School Guide

Main Differences between IGCSE and SPM Examinations in Malaysia

Published by SchoolAdvisor | Jan 26, 2022

Wondering which examination is suitable for your child? Learn more about IGCSE and SPM from subjects, grading systems and other major differences that you should know!

IGCSE vs SPM. Parents often wonder which examination is better for their children and compare the two examinations in Malaysia.

This article will define what IGCSE and SPM are and identify the main differences parents should know to make the right decision for their children.

Writing Exam

What is IGCSE?

IGCSE, short for International General Certificate of Secondary Education, is an exam taken by sixteen-year-olds at the end of Year 11 of the National Curriculum of England (British Curriculum). Although it is a five-year programme, undivided focus and preparation begin in Key Stage 4 (Years 10 and 11).

IGCSE generally do not have ‘core subjects’. However, international schools in Malaysia that provide IGCSE will set their core subjects and offer a plethora of electives. Depending on the school, students typically sit for four to eight subjects altogether. The examination is offered twice a year, in June and November.

The preferred IGCSE examination boards are Pearson’s Edexcel and the Cambridge Assessment International Examinations, available in over 100 countries worldwide. After IGCSE, students can proceed to A-Levels, foundation programme, International Baccalaureate Diploma and Career-related programmes and diploma.

What is SPM?

SPM or Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (Malaysian Certificate of Education in English) is an examination taken by students aged 17 at the end of Form 5 of the Malaysian National Curriculum. The examination is offered once a year starting November at national and private schools.

Students must sit for six compulsory subjects with, typically, three to four electives, depending on their stream. In 2021, the Ministry of Education Malaysia had replaced the Integrated Curriculum for Secondary Schools (KBSM) with Standard Curriculum for Secondary Schools (KSSM).

After SPM, students can pursue Sixth Form at national schools, A-Levels, foundation programme, International Baccalaureate Diploma and Career-related programmes, matriculation and diploma.

School Bag

IGCSE Subjects

As mentioned earlier, IGCSE does not have a ‘core subject’, but many international schools have required students to sit for three subjects and students’ preferred elective subjects. The following subjects are available for Edexcel, Cambridge examination bodies, or both:

Required subjects
Elective subjects (but not limited to)
EnglishInformation and Communication Technology
French (as a first or second language)

Global Citizenship (Edexcel) / Global Perspectives (Cambridge)

Islamic Studies (Edexcel) / Islamiyat (Cambridge)

Malay (as a first or second language)

SPM Subjects

Students must sit for six compulsory subjects with electives offered depending on the student’s stream.

Compulsory subjects
Electives (but not limited to)
Bahasa MelayuAdditional Mathematics
Islamic Studies (for Muslim students only)Chinese Language
Moral Studies (for non-Muslim students only)Principles of Accounting
Science (for Commerce and Art Stream students only)Geography
Art and Visual
Arabic Language

In order to pass SPM, students are required to achieve credit Bahasa Melayu (A+ to C grades) and a pass for History (A+ to E grades) and to enrol into universities and pre-university programmes locally. The Bahasa Melayu July Paper was introduced to help students boost their results for the subject and qualify them for university entrance.

IGCSE Grading Scale

For the Pearson’s Edexcel exam board, a nine-point grading scale (9-1) have been introduced to replace the A* to G grading system to ensure that the results are aligned with the British Curriculum and The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulations (Ofqual) in the UK.

The grading system is based and judged by the anchor points or ‘judgemental grades’ of the older A* to G system; where 7 is broadly aligned with the bottom grade A, 4 is broadly aligned to the bottom grade C, and 1 is aligned to G.

IGCSE Grading System

Since the grade is linear, students can sit for their assessments at the end of Year 11 and receive their final grades for each subject.

The Cambridge Assessment International Examination also utilises the 9-1 grading system but have decided to retain the A* to F scale due to the demands in the schools that provide Cambridge’s IGCSE.

SPM Grading Scale

Since 2009, SPM utilities the following grading scale:

A+Pass with Distinction
B+Pass with Credit

Writing Examination

IGCSE vs SPM: What are the differences?

FeesInternational schools can range from RM50,000 to RM100,000 due to the quality of teaching, school facilities and additional payments.

National schools are inexpensive, and parents may invest in extra classes after school leading to the exam day.

Private schools’ fees range from RM14,000 to RM27,000 due to the quality of teaching and the school facilities.

StreamsIGCSE is more lenient in selecting your subjects, even though international schools offer a set of subjects for all students to choose from. Teachers and counsellors provide advice based on your interest and strength in the subjects to help build the foundation on the subject knowledge.If you are sitting for SPM, you will be segregated into streams that will decide the electives you will sit for. For instance, if a Science stream student wants to learn commerce, but the set electives for the Science stream does not offer the subject, the student’s cannot sit for the commerce examination.

This barely gives the students the leeway to do something they are interested in and vice versa. However, the only possible way to mitigate this is to apply SPM as an independent learner.


The rigorousness at international schools is different than at national schools. Students learn through multiple streams in class, such as hands-on learning, research and presentations and more.

The rigorousness is closely related to students’ experiences and how they can associate and apply what they have learned in real life.

At national schools, you are expected to learn rigorously. Therefore, many national schools will have extra classes after school, and students must be a part of the class.

The typical way of studying for SPM is through rote learning, meaning you will have to memorise and write your answers accordingly, which can be a less desirable approach and only fulfil specific requirements

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