International General Certificate of Secondary Education

GCSE Edexcel AQA
International General Certificate of Secondary Education

The International General Certificate of Secondary Education is an English language based examination similar to GCSE and is recognized in the UK as being equivalent to the GCSE for the purposes of recognizing prior attainment. It was developed by University of Cambridge International Examinations. The examination boards Edexcel and Oxford AQA also offer their own versions of International GCSEs. Students normally begin studying the syllabus at the beginning of Year 10 and take the test at the end of Year 11. However, in some international schools students can begin studying the syllabus at the beginning of Year 9 and take the test at the end of Year 10.

The qualifications are based on individual subjects of study, which means that one receives an "IGCSE" qualification for each subject one takes. Typical "core" subjects for IGCSE candidates include a First Language, Second Language, Mathematics and one or more subjects in the Sciences.

Types of International General Certificate of Secondary Education

Cambridge IGCSE

Cambridge IGCSE exams are conducted in the months of February (India only), May and October, and the results are released in May, August and January respectively. The exams are set by CAIE, which is part of the Cambridge Assessment that also includes the OCR gcse examination board.

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:[1]

The ICE is awarded in three grades: Distinction, Merit and Pass. It requires 2 passes in Languages, and one pass in every other group whilst the seventh subject be in any group to be qualified for an award.

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.[2][3]

Edexcel International GCSE

Edexcel International GCSE exams are conducted in the months of June and January. The exams are set by Edexcel which also sets GCSE exams in the UK.

OxfordAQA International GCSE

OxfordAQA International GCSE exams are conducted in May/June and November. The exams are set by Oxford International AQA Examinations which is a joint venture between AQA which sets GCSE exams in the UK and Oxford University Press(OUP).


Before changes to GCSE first taken in 2017, the IGCSE was often considered to be more similar to the older O-Levels qualification than to the current GCSE in England, and for this reason was often argued to be a more rigorous and more difficult examination.[4] Before the early 2010s most schools offering the IGCSE were private International Schools for expatriate children around the world. However, in the 2010s an increasing number of independent schools within the United Kingdom began 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.[5]

Grading, courseload, and awarding

The International General Certificate of Secondary Education has the same grading as GCSE.[6] The change from a A*-G grading system to a 9-1 grading system has led to 9-1 grade International General Certificate of Secondary Education being made available. Before this qualication was graded on an 8-point scale from A* to G with a 9th grade "U" signifying "Ungraded". This measure of grading was also found in the UK GCSE. 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.

At one time the "A*" grade in the GCSE did not exist but was later added to recognize 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.".[7]

Recognition and equivalence

The qualification is recognized by institutions in the world. Many students finishing the IGCSE move on to post-16 study, in preparation for exams such as the A-Levels.[8] or international baccalaureate. It also allows further vocational education and is often considered the baseline for employment.

Its academic worth is comparable to many secondary school curricula worldwide, such as England's GCSE, the North American GED or high school diploma, Hong Kong's HKCEE,[9] Singapore's O-Level,[10] 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 recognised by academic institutions and employers around the world and is considered by many institutions as equivalent to the standard GCSE.

Hong Kong

The IGCSE exam is widely used in international schools. Students in Hong Kong can take the Cambridge exam board as well as the Edexcel exam board, either at their school or registering through the Hong Kong Education Bureau as individual candidates. [11]

Singapore & Malaysia

The IGCSE exam is predominantly used in international schools, while other schools offer it as an alternative to O Level exams.[12].

United Kingdom

The official status of IGCSEs has changed several times in the UK.

In 2013 the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) allowed more use of IGCSE subjects in state-funded schools. Ofqual allowed the use of Cambridge IGCSE exams under the name of "Cambridge International Certificates".[13] Initially 16 of Cambridge IGCSE syllabuses received UK government accreditation. Following that, the UK government announced that the 16 accredited Cambridge IGCSE syllabuses could also be funded in state-maintained schools. Subsequently, Cambridge IGCSE German and Spanish were 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 UK, 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.[14]

However from 2017 the government decided to exclude iGCSEs from official performance tables, and consequentially entries from state schools have fallen.[15] So that whilst "international GCSEs no longer meet the condition of funding; however, they do continue to count as equivalent to GCSEs for the purposes of recognising prior attainment" [16]

In 2018, 91% of IGCSE UK entries in core subjects were in private schools, and about 75% for all subjects.[17]


During the 2019/2020 Coronavirus Pandemic, all IGCSE examinations due to take place in May/June 2020 were cancelled, along with GCSE and A-Level exams that year. As of the 31st March 2020, the CAIE had decided to guide schools to predict students' grades through evidence like mock examination results.

United States

While the number of North American schools offering the IGCSE remains small, some homeschooling educators are said to be choosing the IGCSE instead of a typical North American high school curriculum. According to many of these educators, the IGCSE curriculum may be more advanced than a typical North American secondary school course by at least one year.[18]


  1. ^ "Cambridge ICE". Retrieved 2013-09-29.
  2. ^ "Press releases". Archived from the original on 2012-03-18. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
  3. ^ Saleem, Samia. "High achievers: On top of the (Cambridge) world – The Express Tribune". Retrieved 2013-09-29.
  4. ^ "UK | Education | Q&A: GCSE v IGCSE". BBC News. 2009-03-05. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
  5. ^ Malnick, Edward (2015-01-29). "Private schools should drop 'less challenging' IGCSEs, says Education Secretary". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2019-01-02.
  6. ^ Jan 2nd, 2018
  7. ^ "New maths IGCSE may lead to 'super A*', experts say". Retrieved 2011-06-17.
  8. ^ "Cambridge IGCSE recognition". Retrieved 2013-09-29.
  9. ^ "Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority - HKCEE". 2011-11-30. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
  10. ^ "Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board - GCE O-Level General Information". 2013-02-25. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
  11. ^ "Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority - HKCEE". 2011-11-30. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
  12. ^ . Edxcel Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ "Accreditation requirements of 'IGCSE' qualifications for pre-16 students". Ofqual. 2012-10-09. Archived from the original on 2013-03-08. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
  14. ^ "IGCSE Papers". London Science Tutors. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
  15. ^ Robertson, Alix (10 August 2017). "iGCSE results will not be published this year". Schools Week. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  16. ^ accessed 30 December 2018
  17. ^ Helm, Toby (29 December 2018). "Exam reforms boost private pupils in race for universities". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  18. ^ "Homeschool World - Articles - A Higher Standard of Excellence - Practical Homeschooling Magazine". Retrieved 2013-09-29.