math and IGCSE math at the same time but I thought he said it was not on the IGCSE papers.
I am reliably informed that with the right teacher even those like myself with limited numerical skills can learn to do quite complex math?!

Glup Tue 29-Jan-13 23:15:10

Meh, there's very little between them. I've recently compared the different English syllabi in detail and have decided that the Cambridge IGCSE is considerably easier than AQA GCSE.......from a logistical perspective.

The IGCSE Language paper course requires no controlled assessments, which makes it loads easier to administer. Looking at the exam papers and assessment criteria, however, I would say that they are almost identical.

The main difference (and one that some parents would like), is that the IGCSEs are very traditional- I say that from having taught in both British schools and International schools. Perhaps a little outdated, in my personal opinion.

Interestingly this summer, in my school, we shall be sitting both. Resit students will be sitting IGCSE (no time to do the controlled assessments) and normal students GCSE. Will let you know how it goes!

It is quite sweet that some parents think schools would deliberately offer students a qualification that was disadvantaging them by making it harder for them to attain high grades. No future career will ever ask which exam board you did, or care about the difference between IGCSEs and GCSEs! Trust me, I've chosen the exam board in a couple of different schools. My criteria: the board that I thought would enable the most students to attain the highest possible grades.

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