Last Updated 06/11/2021.
iGCSE exams are the international equivalent of the British GCSE exams. The I stands for international, GCSE for General Certificate of Secondary Education. British kids sit them in year 11 of high school, around 15-16 years old. This is the final year of compulsory education in British schools. Kids who are worldschooled, homeschooled, or unschooled, can sit UK iGCSE exams. Exams aren’t generally compulsory (check local rules and regulations) and many consider them to be pointless.
Do you need to sit exams and gain qualifications to live a happy life and make a good living? No, you do not, but most do. My son just sat iGCSE exams and passed with flying colours. He hasn’t been to school since he was 6. Let’s talk about how taking exams works and our experiences with education and examination success, after a very alternative education path.
Kids who don’t go to school can sit exams. They can sign up to sit exams at exam centres all over the world. The education and exam system varies from country to country, be sure to do your homework. I know nothing about the American system, I know the British system, and that is available internationally in the form of iGCSE exams and courses.
We are British, we’ve leaned towards the UK education system, but made our informal worldschooling curriculum very international through living and travelling in many countries.
Kids in the UK sit GCSEs at about 16 years old. I sat mine when I was 14 and 15, my son sat his around his 17th birthday through circumstance and a pandemic. Haven’t these last two years been fun?
In the online school my kids have been attending since lockdown, there are many kids from Asia, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, the UAE, also Colombia. Many are expats and children of professional people who travel for work.
This school is on Asia Pacific time zones, others exist for the UK, Europe, etc. There are exam centres all over the world. There is one in Sydney (linked to The British Council) and dozens in the UK that I know about.
Online schooling is growing, not online schooling as many bricks and mortar school families know it currently, that’s not the same at all. My online schooling experience has been dedicated, designed, and delivered specifically for kids learning remotely. It’s made for purpose, not cobbled together in an emergency situation. It is not the same as Distance Education.
There are also bricks-and-mortar schools that teach the iGCSE courses. I know of some in Thailand and India, there are probably more. If home schooling iGCSE isn’t for you then your kids can go to a physical iGCSE school.
The i in iGCSE stands for international and more than one exam board offers iGCSE curriculum and examinations. These are internationally recognised exams, probably similar to the baccalaureate, another system I know nothing about. Sorry, I don’t know everything and I haven’t researched that at all, I just remember it from taking O level French.
The two exam boards I know about for iGCSE exams and courses are the Cambridge Exam Board and Pearson (Edexcel). My son sat the Pearson exams, for no particular reason, it was just more convenient.
I first found out about iGCSEs from a worldschooling, homeschooling, unschooling family in Romania. They were our friends in Breb. They were worldschooling their kids about a decade before us, before worldschooling had a name,long before I became Google number 1 for the term. Their kids have now all gone to college or university and have jobs. So there’s another case study for you. The system is tried and tested. (You may need our post explaining what worldschooling is.)
Kids then can, if they choose, sit A levels (iA levels) at around 17- 18 years old. Fairly typically kids sit 2 to 4 A levels. I sat 3, most kids in the 6th form at my school sat 3 A levels in their chosen specialist subjects.
The sixth form is now equivalent to years 12 and 13, it used to be upper and lower sixth. Years 12 and 13 aren’t compulsory, kids can leave school after their GCSEs. The A-level exams are the launchpad for tertiary education.
We will be home schooling A levels in that my son will be taking online A level classes with tutors and teachers, at home. A levels can be taught online. To me this is not “homeschooling”, he’s in a school, I’ve handed over responsibility to paid help and I’m no longer steering his education. as I did to the age of 16.
I could easily homeschool him in Biology A level, it’s my subject, but two of the subjects he’s chosen aren’t in my field at all and I’d rather pay at this point.
I’ve heard it mentioned elsewhere that there was a minimum number of iGCSE exams you had to take, 5, usually. I don’t think this is the case, the exam centre didn’t have any mention of a minimum number. If we wanted to sit 4 and 5 was indeed the minimum, we’d just have to pay the iGCSE exam fees for 5 I guess.
I’ve heard this from more than one person, so there must be some truth in it somewhere. Currently, one child is only studying for 4, formally, but that will likely change. I know adults who have taken single iGCSE exams, at any age, so I don’t see how this minimum number can exist. We’ll find out shortly.
I sat Biology, Chemistry, and Physics A levels at 17 years old, as I was branded “scientist” from an early age. I went on to take Biological Sciences at university, my final degree is a BSc(Hons) in Zoology and Comparative Physiology because of the options I ended up taking in my final year there.
From university graduation I went to hospital science I was “Chief” in my histology laboratory when I quit, before becoming a blogger, writer, website creator, content creator, video editor, and SEO expert. All the skills I now use are self-taught and earn us a living. Give or take a pandemic.
I always hated my “good” career. There was no joy in it at all. I have great job satisfaction in my new self-made job.
You could argue that I learned my English and writing skills at school. This isn’t true. The way we write for the web is totally different to the way kids are taught to write in school. I’ve sat in on my kids’ English classes and even had discussions with their teacher about this, the teacher had no idea. Neither did I before I started in this industry.
At one point this teacher used my travel website in class to discuss writing and blogging, content created for SEO and classical travel writing. Good on her for that, she was open to learning outside the set curriculum. She was a great mentor to my kids, another adult that (who?, whom?, I don’t know and don’t care) influenced them along the way and there have been many, some positive, some negative.
Kids in this school are taught to write in the way needed to score points in exams. It’s very formulaic and a little weird. There is an exact paragraph and essay structure that they are required to follow.
I’ve never followed it in my life and I don’t recall being taught this in Rougemont School. I took away As in my English and English literature GCSEs (back then they were called O Levels), after the English teacher, who was an absolute monster with a terrifying temper, told my parents I would fail.
Is my writing perfect? No, my spelling is bad and I make grammatical errors all the time. I use spellcheck and AI in content creation. (We can offer you a free trial on the AI if you’re serious about fast, high volume content creation for any platform, particularly useful for non-native English speakers.) My eyes aren’t good so quite often I can’t see my own errors. I don’t go in for metaphors, smilies, alliteration, and enjambment. Rhetorical devices are redundant. Sometimes I use an Oxford comma, sometimes not, I flip between US and UK spellings, but I’m picky about apostrophe misuse. I don’t use PEEL or WILF. Tell me in the comments if you know what those are.
In blogging, we write very short paragraphs, keep sentences simple, and never use a pronoun when we could use a keyword. I don’t consider myself a writer, but others do.
Writing for SEO is totally different to writing to pass an English exam. I have no writing style that I know of outside factual, and certainly don’t intentionally use one.
I pay writers sometimes, none of them are qualified to be writers through any exam passes. One I know has a journalism degree, I would pay her the same as my unqualified writers, she’d probably say no. That’s OK. My usual writers I pay per article. I don’t pay much and now AI is cheaper, see our link above.
I went off-track, we were talking about worldschooled kids sitting exams. I say worldschooled, unschooled, homeschooled because I don’t like strict definitions, we did some of each and travelled for about 7 years. So there was a lot of “world” in the “schooling”. Shall we get back on topic?
Does Worldschooling Help Pass Exams?
No, worldschooling does not equip kids to pass exams, not at all. To pass exams you have to learn how to pass exams, what to include to gain each mark and follow the formula.
The first time my son sat a maths exam, as a mock paper, he didn’t know he had to include his workings to get maximum marks. Simple maths problems that he could do in his head needed workings, he would just write the answer. That’s a very basic example of how an alternative education does not equip kids to pass exams. They can be bright as a button, gifted, have encyclopedic general knowledge, but still may not pass exams. With a bit of practice in exam skills he was scoring close to 100% every time.
To pass exams you need to have covered the curriculum that is actually on the exams. In my son’s History GCSE course the only topics were the French Revolution, Germany between the wars, the rise of Hitler, and the American War in Vietnam. They call it the Vietnam War, we don’t, we call it what the Vietnamese call it after months in Vietnam.
He got an A star in History and is taking History A-Level. His history exam was a simple matter of memorising facts about these historical events, nothing deeper, then putting them into essays and short answer questions.
So was the worldschooling actually helpful in passing these exams? Yes, I think so. He’s been on the ground in Vietnam and visited many of the war sites his teacher was telling him about. He’s stood in the trenches on the Somme Battlefields in France, he’s played out the French Revolution in Assassins Creed (Yes, it’s mostly historically accurate). He had a good inkling about many of these historical events before we signed him up. Those inklings are the building blocks, they’re where it all starts.
I think worldschooling works best for history, the kids get a much broader understanding of world history than they would in school. Geography works well in worldschooling too. One of the kids took geography for a term or two and knew more than the teacher, which he found incredibly frustrating. Neither of the boys wanted to sit geography GCSE, interestingly.
But there’s no way he would have passed the history exams without memorising facts. Understanding does not equal exam passes. He’s probably forgotten most of those facts already.
He also scored an A star in Biology and English Literature. Was that because of worldschooling? No. It was because he’s lived and breathed biology from the day he was born (mum made sure of that) and because he’s always been a reader, but also because he spent a few months learning to pass exams, with teachers, online. Then, of course, he had to memorise a lot of facts about Macbeth, Dog in the Nighttime, and Mice and Men, for the examination itself.
I don’t think I could have taught him to pass exams. It’s been too long since I passed mine and things have changed. Teachers know this stuff and that’s where trained, qualified teachers familiar with the system come in handy.
If you’re not going to go the teacher route, but your kids want to sit exams, practice. You can find past papers online, and of course, find the correct curriculum for the exam. You should be able to find that online, or buy a book. The books in our resources section, below, are what we used to see what was actually needed.
Sitting Exams For Homeschooled Kids
My understanding of how homeschooled kids can sit iGCSEs and A levels is this, there are at least two ways. Kids can register with an exam centre as an independent candidate. This means they just turn up on the day and sit exams, nothing else is required.
I believe that homeschooled kids can also sit mock exams in this way. They can also submit assessed work for formal grading to these centres. You’ll have to look into this yourself, I only researched what we needed to research, not the whole system.
For us, there was no practical laboratory work required at all for Chemistry or Biology. Neither of the kids wanted to do Physics, I don’t blame them. This is one argument that always gets thrown at us. But what about science? My kids are lucky to have avoided dissecting rats for weeks on end as I did. It serves no purpose and I still remember the smell. I went on the dissect people in my job. Really, it serves no purpose. Any experiment or practical you could ever want to see is on YouTube, I’ve said this all along, as a professional scientist.
The route we took was to register with an international school online, we could then register with an affiliated exam centre (which was a little cheaper than registering as an independent candidate) and the school was able to submit prior assessments (homework) and mock exam results if needed.
I’ll warn you that sitting exams is expensive. We’ve spent thousands on classes and the exams themselves in the last year. We’re fortunate to have the privilege of spare cash, we’ve worked hard for it. Many of the classes weren’t worth paying for, which was disappointing, but some teachers were great mentors and influences. Rhiannon, Sarah, and Roobi in particular. Just in case they ever read this, thanks. You were great.
I loved how D’s history teacher, once the exams were finished, went into the historical topics D actually wanted to study. They’ve been covering ancient Egypt this last term, purely through interest, it is not on the syllabus. He really enjoyed it. Obviously, he knows a lot of this stuff already, but they went deeper.
He’s currently got his nose in a book about ancient Greece. The ancients are his jam and we’ve been able to indulge that through extensive travel. (See our posts on Egypt for kids, and a historical Greece tour)
Resources For Worldschoolers Sitting Exams
Here are a few useful resources to help your worldschooling or homeschooling child pass exams. You’ll find more on our homeschool and travel page, particularly for younger kids, and our page about online learning opportunities for kids. We also have a blog post about what you need to homeschool on the road. It’s all just our experience, but at least we can definitively say it worked. We have the pieces of paper to prove that even to the very conventional, old-fashioned thinkers.
- iGCSE curriculum books, for Pearson or Cambridge are available online. Here are examples for Biology, Chemistry, and Maths. They are expensive, but everything is in one book usually. Order early, they sell out.
- I’m not going to tell you which online school we used, sorry. It served its purpose, but wasn’t perfect and I’m not going to recommend something that you’ll likely have issues with. I’ve torn my hair out over them many times, but it’s been enough. The exam passes are down to D’s hard work and independent study. He wasn’t there for the entire course, he missed all of the French Revolution and most of Macbeth, he passed on his own merit.
- For online classes and tutors, one-off classes and weeks-long courses, we use Outschool. We’re thrilled with Boo’s maths tutor found here and the boys have also taken classes in favourite topics (Greek mythology) and Business skills. I’m thinking of offering classes through Outschool in blogging, SEO and website creation. Let me know if there is demand and I’ll move faster. For now, how to make money travel blogging is right here.
- Dog in The Nigh-time, you and your child should read this book even if you’re not taking iGCSE Literature, it’s a great book and D had already read it years ago. The play, not the book, was on the curriculum. It concerns autism, and the autistic brain, plus family strains under the pressure of a neuro-diverse teen.
- Macbeth for students with modern translation.
- Comic-book version of Macbeth. How I introduced my kids to Shakespeare years ago.
- If you are studying Macbeth, you absolutely have to watch this version featuring Patrick Stewart, it’s modern, and so clever. Just watch this an you’ll never need to read the book! (Maybe) We bought it on Prime Video so we could watch it anyplace, anytime. It’s really enjoyable, even to teenaged boys.
- Want to try an AI writing tool? I promise, it’s amazing and saves you masses of time on writing projects. Get a free trial with our link, because we’re partners with Jarvis. Jarvis is my new best friend in busting out content, fast.
The iGCSE exams were cancelled at the last minute in 2020. I see no reason for them to be cancelled in 2021. Students were able to take iGCSE exams and iGCSE mock exams online and these results, plus course work, were submitted to the exam centres for assessment.
I was a child who loved exams and hated course work, I would have done badly this way. A lot of kids will do better without the stress and pressure of exam day and examination halls. This is actually a great way to do it, the only way for us as we’re unable to travel internationally, still.
Worldschooling in a Pandemic World
There are still families out there, homeschooling, worldschooling, unschooling, and travelling today. They’ve had to change things up a lot, but they’re still travelling, still worldschooling. We’ve been unable to, our borders are still firmly shut.
If you came to this post via our newsletter, you’ll know that we’re about to fix that.
I don’t recommend setting out to travel with your family now. It’s still too hard, but I don’t think we’re far off open borders in many parts of the world. The Americas and Europe are leading the way there. Once Asian countries are open, I’ll be first on the plane. I’ve been cooped up too long.
We will continue to travel just as soon as we can. The boys are still signed up for online school but there’s no reason they can’t pull out and sit exams later, or not at all. We’ll do whatever they want to do. They want to travel and they want to go to Mongolia. We’ll be worldschooling A levels and an older teen, I don’t know what that will look like yet, but worldschooling teenagers is fun and they learn a lot more than smaller children. It won’t be possible to travel and remain enrolled in the school, it’s too much of a rigid time commitment.
There are other ways to sit exams for homeschooled, worldschooled, or unschooled kids. There are ways to get into a university or college without any exam passes. There are plenty of ways to live a fulfilled and lucrative life without any exams or a university degree. There are so many ways to do life and to parent and none of them are “the right” way. There are many ways to homeschool or educate, you just have to do what works for your family and each individual child. My two children are very different, they all are. Luckily, neither of them has ever had any desire to go to a physical school, they’re more than happy the way things are and I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to spend so much time with them and have two truly lovely boys today. I’m a proud mum. Whatever you choose, we hope it works for you. We hope you liked the photo of our cat, he’s called Boofy and it looks like we’ll be shipping him home to the UK soon.