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IGCSE vs GCSE: 5 Differences You Should Know in 2020

30 Jul, 2020
IGCSE vs GCSE: 5 Differences You Should Know in 2020

GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) mark the completion of Secondary Education in the UK. British students typically will take their GCSE exams at the end of Year 11 when they are 16 years old.

Students outside of the UK who are interested in UK education qualifications will have heard also of IGCSEs.

Both are taken by students around the world, before they move onto their pre-university education.

Are you thinking about obtaining a UK official high school completion qualification and don't know whether IGCSE or GCSE is the best option for you?

This comparison guide will help you understand the differences and make the right choice.

Here’s an overview of what we’ll be covering:

  • What are GCSEs
  • What are IGCSEs
  • What are the differences between IGCSE and GCSE

Table of Contents

What are GCSEs?

What are IGCSEs?

Differences betweek IGCSE and GCSE

Is IGCSE or GCSE better for you?

Wrapping Up

What are GCSEs?


The GCSE — or ‘General Certificate of Secondary Education’ — is taken by most high school students in the UK at the end of their 11 years of compulsory education.

The GCSE is predominantly taught at schools in the UK, but is also offered at institutions in some other countries such as Australia, Canada and India.

Why is GCSE important?

GCSEs are internationally recognised as an exceptional official high school qualification and act as the gateway to further academic study in the UK.

A GCSE course leads to the official examination which completes High School education in the UK. It’s designed for students aged 14+ who want to progress to A-levels before entering UK university.

Your GCSE results are a very important step in your academic journey, and will affect which qualifications and subjects you take next, your eligibility for your chosen university and course, and even your career prospects later down the line. Many employers require job applicants to meet their minimum requirement in Maths and English at GCSE level.

GCSE subjects

GCSEs are available in a huge range of subjects including English language and Literature, Mathematics, Economics, Geography, History, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. You can also choose to study a number of non-English languages such as Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, Japanese, Greek and Urdu.

At Kings, our core GCSE programme includes Maths, English, Study Skills, Science, ICT, and either Geography or Humanities. These are studied alongside an enrichment programme covering PSHE and Citizenship, Physical Education, and Creative Arts.

This deliberately broad subject range is designed to allow our students to access any type of post-16 programme that they might be interested in, such as A-Levels, IB, or Foundation.

GCSE Exam boards

There are 5 GCSE examination boards used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland — AQA, Pearson Edexcel, OCR, CCEA, and WJEC. All 5 examination boards are additionally regulated by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual).

At Kings, we use AQA and Edexcel for GCSEs.

Do universities accept GCSE?

Yes — GCSEs are the most well-known and highly regarded pre-A-level qualification for students in the UK.

At the time of applying to university, students will only have their GCSE results and their predicted A-level grades, so this is the information that a university will base its offer on (along with other considerations such as your overall academic profile, personal statement, extracurricular activities, hobbies, etc.).

How to calculate GCSE marks

GCSE results are graded from 9 – 1, which replaced the old A* – G grading system in the last few years. Grades 9 – 7 are equivalent to A* – A; 6 – 4 are equivalent to B – C; 3 – 2 are equivalent to D – G.

The way that GCSE grades are calculated depends on the individual subject and exam format, but generally, your GCSE results are determined by the total number of marks you obtain in the exam paper, adjusted if necessary to reflect the overall attainment on a particular exam paper by all students who have taken the same paper in that exam session.

Grade boundaries for GCSEs vary depending on the subject and the exam board.

How to choose GCSE subjects

At state schools in the UK, GCSEs in English literature, English language, Maths and Science are compulsory for all students. Alongside these ‘core’ subjects, students can choose from a number of different subjects in areas such as arts, humanities, STEM and sports.

Generally, students will take a minimum of 5, up to a maximum of 9 – 12 subjects at GCSE. It’s important to remember that top-ranking universities will consider the quality of the GCSEs that you have taken rather than the quantity. Taking a smaller number of GCSEs will not inhibit your chances of a successful application, as long as you achieve strong grades in the subjects that you take.

Your GCSE subject choices should be based on your own interests, your future study and career plans, and of course which subjects your school offers.

You should think about which subjects you want to study at A-level and university and research whether the GCSEs you choose will enable you to embark on further study within your chosen area. If you already know which degree courses or universities you are interested in, you should check whether they specify any particular GCSE subjects in their prerequisites.

How to check GCSE results online?

Your GCSE exam results will be released by the exam boards to the school or college that you attended. You should contact your school on GCSE results day to find out your final grade.

Some schools may have their own internal system for viewing GCSE results online, so you should check with your school’s exams officer to see if this is an option for you.

Are GCSEs cancelled due to COVID-19?

All GCSE exam boards made the decision to cancel their May/June 2020 examinations worldwide due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Students will therefore be assigned a final grade that reflects their overall performance and attainment throughout the GCSE course. Teachers will work closely with the exam boards to ensure that the results assigned are accurate and fair.

Students will still be awarded with an official final grade and certificate that will continue to be accepted for entry by universities and other educational institutions around the world.

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What are IGCSEs?

IGCSE stands for “International General Certificate of Secondary Education”. It is equivalent to the GCSE qualification which is taken by students in Year 10 – 11 in the UK to prepare them for further pre-university level study, such as A-levels.

The IGCSE is the ‘international’ version of this academic qualification as it’s available in many countries around the world. In the UK, the IGCSE is typically taught at international schools or private schools, rather than at state schools.

Why are IGCSEs important?

IGCSEs are internationally recognised as a highly-respected official high school qualification and act as the gateway to further academic study in the UK and beyond.

IGCSE examinations signal the completion of High School education, and are designed for students aged 14+ who want to progress on to A-levels – or other international equivalents – before entering university.

Undergraduate courses at UK universities will specify that applicants need to meet certain requirements at IGCSE level to receive an offer, as well as obtaining the required A-level grades.

Many employers also require job applicants to meet their minimum requirements in Maths and English IGCSEs (or equivalent).

IGCSE subjects

IGCSEs are available in a huge range of subjects including English language and Literature, Mathematics, Economics, Geography, History, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. They are also available in a number of non-English languages such as Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, Japanese, Greek and Urdu.

At Kings, our core IGCSE programme includes Maths, English, Study Skills, Science, ICT, and either Geography or Humanities. These are studied alongside an enrichment programme covering PSHE and Citizenship, Physical Education, and Creative Arts.

This deliberately broad subject range is designed to allow our students to access any type of post-16 programme that they might be interested in, such as A-Levels, IB, or Foundation.

IGCSE Exam Boards

IGCSEs are accredited by either Cambridge (Cambridge International Examinations) or Edexcel (Pearson Edexcel) exam boards.

At Kings, the exam boards that we use across our 4 UK schools for IGCSEs vary from school-to-school.

How to calculate IGCSE marks

IGCSE results were traditionally graded from A* – G, however, from June 2017, schools in England began introducing a 9 – 1 grading system for IGCSEs.

  • Cambridge — the A* – G system is still in place for the majority of students and countries, however the new 9 – 1 system is available on an optional basis for schools in certain regions.
  • Pearson Edexcel – all International GCSEs are now awarded using the new nine point grading scale.

The way that IGCSE grades are calculated depends on the individual subject and exam format, but generally, your IGCSE results are determined by the total number of marks you obtain in the exam paper, adjusted if necessary to reflect the overall attainment on a particular exam paper by all students who have taken the same paper in that exam session. Grade boundaries for IGCSEs vary depending on the subject and the exam board.

How to choose your IGCSE subjects

Most schools require students to take a minimum of 5 or 6 IGCSE subjects which must include the 3 compulsory subjects of English, Science and Maths. Alongside these ‘core’ subjects, students can choose from a number of different subjects in areas such as arts, humanities, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and sports.

Your IGCSE subject choices should take into account your own interests, your future study and career plans, the subjects you have studied and done well in so far, and of course which IGCSE subjects your school offers.

You should think about which subjects you want to study at A-level (or pre-university A-level equivalents such as International Baccalaureate or Foundation) and at university.

If you already know which degree subjects or universities you are interested in, you should check whether they specify any particular GCSE subject grades in their prerequisites.

It’s important to remember that top-ranking universities will consider the quality of the IGCSEs that you have taken rather than the quantity. Taking a smaller number of IGCSEs will not inhibit your chances of a successful application, as long as you achieve strong grades in the subjects that you take.

How to check IGCSE results online?

  • Cambridge - results can be accessed online for Cambridge IGCSEs for most students. Your school will be able to provide a code/login to enable you to access your results online.
  • Pearson Edexcel - results can be released to students via the ‘ResultsPlus Direct’ system from 9am on results day. The school exams officer needs to have registered you for the online service in advance.

Are IGCSEs cancelled due to COVID-19?

Both Cambridge and Edexcel exam boards decided to cancel their May/June 2020 IGCSE examinations worldwide due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Students will therefore be assigned a final grade that reflects their overall performance and attainment throughout the IGCSE course. Teachers will work closely with the exam board to assign these and ensure that the results are accurate and fair.

All students will still be awarded with an official final grade and certificate that will continue to be accepted for entry by universities and other educational institutions around the world.

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Differences between IGCSE and GCSE

The GCSE and the IGCSE are very similar and are accepted as ‘equivalent’ qualifications by the top universities, sixth-form colleges and other independent schools around the world.

Historically, the main difference between the IGCSE and the GCSE qualification was the inclusion of a greater amount of coursework within the GCSE syllabus, whereas the IGCSE had been mainly assessed through final exams at the end of the course. This was due to the fact that IGCSEs had been designed for international students who do not speak English as a first language.

In recent years however, the UK government has changed the format of GCSEs to remove much of the coursework and now assesses and assigns final grades for many subjects based predominantly on the end of course exams. Therefore, the differences between the IGCSE and GCSE are now very minor.

We will cover a few of the key remaining differences below.

Difference #1: Course content

The GCSE course content has traditionally been designed for a primarily British rather than international audience, and this is reflected in the course content for certain subjects. For example, Shakespeare is a compulsory part of GCSE English Literature, whereas it is optional for IGCSE English.

There are also some differences in terms of which topics must be covered in the syllabuses for other Humanities for subjects such as History and Geography between the IGCSE and GCSE.

Difference #2: Exam dates

GCSE exams are sat annually in May – June, with resits available in November.

IGCSE exams are available in November and January (for certain subjects) and also in May – June each year.

Difference #3: Availability by country

As mentioned earlier, GCSE qualifications are only available in the UK and certain schools in a small number of other countries such as Canada, Australia and India.

The IGCSE is by nature ‘international’ and can be taken in over 150 countries worldwide.

Some international schools in the UK choose to offer IGCSEs rather than GCSEs as it facilitates transfers from other countries to the UK mid-course more easily. For example, a student may have completed 1 year of IGCSEs in their home country, and they decide to go abroad to study and pick-up where they left off.

Is IGCSE harder than GCSE?

IGCSE qualifications have traditionally been perceived by some people as “harder” than GCSEs because the final results were solely based on the end-of-course examinations, rather than offering the opportunity for students to complete coursework to contribute towards their final grades. However, recent changes to the GCSE course format in the UK which have been introduced since 2017 mean that this difference is no longer relevant.

Is IGCSE equivalent to GCSE?

The GCSE and the IGCSE are very similar and are accepted as ‘equivalent’ qualifications by the vast majority of universities, sixth form colleges and other independent schools around the world.

Do UK universities accept GCSE and IGCSE?

Yes, both IGCSEs and GCSEs are accepted for entry to universities in the UK.

The UK’s ‘Russell Group’ universities — an association of 24 prestigious public research universities including Oxford, Cambridge, LSE and Durham University — recently confirmed that they did not make any distinction between IGCSEs and GCSEs when considering students for acceptance into their Undergraduate programmes.

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Is IGCSE or GCSE Better for you?

In reality, the difference between GCSEs and IGCSEs are so minor, that either option should be perceived as ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than the other one.

Both IGCSEs and GCSEs are highly-regarded high school qualifications that are universally accepted by top-ranking universities and other educational institutions both in the UK and beyond.

Many international colleges will offer a combination of GCSEs and IGCSEs based on the syllabuses that they find works best for their students in each subject.

Finding a school that is right for you and studying subjects that will allow you to successfully progress onto the next step in your academic journey is the most important thing.

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Wrapping Up

In this article, we’ve looked at what IGCSEs and GCSEs are, the main differences between the two, and how to decide which out of the two options are the best for you.

GCSEs and IGCSEs are recognised around the world as an exceptional official high school qualification, and a gateway to further academic study in the UK.

Did you know that at Kings, we offer GCSE courses at all four of our UK colleges in Brighton, Bournemouth, London and Oxford?

You can choose from an accelerated 1-year programme at all our locations, or follow a standard GCSE programme of 4 – 6 terms (2 years) in Bournemouth.

At Kings Bournemouth, London and Oxford, the majority of the subjects taught are IGCSEs. At Kings Brighton, most subjects are GCSEs.

For more information on GCSE courses at Kings, or if you have any questions that aren’t answered here, get in touch with us today via our Live Chat or Enquiry form.

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