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


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:

"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. "

"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.

morethanpotatoprints Wed 30-Jan-13 16:13:12

There is an English IGCSE without controlled assessment or coursework, I can't remember which board though as dd only 9 so not quite applicable yet. I'm pretty sure it was Literature though and not language.
I think they are a fantastic idea for families and schools who need or want a different approach to learning. From the little research I have done they are certainly not easier to pass than GCSE. Although I couldn't comment on a particular subject.

DayToDayShit Thu 31-Jan-13 14:15:01

I believe that is the Edexcel English IGCSE morethan . One can either choose to do a coursework/controlled assessment type one or choose the 'all exam version.

alanyoung Sat 02-Feb-13 10:30:47

There has been a lot of hype that headteachers in public schools are opting for the IGCE because it is more challenging and more suited to those students who want to go on and study A Level Maths, but I have purchased an IGCSE book this week and comparing it with the GCSE syllabus, I can't see much difference at all!

Sure, there is some calculus included, but it's only an introduction. Any good A level student will be able to cover this in a few lessons at the beginning of their course and I don't think the 3D trigonometry/Pythagoras problems are quite as difficult (certainly no more difficult) as the GCSE.

Having taught maths for over thirty years, I can't see that there is any advantage to taking the IGCSE, except that it seems to be acquiring a reputation for being superior. Is that deserved? I think not.

mumzy Sun 03-Feb-13 11:08:34

igcses pass marks can't be interfered with by governments as the exams are independent. So an A grade igcse obtained in Singapore will be equivalent to one in London. This is important when we saw last year The government involved in changing gcses pass marks and the welsh assembly actually ordered gcses papers to be upgraded. In an increasingly global job market, exams which are internationally respected such as igcses and IB will have more kudos.

Phineyj Wed 06-Feb-13 16:53:55

gelo I don't think I am naive...The content of the I-GCSE in the subject I teach certainly prepares students well for sixth form and acts as a good taster of the subject. Believe it or not we are actually as interested in academic challenge as grades, as we're hardly short of students and they nearly all get As anyway...obviously your mileage may vary...

ChristineS Sun 29-Sep-13 02:44:31

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

bevelino Sun 29-Sep-13 23:42:50

I have triplets attending different schools and two are taking IGCSE's and one who will be taking a mixture of IGCSE's and GCSE's. The differences are subtle and subjective. For example languages at IGCSE appear more rigorous and dd's 1and 2 studying IGCSE find them fairly challenging whereas dd's syllabus is straightforward and she will be permitted to take a list of words and phrases into the exam, which is not allowed for IGCSE. Maths is also different but the standard is about the same. English and drama IGCSE appears harder because the texts studied are all fairly turgid classics, whereas the GCSE books are a lot easier, but that is not to say the exam will be any easier.

My dd's are identical and dd 3 would have no difficulty with studying the IGCSE and vice versa. As other posters have remarked universities are not going to concern themselves as to whether a child has taken either exam and it is the A'levels which will be the main focus. I hope this helps.

bevelino Sun 29-Sep-13 23:45:21

I meant to add dd3's syllabus in line 4 of my earlier post....damned ipad!

poppydoppy Mon 30-Sep-13 09:17:59

With the recent changes to GCSEs I dont think there is any real difference between IGCSEs and GCSE now.

The top indies have to offer IGCSEs and IB as most have a big international student body.

Picturesinthefirelight Mon 30-Sep-13 09:30:29

On the contrary with regards to the league tables.

When dcs school began doing igcse they went from the top to the bottom of the league tables as at the time they weren't recognised.

The school doesn't seem at all concerned with gcsecrexyltsxto few honest. All publicity etc tends to be about a level results and everything us geared towards getting good a level results. Gcses are seen as mere preparation in some ways.

mercibucket Mon 30-Sep-13 09:35:58

back in the day, our grammars chose the hardest exam boards, not the easiest

i can still see it being that way with super selectives. they re going to get a's anyway.

igcse cant be manipulated at will by govt, that is a big advantage these days

Erebus Mon 30-Sep-13 19:42:38

There'a chance DS2 will be able to do IGCSE maths rather than GCSE. The school see this as A Good Thing, because the questions appear to be straight forward, not interpretive. DS2 is a very literal chap with an average grasp of the intricacies of the English language (i.e. the sort of person IGCSEs were designed for). He is also no maths whizz.

An off the cuff, tongue in cheek example might be:

Here are some algebraic formulae. Here are some mathematical questions. Use the formulae to answer them...


Here are some algebraic formulae.
Q1: Imran has borrowed 15 euros at an exchange rate of x, which has now crept to y. Susan has a red lollipop. How much does Joshua now owe Imran?


I know which style DS2 will be able to answer best!

racingheart Mon 30-Sep-13 19:54:21

Thanks for starting this thread - I'd always wondered.

I got the impression that IGCSEs were favoured because they are more easily recognised abroad and increasingly pupils are looking to study in US. Is there anything in this, or did I misunderstand?

EndoplasmicReticulum Mon 30-Sep-13 20:15:18

I teach IGCSE Biology and we do cover brewing beer. We don't actually make any, theory only.

My school swapped a few years back when the AQA GCSE got really dumbed down. IGCSE has no coursework element, those skills are tested by questions in the exam papers.

It has proper Biology in it, lots of eyes, kidneys, etc. - which had disappeared from GCSE unless you did triple.

I think it's a better preparation for those who go on to science A levels.

Also agree with Erebus about the style of questions.

friday16 Mon 30-Sep-13 20:48:25

I got the impression that IGCSEs were favoured because they are more easily recognised abroad and increasingly pupils are looking to study in US. Is there anything in this, or did I misunderstand?

The iGCSE is no more "international" in recognition than any other GCSE. In the specific case of the US, they don't have a national system of exams at 16b and therefore GCSEs, of any stripe, are not a huge deal in a US application (a good SAT is much more important).

The iGCSE designed to be taken internationally, and its main historic market was for people in foreign and international schools who were intending to apply to UK universities, who do care about GCSE results, than vice versa. The idea that an exam set by a UK exam board is somehow "more easily recognised" than another exam set by a UK exam board just because they put the word "international" in the title is more evidence of the fantastic marketing that's gone on.

wordfactory Tue 01-Oct-13 10:08:10

DS school do all iGCSEs.

There are a number of reasons.

1. These were considered more rigorous when normal GCSEs could be taken and re-taken in modules (redundnat now of course).

2. Being an all boys school, terminal exams were felt to be a better fit for most of the cohort.

3. The teachers prefered not to interupted by assessments and modules. It meant they could ski off piste more easily and take the boys away from the syllabus where relevant.

wordfactory Tue 01-Oct-13 10:09:12

Oh and

4. The governement couldn't keep bloody interfering!

friday16 Tue 01-Oct-13 10:13:28

3 is an excellent reason. It is, however, interesting to watch teachers attempting the following syllogism:

1. The iGCSE is more like the old O Level, being almost entirely about terminal exams.

2. We teach the iGCSE, because we find that it is better to be able to teach a two-year course without interruptions for assessment every five minutes as happens with the GCSE.

3. Gove wants to make the current GCSE system more like O Levels, and therefore more like iGCSEs, thus bringing the GCSE into line with the syllabus and assessment method we believe to be better. This will result in a single nationally recognised exam system which is much more to our liking (see points 1 and 2).

4. Conclusion: Gove is a twunt who is wrong about everything.

Erebus Tue 01-Oct-13 11:26:05

I am, however, waiting to see what happens to girls' results once the new-style just-like-IGCSEs exams are bedded in.

Watch them tumble.

I, personally, am not averse to the concept of 'learning a given topic area within a subject'- like, I don't know, maybe 'electricity' in Physics, or 'Jane Eyre' in Eng Lit, then testing it; then moving on, versus doing Electricity, energy transfer, atomic decay in Physics, or Jane Eyre, Hamlet and war poetry in English then testing the lot in a couple of 1.5 hour papers.

Whilst it's taken as a given that the latter method ensures 'deep learning' has taken place, in my instance as an elderly 'O' level taker, it ensures deep last minute cramming took place! I could no more reconcile a circuit diagram or explain the role of pathos in King Lear now than, well, a modular GCSE taker could!

I agree entirely that the modular system can be and was abused (and anyone who's ever glanced at a League Table bears some responsibility for that!); modules could be re-sat and re-sat till the 'right' mark was obtained, I still think some subject areas lend themselves to a more modular approach; that modular doesn't always mean 'easier' (see how boys results fell once the modular system came in, they who tend to cram at the end rather than produce good, consistent results all the way along).

And, fwiw, when it comes down to it, few give a pygmies whether one's DC's school went 'off piste' with a subject, an idea imho best suited to the very clever, not the mainstream, anyway!- what people look at is the mark on the bit of paper, and if straight forward, simple English 'solve these equations' style questions gives my DS an B in maths, rather than the C or D he might get if he hasn't seen the link between the red lollipop and the interest rate (see above for my facetious example of a IGCSE question versus a GCSE question!), I'm all for the IGCSE, thanks, as it increases my DS's chances of doing better overall.

An aside, maybe the GCSE 'contorted English maths question' actually does better prepare a DC for The Real World rather than the IGCSE abstract of say 'pure' quadratic equations??

And no, I therefore don't necessarily buy into the 'academic rigour' argument.

mummytime Tue 01-Oct-13 12:30:55

Erebus- that comment is fair enough unless like me, you have a DD who is 14, has low self-esteem and gets very nervous with exams. I actually feel like crying to be honest.

Of course Mr Gove is not in this position, and his children aren't old enough to be the ones suffering yet.

Erebus Tue 01-Oct-13 14:16:53

Yes, mummytime- no system is ideal- and, tbh, I don't think either can really test a DC's subject knowledge thoroughly or fairly, can it? For all types of learners?

And you can get through life successfully and happily having never had to put yourself under the stress of formal exams again, can't you, so having the personality type that thrives on stress and last minute all-nighters shouldn't always be a prereq. to 'getting ahead. I need to know quite a lot of physics, tech and anatomy for my job but I can't say I need to trawl that knowledge up under high-stress or snap-judgement circumstances at all whilst working, but that's how my 'subject knowledge' was tested originally!

I'm not sure either of my DSs will favour the 'one-exam or bust' of the new GCSE over modularity, but I think DS2 in particular would do better on 'straight question/straight answer' style exams of the IGCSE variety.

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