Major Differences Between the IGCSE and Cambridge O Levels

While Cambridge IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) and Cambridge O-Level both are equivalent secondary level qualifications, there are a few differences between the two. Further, there is always confusion to choose the better one. Let us explore the features of both curricula and compare them to understand the key differences and look at the right choice between the two.


1. Features of Cambridge IGCSE
2. Features of Cambridge O level
3. Comparison Table for IGCSE and Cambridge O Level
4. Which is Better – IGCSE or Cambridge O Level

Features of Cambridge IGCSE

  •  Cambridge IGCSE syllabus has been developed to support modern curriculum development and encourage good teaching practice.
  •  This syllabus is aimed at a wide ability range of students with grades awarded from A* to G (A* being the highest and G being the lowest).
  •  There are two levels of study available for certain subjects – Core (grades C to G) and Extended (grades A* to C).
  •  Cambridge IGCSE uses a variety of assessments techniques to test – oral and practical skills, initiative, problem solving, and application of skills, knowledge, and understanding
  •  A coursework option is available in many syllabuses, allowing the schools to have an element of personal choice and giving the teachers an opportunity to share in the process of assessment
  •  Cambridge IGCSE prepares the students for further study or employment and for the Cambridge AS and A levels

The IGCSE offers over 70 subjects, and the syllabus has both international and local elements. There are interesting topics like Food and Nutrition, Travel and Tourism, Design, and Technology to name a few. There are five subject groups to choose subjects from: (The parentheses give a few examples for the respective subject group)

  • Languages (first language, second language, foreign languages)
  •  Humanities and Social Sciences (Geography, History, English Literature)
  •  Sciences (Biology, Physics, Chemistry)
  •  Mathematics (Mathematics, Additional Mathematics)
  •  Creative, Technical, and Vocational (Accounting, Business Studies, Computing Studies)

Assessments are conducted at the end of the course, and they include oral presentations, coursework, and practical assessments. To prepare for the assessments, students can access past papers and the model questions and answers available online. The assessments are conducted two times a year – May/June and October/November and in India, IGCSE exams are conducted in February/March.


Features of Cambridge O level

  • Cambridge O Level candidates are awarded grades only from A* to E where A* is the highest and E is the lowest
  • Cambridge O Level offers fewer coursework options than the IGCSE
  • Some of the syllabuses are designed to meet the local needs and requirements, such as minority languages
  • The Focus of the O Level languages s mainly on writing and reading skills
  • Fewer practical test options available as compared to the IGCSE, for the science subjects

The Cambridge O Level curriculum enables teaching to be placed in a localized context. The students can choose from more than 40 subjects in any combination. The curriculum emphasizes broad and balanced study across a wide range of subjects. It develops the student’s skills in creative thinking, inquiry, and problem-solving and is designed to build practical skills and theoretical knowledge.

The assessments are held twice a year – June and November.
Cambridge O Levels and the IGCSE both develop learner’s knowledge, understanding, and skills in:

  • Subject content
  • Applying knowledge and understanding to familiar and new situations
  • Intellectual inquiry
  • Flexibility and responsiveness to change
  • Working and communicating in English
  • Influencing outcomes
  • Cultural awareness.

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Comparison Table for IGCSE and Cambridge O Level

Cambridge IGCSE Cambridge O Level
Duration of 2 years Duration of 2 years
Grading from A* (highest) to G (lowest) Grading from A* (highest) to E (lowest)
Coursework options available in many subjects allowing flexibility for students and schools Fewer coursework options are available
Two study levels are available – Core and extended keeping in mind the varied abilities of the students No such levels are available
More than 70 subjects to choose from including 30 languages More than 40 subjects to choose from
IGCSE focuses on oral skills, initiative, and problem-solving skills, knowledge and understanding skills Skills offered are reading, writing, comprehension, and logical thinking skills
Assessment includes oral, written, and practical examinations. Also, coursework assessment is included Assessment includes oral, written, and practical examinations


Another difference is that the O Levels are more decentralized. The Singapore – Cambridge General Certificate of Secondary Education Ordinary Level Exam was for the first time held in Singapore in 1971. In 2006 it was delinked from the O-level exams in the United Kingdom. The reason was that the Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) wanted to introduce greater flexibility into the curriculum and gain greater control over how the examination process was managed. Overall, the O-level syllabus in Singapore leans heavily towards the supporting local curriculum. One of the ways MOE initiated that was by allowing the educational institutions to offer OSIE (O Level School Initiated Electives) in order to fill the gap in the niche areas.

Three bodies – The Singapore Examination and Assessment Board, the Ministry of Education, and Cambridge Assessment International Education preside over the examinations in Singapore.

Singapore students wanting to continue the post-secondary course in Singapore will find the curriculum benefiting them. On the other hand, IGCSE is specially and specifically designed to avoid cultural biases in international settings.


Which is Better – IGCSE or Cambridge O Level

It cannot be said that one curriculum/exam is harder or easier than the other as they are curated for different purposes. Cambridge International Assessment Centre even provides teaching materials, school support, and professional development for the teaching staff in order to maintain a high standard of education for both the IGCSE and the O Level. Although it is evident that both IGSCE and the Cambridge O Level are extremely popular and globally recognized, from the comparison discussion given above, the differences – wider grade range, Core and Extended Levels of study, better course work availability, a wider range of subjects available and the assessment parameter, IGCSE enjoys one notch higher popularity in the international settings.

Choosing the right curriculum – IGCSE or Cambridge O Level requires an understanding of the child’s interests and abilities in various subjects, his future goals, and the learning support, in terms of tuition and coaching that are available.


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Is Cambridge O level is same as IGCSE?

The Cambridge O level is a globally recognised certification that is similar to the UK CGSE and the Cambridge IGCSE.

Is O level easy or IGCSE?

O level is slightly more challenging than IGCSE but that doesn’t mean that O level is very tough.

What are O level and A level IGCSE?

Ordinary level is known to as O level. It is the first half of the General Certificate of Education (GCE), with students moving on to the Advanced Level (A Level) after finishing the O level.

Is IGCSE harder than O level?

Even though the IGCSE course is nearly identical to the O level syllabus, the paper designs are simpler for IGCSE. Both can support you internationally, so the decision is entirely up to you.

Why is O level so important?

It is crucial to acquire abilities including good listening, time management, and appropriate delegation of tasks to team members. The skills are acquired through experience; they cannot be learned by reading book. Students obtain the necessary experience by participating in teams more frequently.

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