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IGCSE Computer Science

A guide for parents about IGCSE Computer Science

I have been asked many questions about IGCSE Computer Science and also about the difference between IT and Computer Science. This guide is designed to provide answers either because you are a home educator, or a parent whose child is particularly interested in computers.

The I in IGCSE - What does it stand for ?

Quite simply, I is for International. IGCSE’s are taken instead of GCSE’s in both private schools and by home educated children because
  • They have a good reputation
  • They can be taken by home educated children because there is no coursework involved
  • The assessment depends on just the exams.

IGCSEs are associated with the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) exam board. This board was the first board to offer Computer Science at GCSE. In April 2017 Edexcel released an IGCSE Computer Science course, the first sitting of which will be in 2019. Unliked the course offered by CIE this course has a computer based practical exam and,# consequently, it will not be easy for parents, or private students to find an exam centre that will offer this particular IGCSE.

About the 9-1 Grading System and the IGCSE

From the 2019 sitting onwards CIE will allow candidates to choose whether the IGCSE Computer Science exam paper will be graded A-E or under the new 9-1 system. The syllabus is the same for both exams, it is only the exam codes used that are different. When booking the exam with the exam centre a choice needs to be made regarding the preferred marking system to be used for grading the exam papers.

The IGCSE Computer Science Syllabus

The detailed syllabus is available on the CIE website. It covers the following subject areas

  • Binary and Hexadecimal numbers
  • Computer networking, the Internet and Communications Technology
  • Digital Logic gates and circuits
  • Computer architecture and computer Operating Systems
  • Input and Output Devices
  • Memory, Disk Drives and Data Storage
  • High and Low level Programming Languages
  • Computer Security and Ethics
  • Problem-solving and Design
  • Designing programs using Pseudocode and Flowcharts
  • Programming and the concepts involved in designing and coding software
  • Data structures and records
  • Databases
The IGCSE exam has no practical, and consists of two written exams both 1hr 45mins long.
  • Exam 1 - Consists of short answer questions on the Theory of Computer Science and accounts for 60% of final grade.
  • Exam 2 - Is a written exam on programming and problem solving and accounts for40% of final grade.
The exam can be taken in the May/June or Oct/November. There is no minimum age for taking it and anyone can take it as many times as they wish. Even though there is no practical paper actual practice with computer programming accounts for a large part of the preparation for this exam – especially the second exam. In the written exam, students are expected to be able to write “pseudo code” based on their practical programming experience. Our distance learning course requires students to use and learn a programming language. Students also need to complete an exam “Pre-release” task that they will be asked questions on in the second exam. The Pre-release programming task is sent out to students about 3 months before the exam date. Without a good practical knowledge of programming, passing the second exam is unlikely.

Choice of programming language to study

The programming languages recommended by CIE are Python, Visual Basic, Java, and Pascal. The choice of language is fairly open as learning to program in any one of these languages will provide the experience and knowledge necessary to write "pseudo code" in response to questions asked in the exam. The exam is really testing a student's general programming knowledge and ability to analyse and solve problems.

Taking the Exam

Most home educated children take their exams at a variety of places such as e.g. private schools, colleges and dedicated exam centres. The cost of taking the exam will vary from centre to centre, but, typically should be in the range of £100-£150.

Official Course Books

The course books and revision guide available and accredited by CIE are


Q. My child has not done much programming or computer work, will they find the course too hard?
A. This will depend on your child and your child's academic ability. Where a child has little computer or programming experience, they would need allow for (set aside) extra time in which to practice and study, especially at the beginning.
Q. What is the hardest part of the syllabus?
A. My experience suggests that Logic Gates and Circuits, and binary and hexadecimal numbers tend to be thought of as the hardest topics.
Q. Are there any free resources for the exam?
A. There are many free resources to be found. These include
Q. Any general advice or suggestions.
A. This is a well thought out and researched syllabus, especially for a child that is interested in computing or programming. It provides a good grounding in the computer science. Studying the course can be enriched by experimenting with the BBC Microbit, the Arduino and the RasbperryPi for which many good resources are available, including materials developed at our parent company First Technology Transfer .

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