GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education):

Until 2013, the GCSE exam consisted of coursework – sometimes referred to as ‘controlled assessment’ – and exams. A review by Ofqual in 2013 concluded that the coursework element of GCSEs should be scrapped except, for example, in some subjects including science where experiments could demonstrate pupils’ knowledge. The emphasis now is for exams to be linear – that is with one final exam – rather than modular – the previous structure which allowed pupils to be assessed on smaller chunks of learning across two years.

GCSE exam grades are currently A*-G but these are due to change and are likely to be replaced with Grades 1-9.
At present, some exams are two-tier, so pupils can be entered for the higher or foundation tiers with their final grade being determined by the tier. For example, at foundation level a Grade C may be the maximum.

The GCSE course is usually two years but some schools will allow more able pupils to complete it in one year, or take the exams a year earlier. The majority of the exams are in June, with re-sits taken in November.

Pupils are no longer able to take English and Maths exams in November as their first entry, only for re-sits. Although some exam boards will still offer modular GCSE courses, from 2015 only linear courses will be accepted as qualifications in England.

So, to sum all of that up:
• Recent changes to the current GCSE exams mean that coursework is reduced to the absolute minimum.
• Most pupils are assessed by a final exam(s) at the end of two years rather than more frequent assessments over their course.
• Grades will change from A*-G and be replaced with Grades 1-9.

IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education):

The International GCSE was first introduced around 25 years ago so that pupils overseas, whose first language was not necessarily English, could take the exam. The syllabus includes many elements that are now not in the revised GCSE – mainly coursework.

Assessment takes place at the end of the course and includes written, oral, coursework and practical assessment. Grades are the same as for GCSEs A*-G. The subjects which can be studied are the same as for GCSE but also include many foreign languages.

What are the differences between GCSE and IGCSE exams?

The main difference is that the IGCSE still includes some elements of the old GCSE: coursework, oral and practical assessment as well as exams. The IGCSE is offered at different levels, and some teachers think that it has more scope for more able pupils at the higher level.

But – opinions on GCSE and IGCSE exams are mixed: many more state schools are entering their pupils for the IGSCE exam because they prefer the mix of coursework and exams which is now no longer so evident in the new GCSE curriculum. There is also more scope for teachers to choose from a wider range of material.

Some teachers – and pupils- think that the IGSCE exam is now easier than the new GCSE exam, because of the content of the syllabus and the range of assessment.

As a parent, it is probably unlikely that you will be able to choose which exam your child is entered for. If the school offers both, then discuss your child’s needs. If your child achieves higher marks with coursework and performs badly under exam conditions, then the IGCSE is an option.

But be aware that some universities have their own preferences. An increasing number are happy to accept International GCSE English, but some will not. If your child is heading for university you should, even at this stage, research entry requirements on each university’s website.