Nord Anglia Education
Nord Anglia
04 March, 2020

What are IGCSEs?

What are IGCSEs? | Nord Anglia Education - What are IGCSEs
What are IGCSEs? From the curriculum to the benefits, we discuss everything you need to know about the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE).  

As your children reach their mid-teenage years, both they and you as parents have incredibly important decisions to make. The qualifications they gain at this stage of their educational pathway will play a vital role in mapping out their journey through higher education.

Among the potential pathways is the International General Certificate of Secondary Education, or IGCSE. From the curriculum it offers to the qualification’s benefits, this guide provides you with everything you need to know about IGCSEs.


An Introduction to the IGCSE

The International General Certificate of Secondary Education is a set of examinations and qualifications designed for 14 to 16-year-olds, although they can be taken at any age. Borne out of the GCSE used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the IGCSE now also offers first language qualifications in a range of world languages.

Pupils may choose to pursue an IGCSE qualification in a wide variety of subjects, with no limits on the number of qualifications they may sit. Normally, a student will study each subject over a two-year period before undertaking examinations and assessments when their proficiency around what they have learned is graded. However, there is no time limit on how long a student needs to study before taking exams.

The way students are graded varies depending on the exam board. Many pupils are now graded on a 9-1 system, with Level 9 the highest-level achievement, down to the lowest level, Level 1.

In many of the examinations, there are two tiers of exams. The higher and lower-tier system is designed to ensure IGCSEs are attainable for all levels of ability. Teachers can enter children into either tier in advance of examinations.

IGCSE Examination Boards

There are three exam boards that offer a version of the IGCSE qualification:

Cambridge IGCSE

First taught in 1986 (in line with the introduction of GCSEs in the UK) the Cambridge IGCSE is developed by Cambridge Assessment International Education. Part of the University of Cambridge, the Cambridge IGCSE offers over 70 subjects.

Aside from core subjects such as Mathematics, Sciences and English, there are a variety of other subjects touching the humanities, business, and 30 languages. 

Edexcel International GCSE

Created by the University of London, Edexcel was formed as an educational body in 1996. An Edexcel IGCSE certification can be attained across 37 subjects. Their exams are also set across schools in the UK, closely aligning their IGCSE programme with students studying in the UK. 

Oxford AQA International GCSE

Like the Cambridge and Edexcel IGCSE qualifications, the Oxford AQA International GCSE is recognised worldwide as an equivalent to those in the UK. The qualifications were created by academic awarding body AQA and Oxford University Press. 

The IGCSE Curriculum

The variety of subjects on offer may differ depending on the examination board and school. Use the links above to browse the subjects on offer from each exam board and their syllabuses. Here, we’ll set out some of the subjects on offer and what their curriculum aims to achieve.

A student’s IGCSE curriculum will vary considerably depending on the school in question, who has the autonomy to structure their individual curricula. Cambridge Assessment International Education, an examination provider of the IGCSE qualification, break their subjects into the following subject groups, giving an example of what could be on offer:

  • Creative and Professional

Examples: Art & Design, Business Studies, Information and Communication Technology

  • English Language and Literature

Examples: English – First Language, English as a Second Language, English Literature

  • Humanities and Social Sciences

Examples: Geography, History, Sociology

  • Languages

Examples: French, Spanish, Chinese (all as first or foreign languages)

  • Mathematics

Examples: Mathematics, Additional Mathematics

  • Sciences

Examples: Biology, Chemistry, Physics

In the UK, the majority of students with GCSE qualifications will progress to study A-Levels, where they will normally specialise in three or four subjects. Alongside numerous new subjects, many of the subjects available to students will be ones they have already studied during their GCSEs.  

As the Cambridge International GCSE curriculum states, IGCSEs also focus on broader intellectual pursuits such as:

  • Applying knowledge and understanding to new as well as unfamiliar situations
  • Intellectual inquiry
  • Flexibility and responsiveness to change
  • Working and communicating in English
  • Influencing outcomes
  • Cultural awareness

Benefits of the IGCSE

IGCSEs are a fantastic option for any child looking to prime themselves for the best academic future. Here are four benefits to the qualification.

1. Gain respected qualifications

With the IGCSE, your child can benefit from one of the most respected academic qualifications in the world. Thanks to the Lisbon Recognition Convention, IGCSEs are accepted as worthy qualifications in many countries around the world. The convention ensures that qualifications gained in one country are regarded as equal to the equivalent qualification in the member states, which allows a student to further their education in another country within the Lisbon Recognition Convention.  

This is a sign of the respect IGCSEs command and is signed by 45 of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, alongside countries such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

2. Accessible for all levels of education

IGCSEs are not just aimed at children with the highest academic skill level. They are an opportunity for every child to gain meaningful qualifications that act as a launchpad for their educational future.

Check with your exam board to find out what options there are for your child. Some subjects, but not all, adopt a two-tiered structure, allowing your child to sit an exam that aligns with their academic skills.

3. Lay the foundations for the International Baccalaureate Diploma

IGCSEs are an essential part of the academic process. With a collection of respected qualifications, a variety of exciting opportunities await your child. Aside from being a great pathway for studying A-Levels, many students who attain IGCSEs go on to study the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (commonly known as the IBDP), although it is not a requirement unless the school in question specifies.  

The IBDP is a world-renowned academic programme that helps nurture children into independent thinkers and analysers of the world around them – a vital skill for becoming thriving members of society.

4. Learn Valuable Life Skills

The IGCSE curriculum works hard to ensure that students aren’t merely memorising a list of facts to pass their exams. The intention is to develop an enthusiasm for intellectual inquiry – an indispensable skill required for further education.


Nord Anglia Education provides the IGCSE curriculum in many of our outstanding 66 schools spanning 29 countries. Head to our schools page to learn more about the academic opportunities available with Nord Anglia Education.