Hire a tutor
IB vs IGCSE: A Comparison

IB vs IGCSE: A Comparison

10 min Read|April 15 2024
|Written by:

Charles Whitehouse


When it comes to high school qualifications, the IB Curriculum and IGCSE are two of the most popular options. The IB offers both the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) for students aged 11-16, and the IB Diploma Program (DP) for students aged 16-19. The programme is internationally recognised and aims to provide a well-rounded education that focuses on academic and personal development. On the other hand, IGCSEs are subject-specific qualifications for students aged 14-16. Both qualifications are challenging and offer unique benefits. In this article, we will compare the IB and IGCSEs, providing insights and information to help students decide which qualification is right for them.

Overview of the IB program

The International Baccalaureate is a globally recognised educational program. It was founded in 1968 and adopted by over 5,500 schools in 158 countries, making it a highly popular choice for students seeking an internationally recognised qualification. The IB offers both the MYP and DP. Both programs provide a broad and well-rounded education, with a focus on developing skills such as critical thinking, research, and communication.

The diploma curriculum includes six subject groups, which are:

In addition to these subjects, the program also includes three core elements: IB Theory of Knowledge, IB Extended Essay, and IB Creativity, Activity, and Service. One of the key benefits of the IB program is that it is highly regarded by universities and employers worldwide.

International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program | James W. Robinson  Secondary School


Overview of IGCSEs

IGCSEs are an internationally recognised qualification for students aged 14-16. Offered by the Cambridge Assessment International Education board, the IGCSE is widely accepted by universities and employers around the world, and is recognised as equivalent to UK GCSEs. The program offers a wide range of subject options, including over 70 subjects across various disciplines such as languages, mathematics, sciences, and humanities.

The IGCSE program is designed to provide students with a strong foundation in core subjects, with a focus on developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The curriculum includes coursework and examinations, with grades ranging from A* to G. In recent years, the IGCSE has gained popularity as a pathway to higher education, with many students recognising the qualification as an equivalent to UK GCSEs.

Get expert help with the IB

The world's leading online IB tutoring provider trusted by students, parents, and schools globally.

4.92/5 based on480 reviews

What subjects are offered in IB and IGCSEs?

The IB and IGCSEs both offer a wide range of subject options for students. As mentioned, the IB DP includes six subject groups, as well as the core elements. The program is designed to provide students with a well-rounded education, with a focus on developing a range of skills. Students have to choose one subject from each subject group, at either a standard level (SL) or higher level (HL). Some of the most popular IB subjects include English Language and Literature, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, and history.

The IB MYP is designed to provide a framework of learning that encourages students to become creative, critical and reflective thinkers. It is based on the same principles as the IB Diploma Programme, with an emphasis on intercultural understanding, holistic learning, and personal development. The MYP provides students with a challenging and comprehensive education that prepares them for success in the IB DP and beyond.

The IGCSE program offers over 70 subject options across various disciplines such as languages, mathematics, sciences, and humanities. These subjects are fundamental to any well-rounded education and prepare students for further study in their chosen field, including going on to study the IB. Student typically take eight to twelve IGCSEs. Students are required to take mathematics, English, as well as usually at least one science and humanities subject.

Whether you choose to pursue the IB, IGCSEs, or both, it's important to consider your interests and goals, and choose subjects that will help you achieve your full potential. The wide range of subject options offered by both qualifications ensures that students can tailor their education to their interests and goals.

Have a look at our comprehensive set of IB Resources that include IB Study Notes, IB Past Papers and IB Practice Questions, developed by expert IB teachers and examiners!

Differences in exam format between IB and IGCSEs

The IB and IGCSE exams have differences in their format. IGCSE exams are taken in May or June, and students usually take ten to fifteen exams depending on the subjects they have studied. The exams typically have multiple-choice or short-answer format with some longer essay questions. These exams last between one and two hours.

In contrast, the IB Diploma Program combines coursework and examinations. Students complete internal assessments throughout their course that are marked by their teachers. They take written exams at the end of the program, usually taken in May, one for each subject studied, with exams lasting between two to three hours.

The IB MYP assessments are criterion-related, which means that students' achievements are measured against pre-determined assessment criteria rather than the performance of other students. Assessments take the form of subject-specific criteria and are often project-based, with students presenting their findings in written or oral formats.

Online tutors agree that the IB program aims to test critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills, as well as knowledge. The IGCSEs, on the other hand, are suited to students who prefer exam-based assessments and need a strong foundation in core subjects. The differences in exam format between the two programs reflect their educational philosophies and goals.

Number of IB DP and IGCSE students in 2021

Number of IB DP and IGCSE students in 2021

How are IB and IGCSEs graded?

IGCSEs are graded solely on the basis of the exams taken at the end of the program. The grades are calculated based on the student's performance in their exams, with the highest possible grade being an A*. IGCSEs are graded on a scale of A* to G.

In contrast, the IB DP is graded on a scale of 1 to 7, with a total score of 45 available. The IB score is made up of the scores achieved in each of the six subjects studied, with a maximum of 7 points available for each subject. In addition to the subject scores, the IB program also awards up to three extra points for the successful completion of the core components, which include the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) essay, the Extended Essay (EE), and Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) activities. According to the IBO, less than 1% of students worldwide achieve the maximum possible score of 45/45 in the IB program, showing its difficulty.

Comparison of workload between IB and IGCSEs

The workload for IB and IGCSEs can vary depending on the student's chosen subjects and the school's curriculum. However, the IB program is generally considered to be more academically rigorous and demanding than IGCSEs, due to it being aimed at older students.

The IB DP program is designed for students aged 16-19 and requires them to take six subjects, including a mix of humanities, sciences, mathematics, and languages. In addition to their subject studies, students must complete the core components, including the Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge essay, and Creativity, Activity, Service activities. The workload for these components can be significant, as they require independent research and self-directed learning.

Students in the IB program typically spend between 4.5 and 7.5 hours per subject per week, for a total of 27-45 hours per week. Additionally, students spend an average of 3-5 hours per week on the core components, bringing their total weekly workload to between 30-50 hours.

In comparison, IGCSEs typically involve a smaller workload, with students taking anywhere between five and fourteen subjects, depending on the school's curriculum and the student's preferences.

Why is the IB harder than IGCSE?

The IB DP is undoubtedly more challenging than IGCSEs. It is structured to prepare students for the academic rigour of university-level study, requiring an extensive level of depth and analysis in each subject. The content covered in the IB program is vast, particularly at the Higher Level (HL), where students are expected to have a deep understanding of the material equivalent to a first-year university course. For information, read our article on the hardest IB subjects.

At the HL level, students are required to complete a range of complex assessments, including essays, research projects, oral presentations, and examinations. These assessments demand an advanced level of critical thinking and analysis, as well as a mastery of the subject matter. Students must also learn how to manage their time effectively, as they are often juggling multiple subjects and assignments at once. Those who face challenges should consider tutoring. Regular sessions with an IB tutor can lead to consistent academic improvement, translating into better grades and a more solid understanding of the course material.

In contrast, IGCSEs offer a more basic understanding of the subject matter and tend to focus more on rote learning and memorisation. While some IGCSE subjects may require a certain level of critical thinking and analysis, they do not require the same level of depth and mastery as the IB program. For those students who find the IGCSEs difficult, they should consider hiring an expert IGCSE tutor.

Pros and cons of taking IB or IGCSEs

While students do not necessarily have to choose between IB DP and IGCSEs, as they are typically taken at different ages, each program has its own advantages and disadvantages. Here are some pros and cons to consider:

Pros of IB:

  • Greater preparation for university-level study: The IB program is specifically designed to prepare students for the academic rigour of university, providing a more comprehensive and in-depth education than IGCSEs.
  • Development of critical thinking and research skills: The IB program places a strong emphasis on developing advanced critical thinking and research skills, which are highly valued by universities and employers alike.
  • International recognition: The IB program is recognised and respected by universities and employers around the world, providing students with greater opportunities for global mobility and career advancement.

Cons of IB:

  • Higher workload: The IB program is known for its high workload, requiring significant time and effort from students to complete the various assessments and projects.
  • Limited subject choice: The IB program offers a more limited range of subject choices than IGCSEs, which may not suit all students' interests and career goals.
  • Potentially lower grades: Due to the increased difficulty of the program, students may achieve lower grades in the IB program than they would in IGCSEs.

Pros of IGCSEs:

  • Greater subject choice: IGCSEs offer a wide range of subject choices, allowing students to tailor their education to their specific interests and career goals.
  • Easier workload: IGCSEs tend to have a more manageable workload than the IB program, making them a good option for students who prefer a more balanced approach to their studies.
  • Higher grades: Due to the less rigorous nature of the program, students may achieve higher grades in IGCSEs than in the IB program.

Cons of IGCSEs:

  • Limited preparation for university-level study: IGCSEs offer a more basic level of education than the IB program, which may not fully prepare students for the academic rigour of university.
  • Limited recognition: While IGCSEs are recognised by universities and employers, they may not carry the same level of international recognition as the IB program.
  • Limited development of critical thinking and research skills: IGCSEs tend to focus more on rote learning and memorisation, which may not provide students with the advanced critical thinking and research skills valued by universities and employers.

Overall, the choice between IB and IGCSEs will depend on each student's individual goals, interests, and learning style. Students should carefully consider the pros and cons of each program before making a decision.

IB or IGCSEs: which one is right for you?

The IB DP is tailored to students aged 16-19 who are seeking a more comprehensive and rigorous education. It is a challenging program that requires a high level of academic commitment and critical thinking skills. On the other hand, IGCSEs are designed for students aged 14-16 who are just beginning their high school education. It offers a wider range of subject choices, which may be more suitable for students with diverse interests and career goals.

An expert IB Maths tutor analysed the global statistics and said:

"In a global comparison, the IB program is offered in over 150 countries with more than 5,000 schools whereas the IGCSE is recognized in over 145 countries and is adopted by more than 7,000 schools. Both are excellent choices."

When deciding between IB and IGCSEs, students should consider their age and academic level, as well as their academic strengths and interests and their learning style. The right program for each student will depend on their unique circumstances and goals. It is important to note that many students will take IGCSEs and then go on to take the IB afterwards.

Cost comparison: IB vs IGCSEs

The cost of taking the IB program can range from a few thousand pounds to over £15,000, depending on the school and the country. In addition to tuition fees, students may also be required to pay for textbooks, exam fees, and other expenses. However, it is important to note that many schools offer scholarships and other forms of financial aid to help students cover these costs.

On the other hand, the cost of taking IGCSEs is generally much lower than the cost of taking the IB. According to a report by The Good Schools Guide, the average cost of taking IGCSEs in the UK is around £4,000 to £5,000 per year, including tuition fees, exam fees, and other expenses. However, like with the IB, some schools may charge more or less than this amount.

Do universities recognise IB and IGCSEs?

Both programs are widely recognised by universities around the world, especially in the UK and US. Almost all top universities in the UK and US will accept IB grades for entry. Many universities actively seek out IB graduates due to their high level of academic rigour and critical thinking skills. For example, Oxbridge tutors indicate that the Oxford and Cambridge universities have said they look favourably upon IB graduates when making admissions decisions due to their breadth of skills.

Similarly, IGCSEs are also well-regarded by universities around the world, however do not play as much importance in university admissions, as admissions decisions are typically based on A-Level, IB, or equivalent exams taken at the end of Year 13 in the UK or Grade 12 in the US.

However, it is important to note that different universities may have different requirements for admission, and students should always check with the universities they are interested in to ensure that their qualifications meet their specific requirements.


In choosing between the IB and IGCSE programs, students and parents must consider each program’s focus and educational philosophy. The IB emphasises an integrative approach aimed at developing critical thinking and analytical skills, while the IGCSE focuses on foundational knowledge across specific subjects. The right choice will depend on a student's academic preferences, future goals, and learning style, with each path offering unique advantages in preparing for university and career opportunities.


Where can I find IGCSE past papers?

At TutorChase, we offer a comprehensive collection of free IGCSE past papers covering all subjects and exam boards, explore them here:

Where can I find IB study and revision notes?

At TutorChase, we offer a comprehensive collection of free revision notes and questions answered by expert tutors, explore them here:

Need help from an expert?

4.92/5 based on480 reviews

The world’s top online tutoring provider trusted by students, parents, and schools globally.

Study and Practice for Free

Trusted by 100,000+ Students Worldwide

Achieve Top Grades in your Exams with our Free Resources.

Practice Questions, Study Notes, and Past Exam Papers for all Subjects!

Need Expert Help?

If you’re looking for assistance with your studies, get in touch with the TutorChase team and we’ll be able to provide you with an expert IGCSE tutor or IB tutor. We’ll be there every step of the way!



Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

Charles Whitehouse

Written by: Charles Whitehouse

Oxford University - Masters Biochemistry

Charles scored 45/45 on the International Baccalaureate and has six years' experience tutoring IB and IGCSE students and advising them with their university applications. He studied a double integrated Masters at Magdalen College Oxford and has worked as a research scientist and strategy consultant.

Get Expert Help
background image

Hire a tutor

Please fill out the form and we'll find a tutor for you

Phone number (with country code)

Still have questions? Let’s get in touch.