Blog Parents Key Decisions What is the Difference between Cambridge IGCSE and Cambridge O Levels?

What is the Difference between Cambridge IGCSE and Cambridge O Levels?

You’ve probably heard of both the Cambridge IGCSE and the Cambridge O level examinations. However, you may not quite know what the difference is between the two. While both the Cambridge IGCSE and Cambridge O Levels are equivalent qualifications, there are certainly some differences between them.

What do IGCSE stand for

The Cambridge IGCSE examination stands for ‘International General Certificate of Secondary Education’ and was created over 30 years ago.

The traits of IGCSE:

The extremely popular exam is taken by students worldwide, aged between 14 and 16 years old.
Internationally recognized and viewed highly by reputable universities and companies all over the world.
Known to be a stepping stone for students all over the world to a bright future.
Flexible allowing students to choose over 70 subjects.

At the end of the course, students will take an assessment. This assessment comprises a practical and coursework component along with a written and oral examination.

What do O-levels stand for

The Cambridge O Level stands for ‘Cambridge Ordinary Level’ examination and is recognized all over the world as being on par with the Cambridge IGCSE examination and GCSE examinations in the United Kingdom.

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The Cambridge O Level examination allows the student to be better prepared for the Cambridge A Level (advanced level) examination which is a national university entrance examination. It also prepares students for other routes that they may choose to take.

The traits of O-levels:

Taken by students aged between 14 and 16 years old
Allows schools to pick from more than 40 Cambridge O level subjects.
Schools are allowed to make their own combination and establish their own curriculum.

At the end of the course, students will take an assessment which has a practical, oral and written component. The Cambridge O level examination is also recognized by top universities and companies all over the world as academic ability evidence.

Confusion over Similarity

As there’s usually some confusion between the two, it’s important to clarify that the Cambridge O level examination that’s taken in Singapore has no relation to the GCSE examination in the United Kingdom. The Ministry of Education in Singapore has taken over management of this examination since 2006.

As seen above, both examinations are equivalent in the fact that they’re recognized all over the world. They do, however, have a few differences between them.

As Singaporeans are usually more familiar with the Cambridge O level than the Cambridge IGCSE, the below will elaborate a bit more on the IGCSE along with specific features of both examinations.

Background to Cambridge IGCSE

The Cambridge IGCSE syllabus was created to be a pillar in the development of a more modern curriculum and allow teachers to be more involved in the overall teaching process.

The standards set by the Cambridge IGCSE are internationally recognized and are on par with both the Cambridge O levels in Singapore as well as the GCSE in the United Kingdom.

Students can either take individual examinations for each of the subjects that they’re studying from the syllabus or they can take it as a part of qualification towards the ICE which is an International Certification of Education.

In order for students to receive the ICE, they need to achieve at a minimum of at least seven IGCSE passes from a variety of subjects.

Features of Cambridge IGCSE

The Cambridge IGCSE targets a large distribution of students that have different abilities.

Key features of IGCSE:

1. A wide range of grades

The grades awarded at the IGCSE level range from A* being the highest grade and G being the lowest.
In certain subjects, there’s also an extended curriculum for students that achieve between an A* and C grade) and a core curriculum for students that achieve between a C and G grade)

2. Students are assessed in a multitude of different ways

Either than assessing them for the usual oral and written ability, it also goes one step further in assessing their ability in solving problems and how they apply and understand the knowledge and skills that they’ve acquired.

3. Rewarded Accordingly

Students are also rewarded for showcasing their understanding of the subject, their knowledge and how they’re able to apply it.

4. Option of Coursework

In the Cambridge IGCSE syllabuses, there is also an option for coursework. This allows more flexibility for schools and it also allows teachers to partake in the assessment process.

The Cambridge IGCSE helps to adequately prepare students for the workforce or in pursuing further education. It’s also a good stepping stone for students that wish to take the Cambridge International AS or the Cambridge A Levels.

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Features of Cambridge O Level

While the Cambridge O Level has some of the same features as the Cambridge IGCSE, there are some differences to highlight:

1. Different Grading

In terms of the grading system, students are awarded grades between A* and E. In this case, A* would be the highest grade that a student can achieve.

2. Offers Limited Coursework options

In comparison to the coursework options that the Cambridge IGCSE offers, the Cambridge O level offers less.

3. Syllabus is managed by the Ministry of Education in Singapore

There are some syllabuses that are tailored and catered towards that of a local audience.
An example would be that of mother tongues such as Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. The Cambridge O level assessment for languages also focuses more on the student’s reading as well as writing skills.


Both the Cambridge IGCSE and Cambridge O level are examinations that are recognized by some of the best universities and companies in the word. Hence, whichever examination your child takes, know that they’re in good hands regardless. Even so, it’s certainly helpful to know some of the differences and unique features between both these examinations.

Want to know how to help your child to score high in his O-levels? Here are some articles to help you:

How Do You Prepare For Singapore GCE O-Level As A Private Candidate?
Chinese Exam Mistakes All Singaporean Students Make




Rum Tan

Rum Tan is the founder of SmileTutor and he believes that every child deserves a smile. Motivated by this belief and passion, he works hard day & night with his team to maintain the most trustworthy source of home tutors in Singapore. In his free time, he writes articles hoping to educate, enlighten, and empower parents, students, and tutors. You may try out his free home tutoring services via or by calling 6266 4475 directly today.