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An In-depth Look at IGCSE and A-Level Courses in One Article, With Their Detailed Differences Clearly Cutlined!

As a student exploring international curricula, you might often encounter terms like IGCSE and A-Level. But what do these courses entail? What differentiates them, and how do their levels of difficulty compare? For many parents and students venturing into international education for the first time, these distinctions might not be immediately clear. This guide is crafted to demystify these courses, offering a comprehensive overview designed to enlighten and inform.

  • What is IGCSE?

GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education in the UK. Outside the UK, the GCSE courses are known as IGCSE, with "I" standing for International. Essentially, IGCSE is the international version of GCSE.

IGCSE stands for International General Certificate of Secondary Education and is one of the most popular systems for students aged 14 to 16 worldwide, being part of the Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE). Cambridge IGCSE is offered in over 120 countries and covers more than 60 subjects.

IGCSE exams are held twice a year, in May-June and November-December. The IGCSE program lasts two years and offers 64 optional subjects. English and Mathematics are mandatory courses, while other subjects are electives. When applying to UK universities, schools highly value students' academic English proficiency and communication skills in English. IGCSE English grades are a good indicator of these abilities. The IGCSE English as a First Language and English as a Second Language grades are recognized by many universities.

IGCSE exam results are graded from A* to G, with U (Ungraded) indicating a fail. Students must achieve at least a C grade in five core subjects to continue their education. The grading overview is as follows:

Grades range from A* to G, with U indicating failure.

The IGCSE curriculum is widely recognized as a mature and robust system that lays a strong foundation in subject knowledge and language skills. Completing IGCSE courses prepares students well for higher-level studies such as A-Level, IB, or AP courses.

  • What is A-Level?

Between IGCSE and university courses lies the A-Level stage, known as the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level. This is the university entrance exam for UK students, akin to China's Gaokao, and is recognized by nearly all English-speaking universities.

Unlike other exams, A-Levels use a modular system, allowing students to select modules based on their interests and strengths, leading to certificates in the same subject but with different specializations. Students can retake exams under the same syllabus, improving their scores without being limited to one attempt.

The A-Level program spans two years:

  • First Year (AS Level): Students typically choose 3-4 subjects, earning an AS certificate upon passing exams.

  • Second Year (AL Level): Students continue with the same 3-4 subjects (or drop one), earning an A-Level certificate upon passing exams.

Like IGCSE, A-Level courses offer multiple subjects, making subject selection a critical concern for students and parents. Generally, the A-Level subjects chosen often determine the student's future university degree courses. Students usually study four subjects in the first year, reducing to three in the second year, though taking more subjects can benefit university applications.

A-Level grades range from A* (highest) to U (fail). If students are unhappy with their grades, they can retake exams, with the highest score being considered.

A-Level qualifications are highly recognized worldwide, enabling students to apply to universities in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, New Zealand and more.


Differences Between IGCSE and A-Level Courses

University Applications:
  • A-Level: Results can be used directly to apply to universities.

  • IGCSE: Results cannot be used directly for university applications, but they are important. An IGCSE English grade of B or above can replace an IELTS 7 score for many UK universities, including Oxford and Cambridge. Top universities often evaluate both IGCSE and A-Level predicted grades, with high IGCSE scores strengthening applications.


Subject Selection:
  • IGCSE: Offers over 60 subjects, including mandatory courses in Mathematics, English, and Science. Students must take at least five courses.

  • A-Level: Offers over 70 subjects, with students typically selecting 3-4 subjects for focused study.


  • IGCSE: Serves as a foundation, allowing students to explore various subjects over two years and prepare for advanced studies.

  • A-Level: Equivalent to university entrance exams, with a higher level of difficulty compared to IGCSE.


IGCSE courses provide a strong base for A-Level studies, with top universities considering both IGCSE and A-Level predicted grades during the admission process. High scores in IGCSE can significantly bolster university applications when combined with strong A-Level results.


What is the Relationship Between IGCSE and A-Level?

They are inseparable.

Simply put, IGCSE is the foundation, while A-Level is the advanced stage. IGCSE serves as the transitional course to A-Level.

After completing IGCSE, students typically continue to pursue A-Level courses to further deepen their knowledge and skills, preparing them for future university studies and careers. Skipping IGCSE and directly starting A-Level can be more challenging, as IGCSE is equivalent to the first two years of high school in many countries.

Is it Necessary to Study IGCSE Before Taking A-Level Courses?

Not necessarily. It depends on the individual student's situation. Even without IGCSE grades, having A-Level grades alone will not affect university applications. For example, IGCSE is like a general assessment, while A-Level grades are akin to the national university entrance exam scores. Students can choose whether or not to take IGCSE based on their performance.

However, if a student has a weak academic foundation, it is advisable to start with IGCSE to strengthen their basic skills. Additionally, students transitioning from traditional education systems to international schools may need to adapt to English-medium instruction. Studying IGCSE can help ease this transition, making it easier to manage A-Level and IBDP courses.



Understanding the relationship between IGCSE and A-Level courses is essential for both students and parents when planning an educational pathway. At our training institute, we recognize the importance of laying a strong foundation with the IGCSE curriculum, which seamlessly transitions into the more advanced A-Level courses.

IGCSE provides the necessary groundwork, helping students build a solid academic base and adapt to an English-medium learning environment. This is crucial for their success in A-Level courses, which demand deeper knowledge and critical thinking skills. While some students might excel by jumping directly to A-Levels, many benefit significantly from the structured preparation that IGCSE offers.

We encourage parents and students to consider starting with IGCSE to ensure a comprehensive understanding and readiness for A-Levels. Our expert faculty and tailored programs are designed to support students at every stage, ensuring they achieve their full potential and are well-prepared for university applications.

Join us at PGA to embark on this educational journey with confidence. Let us help you build a strong foundation with IGCSE and guide you through the advanced A-Level courses, setting you up for academic success and a bright future. Contact us today to learn more about our programs and how we can support your educational goals.

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