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GCSE or IGCSE?

Looking to study a GCSE or IGCSE but undecided as to which is the best option? Unsure of the differences between the two?  Then look no further than a really useful guide written by Amy Smith, founder of e Learn With Amy.  Amy is a full-time home ed tutor, based in Leeds, who supports home educated students or anyone not in “formal education” to achieve the qualifications they want! She too was home educated, undertaking college courses followed by a degree, with no formal schooling before age 16.  Therefore, she’s ideally placed to understand the challenges faced by those outside of mainstream education and advise on possible examination pathways.

Here Facebook page can be viewed here or you can view her website here.  Why not take a look, Amy would be very happy to hear from you.

And if you’re considering sitting your IGCSEs. or any other subject qualification for that matter, why not let the Academic Enrichment Centre host your exams?  Details of the subjects we offer and our examination entry fees can be found in our Fees List along with useful links to all Awarding Organisation specifications and support materials.

Demystifying IGCSEs for Home-Educated Students and Parents in the UK. (Abridged Version)

  • What are IGCSEs?

IGCSEs, or the International General Certificate of Secondary Education, are a widely recognized qualification for students in the UK. As a home-educated student, you can take the exams privately at an authorized exam centre.

  • Why choose IGCSEs?

IGCSEs are designed to be more flexible and cater to the needs of students who are not in a traditional school setting, including home-educated students. They also often have fewer mandatory practical requirements compared to GCSEs, making them a practical-friendly option for home-educated students.

Additionally, unlike GCSEs (with the exception of English Language and Mathematics resits in November), most IGCSE subjects can be taken in either the ‘Summer’ or ‘Winter’ examination series, giving candidates two opportunities to sit their subject exams in each academic year.

  1. Are IGCSEs of the same value as GCSEs?

Yes, IGCSEs carry the same value and weight as GCSEs in the UK and many other countries. Both IGCSEs and GCSEs are widely recognized qualifications that are accepted by universities and employers.

  • What’re the main exam boards for IGCSEs?

There are several exam boards offering IGCSEs, the favoured options being Pearson Edexcel or CAIE (Cambridge Assessment International Education) IGCSEs. Did you know?  CAIE hold the trademark for ‘IGCSE’ preventing Pearson Edexcel from using the same name for their suite of subjects.  Therefore Pearson Edexcel use the term ‘International GCSE’.

  • Does it matter which exam board I choose?

It doesn’t matter in terms of… an IGCSE is an IGCSE, and at the end of the day you’ll end up with the same level of qualification! However, there may be a few things to think about when choosing. The choice of exam board will depend on the specific subject and qualifications you’re interested in. It’s important to research the different exam boards and choose the one that offers the qualifications you’re looking for. For example, there’s currently a Marine Science IGCSE available from Cambridge, but not from Edexcel.

Or, if both main exam boards offer the same subject – eg Biology or English – the exam format could be a bit different so it’s worth doing a quick search and looking up what suits your child’s learning style best. Google past papers of both (can be downloaded for free online). For example, I personally prefer tutoring Spec A of the IGCSE English Language Edexcel subject, but others might prefer spec B! They both end up with getting an English IGCSE, just a slightly different syllabus and exam format.

It is also worth noting that whilst all of Edexcel IGCSEs are graded 9-1, as GCSEs in England are, many Cambridge IGCSE subjects have two specifications; one graded 9-1 the other A*-G.  Something for you to consider?

  • How do I book IGCSE exams for my home-educated child in the UK?

1.Research centres approved to deliver IGCSEs: The first step is to find an authorised exam centre that offers the IGCSE subject exams your child is interested in. You can find a list of authorized exam centres on the Cambridge Assessment International Education website or Pearson Edexcel website. 

2.Contact the exam centre: Once you’ve found an authorized exam centre, you’ll need to contact them to find out about their exam dates, fees, and any other requirements. Do this with plenty of time as there are deadlines for booking. 

3. Register for the exams: After you’ve confirmed the details with the exam centre, you’ll need to register your child for the exams. This will typically involve filling out a form and paying the exam fees.

  • What if I need help studying for an IGCSE?

To help your child study for an IGCSE exam, it’s important to find out the subject and exact exam board you’re going for. Google the qualification and download the latest “specification.” 

The specification will list everything your child needs to learn and will explain the number and length of exams. 

You should also look for the official textbook for that specific subject and exam board. 

What you want to avoid is just picking up a general GCSE textbook for the subject your child is doing. This is absolutely fine if just wanting to start them off studying at the general level of GCSE in that subject, but it won’t be ideal for exam prep unless it’s the correct exam board and qualification they’ll be taking, as the syllabus can be slightly different. 

There might be certain topics they focus on or include or omit in AQA Biology GCSE that they do not in IGCSE Biology Edexcel, for example. Not every GCSE syllabus is the same. 

You may follow a mix of the textbook, the specification, online resources, revision notes, and/or a tutor if needing more guidance. Note: Not everyone will need or want a tutor or course to study and that’s ok! It is totally up to you and your family’s needs. I know many people who study completely independently via textbooks, and others who like the extra guidance and support of a tutor or course to follow. 

Okay, so let’s say your child says they’d like to take IGCSE Biology independently. 

First, simply Google “IGCSE Biology”. You might notice two qualifications come up. IGCSE Biology Cambridge and IGCSE Biology Pearson Edexcel. Either are going to be just as good as the other, still end up in a IGCSE qualification, just a different type! 

  • How many IGCSEs should my child take, and in what subjects? 

The choice of IGCSE subjects for a home-educated child depends on several factors, including the child’s individual interests, strengths, and future educational and career goals. On average, students take between 8 to 10 IGCSE subjects.

Here are some common subject areas that are popular for students to study at IGCSE level:

  • English Language
  • Mathematics
  • Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics)
  • Humanities (Geography, History)
  • Business Studies 

Environmental Management is also very popular with home educated students. 

It is important to note that the choice of subjects will also depend on the resources and support available to the home-educated child. One important factor is to make sure the IGCSE syllabus, subject and exam board is examination-only. If it has coursework or other assessments that aren’t exams, it could be very difficult to study that subject as a home educated student. If that’s the case, you might want to look into doing that course at a college or in person provider instead of self-studying. Subjects are a personal choice, and with home ed it really is up to you and the student – what do they enjoy and what interests them? 

If at all possible, and going down the IGCSE route, I’d probably start with an English and Maths qualification and work from there. You can self-study and book and sit exams in Functional Skills maths, Functional Skills English, IGCSE English Language and IGCSE Mathematics. After those two, think about interests. For example, if you want to study about animals or the environment or natural world, I’d strongly recommend taking IGCSE Biology as its own science. Even though at school someone might take 10 GCSES, that doesn’t mean you need that number of IGCSEs necessarily. If going this route, and wanting to progress to A Levels after, I would consider starting with 5. 

You could spread them out as well – for example, you could get a head start and begin studying them at 13, and do a couple a year to help with studying and focus. After Biology, again if interested in studying Zoology or Ecology, I’d then consider Environmental Management, Marine Science and possibly Chemistry IGCSEs too? If your child absolutely loves English, you can take the two separate English qualifications – Language and Literature. If just doing one English qualification, opt for language. 

Ultimately, the choice of IGCSE subjects should be a collaborative decision made between the child, and their parents. Consider the child’s strengths, interests, and future goals, as well as the resources and support available to them.✨

✨I hope this guide helped! Please let me know if you think I missed anything important!✨