【Discovery Series 9】What are the differences between IGCSE / ICE / O LEVEL / SPM ??

Written by Jeffrey


An overview on Secondary Education Qualifications in Malaysia

Do you know that aside from Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), there are other equivalent secondary school qualifications that are accepted for pre- university admission in Malaysia?  If you are planning to study at an international school, or have friends who are studying there, you might have heard about IGCSE or O– Level.  Through this article, we will be discussing about these high school qualifications in general, especially their differences in terms of structure and grading.

1) Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE)

IGCSE is a globally recognized examination system that was established more than 30 years ago. It caters to students ranging from 14 to 16 years old. The international syllabus is constructed similarly to the GCSE local qualification in England.

Students will normally begin studying the syllabus at the beginning of Year 10 and take the final test at the end of Year 11. Some of them might even take it earlier depending on their learning progress and ability. Students can sit for the examination and choose their subjects based on a diverse selection of 70 subjects. So do not be surprised if you have friends who are below 18 years old when they enter a Pre- U programme such as Foundation/ Diploma/ A- Level studies, because IGCSE candidates do not take their final examination at a fixed age like SPM candidates.

When it comes to academic learning, the Cambridge IGCSE offers a variety of assessment techniques by providing evaluations on the students’ oral, practical skills as well as problem solving ability.  One of the most distinct features is that it has the coursework option for subjects’ assessment which means that both the institution and the subject teacher can have participation in the student’s final grade assessment.
Grading system: For Cambridge IGCSE, students are graded from A*(the highest) to G (the lowest). The examination papers are set and graded by the Cambridge Examination Board. However, this is the standard grading system that is being implemented in school level:-

90%-100% = A*

80%-89% = A

70%-79%= B

60%- 69% = C

50%-59% = D

40%-49% = E

30%-39% = F

20%-29% = G

<20% = U, Ungraded, fail.

IGCSE consists two types of paper: Core and extended paper. Core paper is slightly easier when compared to the extended paper; however, the maximum grade for core paper is grade C while the maximum grade for extended paper is grade A*.

2) Cambridge Ordinary Level (O- Level)

Another popular examination system under Cambridge is known as the Cambridge O Level. The qualification of Cambridge O Level is equivalent to IGCSE.

The major differences between these two examinations is that as compared to IGCSE, it focuses more on external grading and offers fewer coursework options which means it is also more examination based.  Students can choose to learn and be examined from a selection of 40 subjects. Another unique point of the O Level is that in terms of language assessment, the evaluation focuses strongly on the mastery of the students’ writing and reading components.                                                         

Grading system:
It is graded from A*(the highest) to E (the lowest).

3) Cambridge International Certificate In Education (ICE)

Another test offered under the Cambridge Assessment International Education is the Cambridge ICE test. The ICE test is famous for its extensively broad, diverse and well- balanced curriculum. Students are required to sit for minimum 7 subjects, in which the subjects must be selected from the 5 main subject branches. The 5 main branches offered are languages, humanities, sciences, mathematics as well as creative and vocational. Students are required to choose two subjects from languages, one subjects each for the four other subject branches plus another one more from any other subject branches. This test is not offered as widely as compared to IGCSE or O -Level and only at certain limited institutions.

Grading system: The students will be graded with a distinction, merit and pass system according to the number of As and credits received for their final assessments.

4) Malaysian Certificate Of Education – Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM)

This is the most common high school qualification in Malaysia. It is offered at a national level and set, examined by the Malaysian Examinations board (Lembaga Peperiksaan Malaysia)

For SPM, students will sit for the examination when they are at Form 5, where the final assessment will be an evaluation of combination of their Form 4 and Form 5 syllabus. Most of the subjects tested are fixed and students normally take a set of subjects according to their streams such as Science or Arts Stream, which are commonly taught at public or private national secondary schools.

Students are required to sit and pass several compulsory subjects in order to receive the certificate: Bahasa Malaysia and also Sejarah (History). Furthermore, for Muslim students, they have to sit for Pendidikan Islam while non- Muslim students need to take Pendidikan Moral.

Grading system: SPM is graded from A+, A, A-, B+, B, C+, C, D, E and G.

All of the above mentioned high school qualifications are recognized with an organized structure as well as grading system. It is important to choose the right high school qualification examination based on your tertiary study plan.  SPM is the best pathway for students who desire to further their studies at a local public institution or apply for local matriculation. On the other hand, students who are most likely to pursue their studies overseas should definitely consider to take IGCSE or the O- Level examination.

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