School Guide

What's the difference between SAT, GCSE, IGCSE and A Level?

Published by SchoolAdvisor | Mar 05, 2021

The one question many parents would have is, which qualifications would suit my child best? 

Let's take a look at the difference between these world-class qualifications. 


SAT 2020

The Standardized Admissions Test is for students who have gone through the US curriculum. It is actually not compulsory for students to take this test, but it is highly encouraged as part of college/university admissions.

As some background information, the High School diploma obtained by US high school students is actually equivalent to the British A Level. This is because US high school students graduate at the age of 18. In a way, it is almost like they’ve completed their pre-university, or foundational course. The SAT is recognised not only in the US, but in the UK and Australia as well.

With the US curriculum, it is actually the credits gained along the way that really matter. Without the credits, one cannot pass high school. While the British system mostly tracks progress through tiered exams, the US system aims to monitor students throughout the year with tests and quizzes in class.

These may differ according to the actual syllabus, but by and large, the US system focuses on getting students to show their teachers what they’ve learned without relying too much on exams. Instead, there is a regimen that includes projects, homework, classwork and participation.

The SAT is a standardized test that measures a student's skills in three core areas: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. It is a multiple-choice test created and administered by the College Board. The purpose of the SAT is to measure a high school student's readiness for college, and provide colleges with one common data point that can be used to compare all applicants.

College admissions officers will review standardized test scores alongside the student’s Grade Point Average, the classes taken in high school, letters of recommendation from teachers or mentors, extracurricular activities, admissions interviews, and personal essays.

Click here to find out International Schools in Malaysia offering American Curriculum 



GCSE is a United Kingdom academic qualification. Until 2013, the GCSE exam consisted of coursework — sometimes referred to as ‘controlled assessment’, and exams. Meanwhile, the GCSEs implemented in 2017 emphasis for exams to be linear in which the students will be graded based on one final exam that they complete at the end of their study and that still stands until today.

Additionally, it is compulsory for students to take core subjects like Maths, English and Science. The GCSE course is usually two years but some schools will allow more able pupils to complete it in one year, or take the exams a year earlier. The majority of the exams are in June, with resits taken in January and/or November each year.

How is the GCSE graded?

GCSE is regulated by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual). GCSE exam grades which were graded A*-G were replaced with numerical grading system, Grades 1-9, where 9 being the highest grade and 1 the lowest.


Cambridge IGCSE

The International GCSE was first introduced by Cambridge Assessment International Education over 30 years ago in 1988 so that students overseas, whose first language was not necessarily English, could sit for the Cambridge IGCSE exam.

The assessment takes place at the end of the course and includes written, oral, coursework and practical assessment. There are more than 70 subjects which can be studied which includes many foreign languages.

Students are required to take 5 to 14 subjects. The core subjects are English, Mathematics and Sciences. Students can also choose other subjects ranging from Social Sciences to Arts & Technology.

A student is awarded with one IGCSE certificate on each subject. If you take five subjects, you will be awarded 5 IGCSE certificates. The number of subjects that need to be taken is varied from school to school, and also depends upon individual preference.

Many independent schools now enter pupils for this exam — possibly because they have many pupils from overseas whose first language is not English. But more than that, a large number of schools were disappointed over the grade boundaries of the GCSE English.

How is the IGCSE graded?

The IGCSE is graded from A* to G, with U stated as “Ungraded”. Students are required to obtain minimum grade C for the five core subjects in order to proceed to the next advanced level or further education. IGCSE grading overview is as below:

IGCSE vs US vs GPA Grade Comparison

What are the differences between GCSE and IGCSE exams?

The main difference is that IGCSE still includes some elements of GCSE— coursework, oral and practical assessment as well as exams. The IGCSE is offered at different levels, and some teachers think that it has more scope for more able pupils at the higher level.

Some teachers and students think that the IGCSE exam is now easier than the new GCSE exam, because of the content of the syllabus and the range of assessment.

But, be aware that some universities have their own preferences. An increasing number of people are happy to accept International GCSE English, but some are not. If your child is heading for university, you should, even at this stage, research entry requirements on each university’s website.

Click here to find out Schools Offering IGCSE In Malaysia 

A Level

A level

A-Level is a pre-university programme offered in Malaysia based on the UK education system. Otherwise known as GCE Advanced Level, you can take this course after completing your SPM and before pursuing a degree at university.

A-Level in Malaysia is administered by two examination boards — Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) and Edexcel. Most colleges in Malaysia offer the one from the Cambridge board as opposed to the one by Edexcel.

The programme is usually 24 months long, but if you choose to finish it within a year, experts say it is achievable, as long as you are willing to put in the work.

It is 100% exam-based, so your child would pretty much be reliving your SPM days (national school assessment). But unlike SPM where students usually take nine subjects, they only need to take a minimum of 3 subjects.

A-Level consists of two parts:

  • Advanced Subsidiary (or better known as AS Level), and
  • A2 Level

AS Level is the first half of the programme and forms the foundation of A-Level. A2 Level is the second part of the syllabus, covering more complex topics in the subjects that you have chosen.

How is A Level graded?

You will typically take exams at the end of each level, with each level contributing 50% towards your final grade. That is to say, 50% from AS exams and 50% from A2 exams.

Your final results will be a grade of A* to E for each subject taken. The maximum score is A*A*A* for 3 subjects, and A*A*A*A* for 4 subjects.