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IGCSE vs GCSE Critical Facts & Guidance for Students

IGCSE vs GCSE Critical Facts & Guidance for Students

Are you a student wondering whether you should opt for GCSE or IGCSE? Do you wish to know the differences between these qualifications? You have arrived at the right place.

IGCSE vs GCSE is a heated debate in the education industry. Both differ in difficulty, subjects, and grades. We have shared these details in today’s blog.

When you’re done reading this guide, you will be able to make a conscious decision about your next step in your educational career.

Brief Intro to IGCSE and GCSE

GCSE and IGCSE are two curriculums gained by the UK and foreign high school students. GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education. This national qualification is most commonly obtained by 16-year-old students in Northern Ireland, Wales, and England. 

The GCSE is a 2-year program that polishes you for higher education, such as apprenticeships, A-level, or even employment. Every year, a million UK students take the GCSE exam, making it the most preferred qualification.

Now, let’s come to IGCSE. It stands for International General Certificate of Secondary Education. This is also a globally accepted qualification for foreign students. IGCSE is observed in 160 countries and is presented by Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE). Although GCSE is not identical to the Cambridge IGCSE, the two qualifications share some similarities.

Major Differences between IGCSEs and GCSEs

Major Differences between IGCSEs and GCSEs

The IGCSE vs GCSE debate can’t be solved without knowing their differences first. These are listed below:

Exam Boards

A number of UK exam boards administer the GCSEs. Some examples are Edexcel, OCR, and AQA. The content of these qualifications might be similar, but the exam boards differ regarding the subjects, grading, and assessment.

CAIE administers the IGCSE, and it is a branch of the University of Cambridge. The exam boards that provide the IGCSE qualification are known as Oxford AQA and Pearson. 

Grading system

While IGCSE employs an A*-G grading system (with A* being the highest grade), GCSE follows a 9-1 system (with 9 being the highest grade). But it wasn’t like that before because GCSE had a letter grading system.

This means that GCSE grades 7-9 are equal to IGCSE A or A*. IGCSE students pass at C, while GCSE students pass at 4. Knowing the grading system is important for getting a university admission because plenty of universities demand a minimum grade in particular subjects, such as English.


Both qualifications boast a generous amount of subjects in optional and core categories. The core subjects of IGCSE are Science, Math, and English, with Computer Science, Accounting, Business Studies, and more as optional subjects. On the other hand, GCSE features the same core subjects. Its optional subjects are Creative Arts, Languages, Geography, and History.

Around 60% of GCSE students and 50% of IGCSE students take these subjects. But keep in mind that the availability of these subjects depends on the location and school. Some schools might not teach particular subjects due to low demand or no teacher present to teach them. So students and parents need to decide the subjects as well as check their availability.

Role of IGCSE and GCSE in University Admissions

By now, you must be aware that GCSE and IGCSE are needed to achieve higher education. Both of these lay the base for future studies, like the International Baccalaureate. 

The UK demands students to bring a minimum of 5 GCSEs that should include Math and English if they want to enter A-level or higher studies. UK universities also note a student’s grades during their admissions. Likewise, IGCSE is a globally renowned qualification.

Below, we have answered common questions students have on this matter.

Are IGCSEs accepted in Elite US Universities?

Yes, American universities accept the IGCSEs, such as Harvard and Ivy League. This qualification is accepted as being equal to the American high school diploma. The US universities also demand extra tests or qualifications, like the ACT, SAT, or Advanced Placement (AP).

IGCSE vs GCSE - Which is Preferred by Universities?

Usually, universities do not give preference to one qualification in place of another. Employers and schools accept IGCSE and GCSE both. Not only this, universities also know that most students are not given any freedom to choose because their school sets the qualifications to teach. 

Nevertheless, some UK universities prefer GCSE for specific subjects, like Math or English. The reason is that IGCSE is designed at a global level with a bigger curriculum, whereas GCSE was made for UK students. The GCSE preference depends on the subject course and the university. It is not a solid factor in university admissions.

Is IGCSE recognized by Oxbridge and the UK universities?

The UK universities recognize IGCSE as being equal to GCSE. IGCSE is also a suitable qualification for university admission. But some courses might demand particular grades or subjects. Therefore, students are advised to check the exact criteria of their preferred course before applying. 

How to Choose Your IGCSE Subjects

Selecting suitable subjects for IGCSE is crucial. This decision will influence your academic and career paths. Owing to its importance, we have mentioned important factors to consider while choosing your IGCSE subjects. They are as follows:


Finally, if you have a knack for writing, IGCSE presents Creative Writing, English Literature, and English Language. These subjects are great for polishing writing skills. Students who wish to be professionals in creative writing or journalism fields opt for these subjects. 


Mathematics is a core subject in both qualifications. If you like math, there are options to take Further Mathematics or Additional Mathematics as well. The two subjects are branches of math and are appreciated by STEM courses in universities.


IGCSE presents many language options, such as Arabic, French, Mandarin, German, and Spanish. These subjects are nice options for students who like different cultures, learning foreign languages, or wishing to study abroad for further education.


If you’re a student who is interested in science instead, IGCSE will give you many choices to pick from. Examples include Computer Science, Physics, Biology, and Chemistry. All these subjects are liked by universities, especially for science-related courses. Students gain the relevant and valuable skills to study that subject deeply in the future.


In the Humanities branch, IGCSE brings Literature, History, Religious Studies, and Geography. These subjects offer a deeper insight into the world, including its cultures and history. Universities prefer these subjects for humanities and social science courses.

Remember to pick subjects based on your strengths and preferences. Moreover, subjects should also align with your career and higher education goals. Just to be safe, make sure that there is enough guidance and resources for those subjects, like tutoring, teachers, and books.

Last Words

GCSE and IGCSE are globally recognized and important qualifications for high school students. Both of them share differences and similarities. Broadly speaking, IGCSE comes with a wider curriculum and a global student base. What’s more, a handful of UK universities prioritize GCSE for some subjects. But luckily, all universities in the world accept both qualifications for admission. In the end, the IGCSE vs GCSE debate depends on the student’s academic and career interests.

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With over 3 years of experience in teaching, Chloe is very deeply connected with the topics that talk about the educational and general aspects of a student's life. Her writing has been very helpful for students to gain a better understanding of their academics and personal well-being. I’m also open to any suggestions that you might have! Please reach out to me at chloedaniel402 [at]