International schools are a growing trend in the education system. They offer an international curriculum based on their host country's national curriculum but focus on global perspectives and languages.

The International General Certificate of Secondary Education is an internationally recognised qualification for students aged 16 to 19 years who want to study in an international school. It is a qualification offered by the Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE), which has been providing qualifications since 1858.

Based on a study carried out by ISC Research, over 70,000 students enrolled in an English-speaking international school. This is unsurprising, considering that thousands of students are sitting for the IGCSE examination each year.

Due to the popularity and recognition of the qualification, the IGCSE is highly regarded as an ideal stepping stone to pre-university courses such as the A Levels, the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP), Canadian, American and Australian curriculum.

The IGCSE has been around for over 30 years and is based on the UK's GCSE or O Level qualifications. International schools in Malaysia choose between three main IGCSE exam boards that match the needs of their students: Cambridge Assessment International Education, Pearson Edexcel and Oxford International AQA.


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Programme Duration 

The IGCSE is a two-year programme that prepares students for the examinations in Years 10 and 11. Some schools, however, choose to speed up the programme to over a year to 18 months.

The exam board typically offers two exam sessions each year to allow the schools to pick a session that is best suited to their school calendar. Generally, schools that start their academic year in September will have their exams in May and June, whereas schools that start in January will have their exams in October and November.

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Subject Available 

There are more than 70 IGCSE subjects, and a student must take a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 14 subjects. However, the subjects offered may vary depending on the school, country and exam board. Typically, some schools make certain subjects compulsory such as English, Maths and Science. It is also possible to take the IGCSE in other subjects such as Art & Design, Business Studies and Computer Science.

In Malaysia, it is compulsory for all Malaysian students to take the Bahasa Malaysia subject when they are in Year 11.

Here are some common subjects offered in international schools in Malaysia:

  • English 
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Accounting 
  • Business Studies
  • Computer Studies 
  • Art & Design 
  • Information & Communication Technology 

Click here to view the complete list of subjects offered according to CAIE. 

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Choosing Subjects 

Students in British-based international schools choose their subjects in Year 9. The school will usually organise a meeting with the students and their parents to offer them guidance and advice when choosing the best subject combination suited to each student. Most students will choose to study between eight and 10 subjects and will usually spend three to five hours per week working at school or home on each subject.


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Grading System

Depending on the subject, assessments usually involve one or two written examinations. Whilst there are subjects such as English, Languages and Music where examinations include oral or listening tests, subjects such as Science, Design and Technology and Art & Design often involve practical and written exams as well as coursework elements.

The grading system for IGCSE is different from that for GCSE, which is also a two-year programme but geared towards students aged 14 to 16 years old. The grading system in IGCSE consists of grades A* to G and “Ungraded”, marked by the letter ‘U’. The grades are given out according to the student’s performance in each subject. Each student must obtain a minimum grade of C in the five core subjects in order to proceed to the next educational level. Students will be awarded one IGCSE certificate on each subject.

The IGCSE grading system aims to keep the grading system uniform, ensuring that students with equivalent levels of achievement receive the same grade from one year to the next. This means that grades should demonstrate a consistent level of achievement across different syllabuses within the same qualification and through the years.



The IGCSE examination is favoured by many parents due to its practical approach to teaching and helping their children to develop good skills, the choices of subjects, as well as the assessment system.

Apart from that, the IGCSE examination provides a gateway to higher education or professional studies in the student’s home country or overseas.


In conclusion, the IGCSE is a suitable choice for many students due to the wide range of subjects and flexibility offered, alongside the numerous benefits the certification holds. Parents can be assured that the exam board invests heavily in supporting schools and training teachers to ensure that the students have the greatest chance of achieving their fullest potential. As the course has been running for 30 years, there are numerous resources available such as past exam papers and marking schemes which students can use as a preparation tool for examinations.


This article at a glance:

The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) is an internationally recognised qualification for students aged 16 to 19 years who want to study in an international school. The IGCSE examination is a popular choice for many parents because of the following: 

  • Programme duration
  • Subjects offered 
  • Choosing of subjects 
  • Grading system
  • Benefits 

As each curriculum differs widely, parents are encouraged to do their research carefully in order to make the right decision.