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IGCSE vs GCSE: What’s the Difference?

posted by Rosie on Thursday, 22 April 2021

Most people in the UK are familiar with GCSEs, or a General Certificate of Secondary Education. They’re sat by high schoolers at the end of compulsory education and are designed to offer a pathway into higher education or the workplace.

And it isn’t just the UK that has GCSEs. They’re offered in a handful of countries, including India, Canada and Australia, and are recognised internationally as an official high school qualification.

What, then, are IGCSEs? And how do they differ from the standard qualification?

IGCSE stands for International General Certificate of Secondary Education, which should give you some clue as to what makes them different from the standard UK version. Essentially, these qualifications are available in more countries than customary GCSEs, while still sharing the same level of credit and recognition as their UK counterpart.

If you are weighing up your study choices and are concerned that IGCSEs are somehow inferior or less legitimate than GCSEs, fear not. IGCSEs are exactly the same level of qualification as their better-known counterparts, so can contribute just as well to your future applications to higher education or the working world.

To help you get to grips with how GCSEs and IGCSEs differ, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide covering both qualification types in detail. Looking at how GCSEs and IGCSEs work, this resource can steer you in the right direction when it comes to finding the course for you.

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How Do GCSEs and IGCSEs Differ?

On paper at least, GCSEs and IGCSEs sound very similar. But there’s more that separates them than simply the countries in which they’re available.

Let’s take a look at exactly how GCSEs and IGCSEs differ.

Country-by-Country Availability

The most obvious way GCSEs and IGCSEs differ is in the countries where they’re available. GCSEs are offered in only a handful of countries, whereas IGCSEs are accessible on a much wider scale, in over 150 countries worldwide.

What’s more, you can also sit IGCSEs in countries which offer standard GCSEs, including the UK. Some institutions that cater to international students offer IGCSEs as a means of ensuring a flexible learning experience, no matter where you’re studying in the world.


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Say, for example, a student began studying an IGCSE in the UK; if they chose to return to their home country, they would be able to pick up their studies where they left off, provided IGCSEs were available.

At Oxbridge, we offer both GCSEs and IGCSEs, catering for a broad range of distance learning students from all walks of life.

Course Content

While there are a huge number of subject areas available for both GCSEs and IGCSEs, the content of individual courses may differ between the two qualification types – even for the same subject.

For example, say you wanted to study English Literature; the course content for the GCSE may differ from the IGCSE, making for an altogether different learning experience.

Why is this? Well, it comes down to contextual and cultural differences, with some topics and subjects more relevant to English-speaking UK students.

In English Literature, the customary GCSE course may focus on well-known British writers like William Shakespeare. For the IGCSE, the course may take a broader and more international approach, focusing on writers from other countries and cultures.

Syllabuses also differ between GCSEs and IGCSEs, with different compulsory subjects depending on the course area. For instance, subject areas differ for courses such as History and Geography, better reflecting the needs of an international student base.

Exam Dates

In the UK, we’re familiar with GCSE exams taking place in the early summer, with students receiving their grades in August. The main GCSE exam period typically lasts from May to June, giving students maximum time to complete coursework and prepare for the exam season.

This is slightly different for IGCSEs. While the majority of exams for these qualifications happen in May-June, some are sat between November and January each year, all depending on the subject in question.


student studying on his laptop


So, if you’re thinking of sitting IGCSEs, don’t be surprised if you’re required to sit exams outside the usual May-June period. And worry not, because you’ll still have plenty of time to prepare, with variable course start and end dates for IGCSE subjects.

Of course, if you choose to enrol on a distance learning course to earn your GCSE or IGCSE qualifications, you will not be controlled by set exam dates anyway. You’re free to enrol at a date that suits you and then you have two years to complete the course in your own time.


Should I Take GCSEs or IGCSEs?

While this post may have focused on the differences between GCSEs and IGCSEs, in reality, this shouldn’t guide your opinion either way. The qualifications are both highly regarded and accepted as a recognised pathway into higher education, both here in the UK and overseas.

That said, it’s more common for international students to take IGCSEs, simply for the flexibility and variable course content they provide. Some students may even end up taking a combination of GCSEs and IGCSEs, depending on the institution in question.


student studying on her laptop


When choosing between GCSEs and IGCSEs, the main thing to consider is that the qualification meets your aspirations for the future. How will the course help you progress to the next step in your career? And will it open the right doors for you? One of the great benefits of taking IGCSEs is that they are widely recognised in many countries around the world – which could be incredibly useful if you are planning on studying or working abroad in the coming years.

So, if you are looking to attain school leaver qualifications, it might be worth looking at whether IGCSEs can provide all the benefits of traditional GCSEs as well as a few bonuses that could help your learning and career ambitions.

At Oxbridge, we provide a range of GCSEs and IGCSEs that are suitable for remote distance learners. To find out more, visit our online GCSE courses page or talk to one of our experienced course advisers on 0121 630 3000.