Cambridge IGCSE vs ‘O’ Level: What is the Difference?

Most secondary school students in Singapore sit for the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (GCE ‘O’ Level) secondary-level qualification. A similar examination is the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE). As the ’O’ Level and IGCSE are of equivalent qualification grades, it can be easy to mix them up. However there are still some notable differences to be aware of before you choose to enrol in either system.

What is the IGCSE?

The IGCSE is the world’s most popular international curriculum for students aged 14-16. Over 70 subjects are available – including 30 languages – but availability differs across schools.

The IGCSE stresses learner-centred and inquiry-based approaches to learning which helps deepen students’ understanding of subject knowledge. Assessments are aimed at evaluating knowledge and understanding, initiative, and oral and practical abilities.

What is the GCE ‘O’ Level?

The ‘O’ Level was first introduced in 1971, and now offers over 40 subjects. It is another popular examination taken by school and private candidates aged 14-16 to prepare for post-secondary education.

The ‘O’ Level is aligned closely with Singapore’s school curriculum, and has a greater focus on evaluating candidates’ reading and writing abilities and skills. Most Singaporean students who sit for ‘O’ Levels go on to take the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE ‘A’ Level) examinations, although students can also opt for other qualifications like the International Baccalaureate (IB).

Key Differences between ‘O’ Level and IGCSE

1. Subject selection

IGCSE offers a broader range of subjects, with some subjects also offering a coursework option. This provides a degree of flexibility and support for students whose first language is not English. Students are allowed to take between 5-14 subjects, with English, Math, and Sciences as compulsory subjects.

In contrast, ‘O’ Level has only 40+ subjects with fewer coursework options. ‘O’ Level students take between 5-14 subjects, and students in Singapore are required to take Mother Tongue Language (MTL) as well (with certain exceptions).

2. Grading system

IGCSE assigns grades from A* (highest) to G (lowest).  For certain subjects, students may opt to sit for Core or Extended papers. Core curriculum is graded C to G, and targets the ability range of a majority of students. Extended curriculum is graded A* to E and consists of Core and Supplement papers. The Extended curriculum is targeted towards students who are more academically able, with the Supplement paper having additional topics or depth.

In comparison, ‘O’ Level grades on a scale of A1 to F9, with A1 being the highest achievable grade. There is no separate curriculum in the ‘O’ Level system, although students in Singapore may be allowed to take Higher MTL or MTL Syllabus B depending on skill level.

3. Curriculum

As part of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) efforts to gain greater control over the management of the exam, Singapore’s ‘O’ Level has been delinked from the United Kingdom’s ‘O’ Level. The local exam is catered towards the Singapore curriculum and syllabus designed by MOE, and is different from ‘O’ Level exams in the UK.

Overall, the ‘O’ Level syllabus leans heavily towards supporting Singapore’s local curriculum. Students who wish to continue their post-secondary education in Singapore will find the curriculum better suited to their needs. Whereas the IGCSE sets the curriculum in a more international context, and is targeted towards students with a broader range of different abilities.

What is the right choice for your child?

Both IGCSE and ‘O’ Level are content-rich programmes which have acquired global recognition. Regardless of which programme your child enrols in, you can expect them to acquire a strong foundation for future academic plans.

If you would like to better prepare your child for their IGCSE or ‘O’ Level examinations, ChampionTutor is here to help. Over 1000 private home tutors are listed in our database, ensuring you will find the ideal tutor to help your child reach their academic goals.