Introduction to GCSEs
GCSEs are UK qualifications awarded to students after completion of external examinations. IGCSEs are international GCSEs taken by students studying at schools outside the UK. Both GCSE and IGCSE offer many subjects including (but not limited to) English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Economics, Business Studies, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography, History and more. GCSE/IGCSE are good bridging courses that prepare students for IB/GCE A-levels/AP. In addition, students can explore their academic interests while taking GCSE/IGCSE, enabling them to choose the subjects they want to study at the next stage.
The grading scale for GCSE/IGCSE has changed since 2017 (first teaching 2017). Grading has been changed from A*-E grades to 9-1 grades, with 9 being the highest grade.
GCSE and iGCSE are widely recognized by top universities, including prestigious institutions in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong.
How to perform well in GCSE/IGCSE?
In preparation for GCSE/IGCSE, students should focus on understanding the fundamentals of each subject, as well as improving their spoken and written English in early high school. Students can also improve exam skills by working with past exam papers.
Most of our students take regular courses once or twice a week, supplemented by intensive courses over Christmas, Easter and the summer holidays to further enhance their grades. With the help of our GETUTOR tutors, students can easily tutor IGCSE/GCSE.
90% of GCSE/IGCSE students achieved A or A* (now 9-1). Our IGCSE tutoring students have been accepted by top universities including Cambridge, Oxford, Columbia, Cornell, LSE, Princeton, UCL, Durham and Warwick.
1. Is GCSE/IGCSE or MYP a better IBDP pathway?
This is a common problem. There are various bridging programs for the IBDP. In Hong Kong, most schools use IB MYP, IGCSE or Pre-IB courses as bridging courses, while in Singapore, most schools use IGCSE (O-level) as bridging courses. Pre-IB means that schools start the IBDP a year earlier, preparing students for the rigors of the IBDP. Students can explore the subjects they want to study in the Pre-IB year, allowing them to make more informed decisions about their subject choices.
A good IBDP Pathway program 1) provides students with a solid academic background, 2) provides students with the opportunity to choose the subjects they wish to study at the IBDP, and 3) prepares them for the rigorous IBDP external examinations. Of all subjects, GCSE/IGCSE seems to be preferable to the other two.
GCSE and IGCSE students typically study six to twelve subjects (virtually unlimited), depending on school requirements and their personal preferences. As most GCSE and IGCSE subjects are highly academic subjects such as English Literature, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Economics, Geography, History, etc., students should build a solid academic foundation for their IBDP year.
Given that students will be able to study a wider range of subjects during GCSE or IGCSE, they can learn about each subject before deciding which IBDP course to study. This will allow them to make more informed decisions. In addition, students must sit external GCSE or IGCSE examinations, usually in Year 11. While this means that students have to experience the stress of the external exams earlier, on the plus side, students will be more equipped with the necessary mental qualities to sit the external exams, which in turn will help them prepare for writing the IBDP external exam papers.
Compared to GCSE or IGCSE, IB MYP is a 5-year program offered by IBOs from Grade 7 to Grade 11. Some schools use the abbreviated MYP, eg 2, 3 or 4 years instead of 5 years. You can consider the final two years of the MYP as the GCSE equivalent. MYP students must study eight subject groups, including Language Acquisition, Language and Literature, Individuals and Societies, Science, Mathematics, Art, Physical Education and Health Education and Design. You can find more information about the MYP course structure here:https ://www.ibo.org/programmes/middle-years-programme/curriculum/
The IB MYP is more task and project oriented. Therefore, students are encouraged to conduct their own exploration within the project. For bright students, this is an excellent opportunity to explore their research, analysis and presentation skills. This process enables them to absorb various theories or concepts. However, for students who need more guidance, they may get lost in the process. It is extremely important for teachers to be able to spot weaknesses in students, and to be able to instruct and report back on requests. However, this can be a challenging task for teachers given that all the projects/research students provide are different.
From an exam perspective, you would expect fewer academic exams or exams as the MYP program is more task-based. In a way, this helps students relieve exam stress. However, it can be challenging at times to track a student's progress and make necessary remedial actions when needed.
The IBO launched the first electronic assessment for IB MYP students in 2016. This is equivalent to an external examination with a maximum score of 56 points. Electronic assessment is not a mandatory requirement for MYP schools. Electronic assessments will require students to take some sections as on-screen exams and other sections as electronic portfolios.(https://www.ibo.org/programmes/middle-years-programme/assessment-and-exams/)
The IB MYP exam is less rigorous than the GCSE or IGCSE exams.
Overall, IGCSE or GCSE courses seem to be more academically rigorous and create an IBDP-like exam environment for students. I believe that for very bright students they will benefit from both classes anyway. For students who need more tutoring, IGCSE or GCSE seem to be a better route to the IBDP than the IB MYP.
2. What is the difference between IGCSE and GCSE?
The main difference between IGCSE and GCSE is that they are used by different countries. The GCSE syllabus is mainly used in the UK - both state and independent schools are able to offer GCSE. IGCSE (International GCSE) is for non-UK overseas countries. IGCSE is offered in over 120 countries. In the UK, some private schools also offer IGCSE, but this is less common.
The duration of IGCSE and GCSE courses is usually two years. Some schools may condense this into one year, but again, this is rare. In terms of exam boards, GCSE is delivered by AQA, OCR, Edexcel, CCEA and WJEC. IGCSE is delivered by three boards - Cambridge, Edexcel and AQA. Students are generally not allowed to choose an exam board. Schools will decide which exam boards to use on a per-subject basis, for example, schools offer Chemistry from Cambridge Boards and English from AQA. This diversity of exam boards is common regardless of whether the school offers GCSE or IGCSE.
Another difference between GCSE and IGCSE is the marking system. GCSE has traditionally used letter grades (A*, A, B, etc.), but switched to a 1-9 numerical grading system after the syllabus changes. IGCSE has also changed its grading system, now Edexcel and AQA grades are 1-9. Instead, Cambridge Examination Boards have two syllabus options, which use a numerical or letter grading system, depending on which one your school chooses. Most schools will opt for a 1-9 number grading system across all subjects for consistency. However, 8-9 in the number system is equivalent to A*, so it is easier to get an A* than a 9. Therefore, the numerical scoring system is arguably more difficult.
GCSE exams are held annually, usually in May, which is best suited for the UK school term. They don't usually offer November or January exams, but with the recent Covid issue, another exam period in November has become available.
The IGCSE exams offer a May/June exam period each year. Some boards will offer additional winter exams (eg Cambridge offers winter exams in November and Edexcel in January). In general, however, there will be a reduced range of subject exams offered in winter compared to the main exam period in summer.
Which is more difficult?
The difference between GCSE and IGCSE is negligible. Different syllabi, of course there will be slight differences in content and curriculum, but 80-90% of the same subject is the same in IGCSE or GCSE. Before the syllabus changes, GCSE required coursework, but now both syllabi are exam-based. Universities also don't tend to favor any one syllabus over another.
Should I choose IGCSE or GCSE?
If you are an overseas student, chances are the only thing available to you is IGCSE, so you have no choice in this matter. If you're in the UK, you can choose between schools offering IGCSE or GCSE. The subjects offered are generally the same, but there are some nuances in English for IGCSE. GCSE is only offered in English Language and English Literature. IGCSE also offers English as a first or second language. Therefore, if your English is weak, you may consider IGCSE English as a Second Language.
However, we also recommend that you consider it for future university applications. Some universities do not accept English as a second language to count towards the real language requirement and also require you to take IELTS. If this is relevant to your situation, please think carefully before deciding to take IGCSE English as a second language.
3. English level for UK curriculum (GCSE/GCE A Level): The Sciences
If you've studied in Hong Kong your whole life and are now planning to study for GCE/A-level or GCSE exams in the UK, the transition can be daunting. Faced with the prospect of an English-only environment, many students wonder if the change is drastic and overwhelming. For students studying science, a lot of the variation depends on the language you use in your Hong Kong classroom.
If your biology, chemistry or physics courses are taught in Chinese then you may find it difficult to understand your teachers in the UK at first. Even the simple Chinese terms you learned in biology will each have an English equivalent to learn, for example, mitochondria, pancreas, pancreas, etc. will become mitochondria, glucose, and pancreas, respectively. At first, you may have to relearn all the scientific terms you've already learned, which can be stressful and negative.
Also, even if your courses in Hong Kong are conducted in English, be aware that there are many different accents in the UK. For example, you might encounter English with a Scottish, Irish or RP (Queen's way of speaking) accent, or have Indian or Polish teachers. Even if you know your teachers in Hong Kong, you may not be used to these new British accents. Also, it is likely that the English teacher will speak English faster than you are used to, so there is an adjustment period.
You may feel frustrated because these British courses are in English and your Chinese knowledge seems to be wasted. But there are plenty of free English resources online for you to review, so once you get used to it, it shouldn't be that hard to learn in class.
Some students may also worry that their lower English proficiency will put them at a disadvantage in the exam. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- When you write answers to exam questions, these syllabus will usually require you to write complete sentences, so you cannot use bullet points.
- Many students worry that their grammar is terrible and it may affect their grades. We advise you not to worry about it, as the examiners don't really care much about it (unless you are taking an English test). The UK syllabus usually has an international version (International GCSE or International A-level) and examiners know English students as a second language. There are so many immigrants and students of different nationalities in British schools that it is difficult to expect perfect grammar from all of them. As a general rule of thumb: as long as your grammar isn't wrong enough to affect the meaning of the answer or the examiner can't understand you, you're fine!
- Sometimes the English term you use in the test is not quite correct, for example you hear the term and misspell it according to its pronunciation – don’t worry, the examiners will usually accept these answers too! They assess your scientific knowledge, not your English, so some flexibility is allowed.
In general, if your course in Hong Kong was taught in English and you did your homework and exams in English, you will probably be perfectly fine when switching to a UK course. If your course in Hong Kong is taught in Chinese, you may experience some minor difficulties with class lectures, written responses, long questions, and essay-based exam questions. But keep learning, and in a few months, you'll be able to settle in and adjust to a new language pretty well!
4. How to get A* in IGCSE Maths
When preparing for the IGCSE Maths exam, it is important to identify your goals first. No matter which exam board you take (AQA, CIE or Edexcel), all the IGCSE Maths exams are usually divided into two parts: the easier topics are in the basic section and the harder topics are in the extended section of the syllabus. Most students take both Foundation and Extended courses, although this varies between schools and classes.
If you download the syllabus, you will see the fundamentals section at the beginning of the syllabus. If you are a foundation course student, the highest grade you can achieve is 5. The highest grade you can achieve is a 9 if you also take the Extended Exam. Different courses have different wording, so extended courses are also called higher tiers.
Foundation topics in IGCSE Maths are generally considered easier. Examples include algebraic operations, extensions, factorization, exponents, and more. Most students, whether they are foundation-only students or higher level students, behave in the same way in foundational subjects. They will have a good grasp of these concepts.
The higher level/extended topics in IGCSE Mathematics are generally more difficult and students are really differentiated by their level of ability. Topics include calculus, differentiation, kinematics, vectors, functions, 3D trigonometry, probability, sequences and series, and the circle theorem. Higher level topics address more challenging concepts, for example in the circle theorem you may be presented with a circle and several lines bisecting the circle and need to calculate the angle between the lines on the circle etc. Often, the difference between Level 7, 8 and 9 students will be to see how they approach more difficult concepts and whether they are revising in depth enough for these extended topics.
If you are a student aiming for higher grades, you will want to focus on the Extended/Higher Tier topics and review well. A typical IGCSE exam will focus on more difficult topics in the last 5-6 questions. We recommend that you download sample papers and past papers to try out some examples. If you feel that you do not have time to complete all the questions on these past papers, you can try the last 5-6 questions of each paper. This is because the problems in the first half are usually easier, such as algebra operations. Students with high goals usually shouldn't have any questions about them and can spend their time more effectively by skipping the easy questions and only training on higher level topics.
Conversely, if you are not aiming for a higher maths grade and want a 5 or lower, we recommend that you focus on foundational subjects. If you study well and are confident in the foundational topics, you won't make mistakes and can get solid grades in the foundational part of the exam. During the exam, you can look at the Higher Tier topics to see if you can try to score some points here and there. But for revision, don't worry about the higher layer stuff, just focus on building the basics.
Most importantly, identify who you are as a student and what your goals are. Potential strategies to ensure that each student achieves a different target result.
5. What is the difference between MYP and IGCSE?
The MYP and IGCSE are secondary education programs with some notable differences. IGCSE or International General Certificate of Secondary Education is the international equivalent of GCSE, a long, academically focused British education program for children aged 14-16. The MYP or Middle Years Program is an educational framework with no fixed curriculum and was recently created to prepare young students for the rigorous IB programme. The MYP is for students aged 11-16.
IGCSE Curriculum and MYP Framework
The most notable difference between the MYP and the IGCSE is that the IGCSE defines a subject-specific curriculum, while the MYP does not. IGCSE follows a traditional approach, with topics and content set, specified in the syllabus by exam boards, and taught in the classroom until exams are given at the end of the two years. IGCSE is arguably superior in training students in exam skills, coursework, time management and individual subject skills. However, subjects are mostly isolated from each other and exam-focused, which can leave students feeling that they are being educated in an overly mechanical or formulaic way.
In contrast, the MYP has no defined curriculum. Instead, it allows each school to customize the syllabus and encourages students to study subjects jointly. For example, MYP students could simultaneously study an infectious disease unit in biology, do a group project on the historical bubonic plague, and review literature in English from malaria-affected countries. In this way, students gain a more well-rounded education in understanding the connections between different disciplines and how they relate to real-world global issues.
IGCSE is externally assessed and MYP is internally assessed
The IGCSE provides standardized externally assessed examinations, while the MYP relies on internal assessments set by schools. Students may be familiar with the teacher-led format of IGCSE, where they have to learn and remember what and how they are taught in class. The IGCSE curriculum and assessment criteria are well defined, leaving little room for interpretation or student-led learning. This can be restrictive or rewarding, some children find it productive as there are clear demands to be fulfilled, while others may feel overwhelmed or limited in their scope of learning.
In contrast, the MYP's assessment criteria are more vague. Content and assessment depend heavily on teacher interpretation. The MYP also places a strong emphasis on inquiry-based learning. Students gain greater control over their education by determining their own research questions through individual projects and investigations. MYP students should develop the ability to ask deep, thoughtful questions about their topics, as the quality of a student's education depends in part on their skills as inquirers. For these reasons, the quality of education at the MYP tends to vary from school to school, whereas IGCSE is more consistent. As an older program, the IGCSE is also more widely recognized and respected, although the MYP is recognized for its association with the IB.
Features of MYP
The MYP also includes a personal project as part of its requirements. Students must decide on a learning outcome or goal and create a specific product, such as a website, musical instrument, or short animation, to achieve that outcome. The program is designed to allow students to demonstrate the skills they have learned and developed during the course, while pursuing an area of personal interest outside of the subject curriculum. They also had to give a demo of the final product and document their creative process throughout. There is no equivalent IGCSE.
All students are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities throughout Secondary School, regardless of which program they are studying. They can enrich a student's life and are also great for adding a personal statement to a college application. Extracurricular activities, including creativity, action and community service (CAS), are a requirement of the MYP. This is to prepare students for completing similar CAS hours in the IB and to encourage young learners to see themselves as members of the community and global citizens. IGCSE places less emphasis on extra-curricular activities, but students looking to get into the IB or university should get in the habit of participating anyway.
Whether it's IGCSE or MYP, GETUTOR provides students with the resources they need to reach their potential and succeed. If you would like further advice on the best options for your child, or would like to book a lesson with one of our many professionally trained MYP and IGCSE tutors, please do not hesitate to contact usconnect.
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