How We Are Approaching IGCSEs as Homeschoolers

In this post I will address what an IGCSE is and how we are gearing up to take these exams in our little home school.

Ribbet collageigcse

You may have noticed the occasional reference to IGCSEs.  I have had a few emails from my US readers asking what these are.  I am also asked frequently how we intend to approach these exams as home schoolers.  I thought I would do a post about how we are already approaching them and how we intend to follow through as the children get older.

What is an IGCSE?

GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education.  They are the exams which teens generally take at age 16 and are usually (but not always) followed by A Levels (Advanced Level Exams).  Because GCSEs often have a course work component, home schoolers frequently turn to IGCSEs.  These are International GCSEs and are 100% exam, with no course work or practicals.  This enables home schoolers to be examined to the same standards as their schooled counterparts, giving them the same opportunities with regards to the job market and further education.

IGCSEs are also thought to be more academically rigorous, with many independent school opting for these in preference to GCSEs.  State schools are also now being given the freedom to pursue IGCSEs as well as GCSEs.  Also in their favour, they are internationally recognised qualifications which is helpful if working abroad is a possibility.

How many IGCSEs do pupils take?

It seems between 9 and 11 are average, although there are some in the business who believe this is excessive.  I have thirteen and have never been required to have more than six (needed along with three A levels for entrance to a nursing degree).  Eight seems to be a fairly acceptable number, and looking at the university courses my children are interested in, it seems like they are more interested in A Level grades, so long as English and Maths IGCSE/GCSE are obtained with A*-C grades.

My personal take on this is that our children can easily take extra if required.  There is no time limit or age limit on university places, so all is not lost if my guys do not take the recommended number before they turn seventeen.  I definitely veer towards the unschooling thoughts towards exams, which is basically that a child who needs a qualification to fulfill a goal in their life is far more likely to apply themselves to achieve that goal than a student who is being pushed by their parent.  We have time.

How Many Will My Children Be Taking?

I can’t give a definitive reply to that question.  T13 wants to gain six.  He is my only child who is fairly sure about what he wants to do (Engineering of some sort).  Right from the word go, he has enjoyed every type of science and maths.  He is currently working his way through the Maths IGCSE curriculum and has finished the Physics IGCSE curriculum.  He will be taking his first exam in Physics during January.  His other IGCSE choices include English, Chemistry, Biology and an Engineering BTEC level two.

The girls are not so definite on the path they wish to take, although each girl has two distinct areas of interest (L12 – Art ; C12 – Music and English).   I have been spending the last year working very, very slowly through the Biology IGCSE in our usual very hands-on style, although C is fairly definite that she wants nothing to do with science.  Or geography.  Or anything which is not linked in some way to English, Religious Studies or Music.  If she could get away with not taking Maths, she would.  Yes, she is very opinionated about the whole subject 😉

How Are We Approaching IGCSEs? 

At first, I thought I would have each child signed up to Oxford Home Schooling, an online distance learning collage who focus on home schooled individuals.  For a fee (£350 per IGCSE, £425 per A Level – although there are discounts for more than one taken at a time), your child can receive online tutoring, support and course materials for the duration of the course.

T has been blessed to be taught by a  friend’s Dad who has a degree in Physics.  He has older daughters who he has already gone through the IGCSE process with, and his recommended method is to simply buy the text-book associated with the exam board and exam the child wishes to take and work through it.  I was very nervous about doing this but, actually, it is a doddle!  I have bought the texts for Biology Edexcel IGCSE and he was right.  It is simple and thorough.

The exam board has the specification, along with past papers which can be down loaded for free.  I have included a list of exam boards at the end of this post.  There are also extra reading lists which can be obtained if required as well as lots of help and advice.

That said, there are certain subjects I will still be using some sort of online tutoring service for.  These will be the IGCSE’s I do not feel so confident about teaching myself.  Chemistry, English Literature and English Language come to mind.  For these I know I will be needing the help an outside organisation would provide.

How Do You Take An Exam When You Are Home Schooled?

Again, we are blessed to have T’s tutor to help and advise on this also.  Basically you need to find somewhere which takes private candidates.  These will typically be schools or educational institutes.  We used to have two schools within spitting distance which catered for private students, but they have just recently desisted.

Often the Home Learning collages have their own list which they will share with their students, and sometimes the actual exam board can help out.  I have included a few links at the bottom of the post which may help you find places to sit exams near you.

We needed to pay a little under £100 to sit the two 1 1/2 hour exams required to obtain the Physics qualification.  They organise everything from there including the student number (which I have been told is incredibly important to keep safe – it is very hard to retrieve it once lost)

I believe there is no set cost to take exams, but is at the discretion of the exam center.  We live fairly close to London so I would imagine the costs we are seeing would be some of the most expensive in the UK.

Further Information

Exam boards which offer IGCSE:

Cambridge IGCSE – Cambridge International Examinations

Pearson qualifications | Edexcel IGCSE …

Distance Learning Colleges:

IGCSE Home Schooling – Oxford Home Schooling

Home educators | National Extension College

Home Schooling | Home Study | Home Education

Little Arthur Farm

ICS Learn | Distance Learning Courses | Online Courses

More about exam centers:

Find out if there is an exam center near to you

Guidance for Private Candidates 2011/12 – OCR

Private candidates – Cambridge International Examinations

AQA | Student support | Private candidates | Finding a …

More about taking exams as a homeschooler:

Exams: England – Education Otherwise


  1. We did the same and worked through text books ourselves, supplementing withg various materials we found. Did you know that you can sit Edexcel GCSE RE as well as IGCSE as there are no controlled assessments? We opted for the GCSE as my children decided they would rather sit 2 shorter exams rather than one long one. HTH

    1. Thank you Tracy. I am still fairly new at this navigating through the exams with my older ones, so anything you have to add will be helpful 🙂

  2. Wow Claire, you are as thorough with your helpful info and links as you are with your children’s education – thank you! And yay for your Amazon links, I just clicked through. May your links bring you the rewards you so thoroughly deserve!

    1. Thank you Lucinda, so much. This is all so new. But everyone is being so supportive, especially my family! T keeps sharing posts on his face book page bless his heart. Thank you for your email. I will listen to it tonight!

  3. I’m an American, and I have always wondered what “A-Levels” were – thanks for the clarification! Hopefully everything goes smoothly for your family as you work through the exam process.

  4. Yeah, so here’s my interpretation of this, at 16 your kids take their OWLs (Ordinary Wizarding Levels), which shows they have learned stuff, from there they take their NEWTs (Nastily Evil Wizarding Tests) so they can head off to their career or college or what have you.

    Gotcha, and yes I did just simplify this down to Harry Potter. After today and the length of our schooling, I am simplifying everything to books I’ve read.

  5. A nice introduction to doing exams from home ed! A few other resources you might find useful – the HE Exams wiki at has been going for some years and developed from the HE Exams Yahoogroup, which supports home educators whose children are taking exams. That’s been going since about 2008, and now there is a Facebook group too.
    Your exam centre’s prices are reasonable ; actually London is one of the cheaper areas to sit exams as an external candidate, because there is competition amongst private exam centres. Unless you are lucky enough to find a cheap local school, it’s usually £100 per qualification or more. My oldest’s first GCSE back in 2010 only cost £15 admin plus the £30 exam board fee, but it’s all a lot pricier now!

      1. Please do add the link. The HE exams wiki is a collaborative project which any home educator can contribute to. I do the majority of the editing at the moment, but it’s the collected wisdom of many experienced home educators.

  6. This makes a lot more sense than what I could ever get out of the testing as an American. I’m kinda secretly (well,not so secretly now) wishing we did it this way. It definitely sounds like you have a good plan going for the children and they should be well prepared.

  7. Thanks for the explanation. It is very different from what we do here, so it helps to understand better when you are talking about the various tests.

  8. Thank you so much Claire. I had no idea there were particular colleges available to home schoolers. I will definitely be checking them out when we reach that stage!

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