Your Complete Guide to Understanding and Choosing Your IGCSE A-Levels

By: Neda Ahmed

It’s the (maybe dreadful) time of the year again when IGCSE students make relatively life-changing decisions. Whether you’re registering subjects for November 2020, January 2021, June 2021, or simply an IGCSE student who wants to get an idea about the process of subject-choosing, this article is for you.

Most IGCSE students are struck with confusion when trying to decide what non-mandatory subjects to register to “achieve the requirements,” so we’re here to help you out.

First things first, you have to look up your uni/major requirements as these are the ultimate priority. If you don’t exactly know where you want to end up yet, that’s okay (and pretty common as well). In this case, take the general national requirements of 8 IGCSEs (including the 3 sciences) and then let what you are passionate about decide the fate of your A-Levels. 

Before we actually discuss any subjects, I’d like to acknowledge our privilege as IGCSE/A-Level students: we actually get to decide what we’d like to learn; the examination board and syllabuses respect our minds and being, awarding us with points for using valid info that’s not mentioned in textbooks; we get to request a remark of our papers and all of our complaints to the boards are, more often than not, taken seriously. In comparison to thanaweya amma, we’re really privileged and we MUST acknowledge that. Let’s take a look at some of the more common subjects that you may be looking into and are offered at most schools.

  1. IGCSE Literature

This can be an alternative to ESL. Candidates get to study literary masterpieces and learn how to analyse texts, interpret their deeper meaning and understand the basics of imagery and creative language. For most readers, this is a go-to chance to indulge in treasure-like pieces of writing and understand why they earned said title

  1. IGCSE Psychology

Psychology, by definition, is the study of the human mind and its very folds. The Cambridge syllabus covers a range of mental disorders and delves into a few basics of the Science of the mind. To say the least, it’s a fun course and beneficial on so many humanitarian levels. However, if essay questions aren’t for you, IGCSE Psychology will not be go well unless you’re willing to make sacrifices.

  1. IGCSE ICT

Formally known as Information, Communication and Technology, saying that this is an essential IGCSE would be an understatement. During this course, you’ll cover the ABCsof Microsoft Office and some hacks you’ll need to apply in this internet/technology dominated life, both in college and work.

  1. IGCSE Computer Science

CS is a course that’s becoming increasingly popular among students; it covers the means of solving problems using computers, programming, the study of sub-systems of computers and the interrelation between software, data, hardware, communications and people. Candidates cover everything from the very basics of binary systems to programming concepts and databases.

What sets CS and ICT apart is that candidates who sign up for ICT learn how to be efficient users while those who sign up for CS learn how to make the system efficient for the users. While there are common areas between the two syllabuses, the CS course delves into more details than the ICT course, discussing the mechanisms of the topic at hand.

  1. IGCSE Economics

This course aims to have students have an understanding of economic theory, terms, principals, the application of economic literacy and numeracy to life and learn how to express the ideas logically and coherently in written form. The syllabus covers problems of the economy at an ordinary level, the rules of markets, the demand and supply theory while also covering a range of decision-makers for banks, households, workers and whatnot. Candidates study everything and form an understanding of what the stock market is and how different kinds of businesses operate and also learn about government policies and exchange rates. To say the least, Economics gives an insight to the mechanics of the world. Just a fair warning, though, this is a subject that’s notorious for its essay questions, so if that’s not your thing, maybe Economics is not for you.

  1. IGCSE Art & Design

The course channels the creative mind by stimulating imagination and creativity. Cambridge aims to boost the confidence of the candidates by teaching them how to assess and solve problems while expanding their cultural perspective. The students cover painting, print-making, three-dimensional design, photography, graphic communication, textiles and fashion. In other words, this course kindly requests the freeing of the creative you.

  1. IGCSE History

This one is a personal favourite of mine. There are two options for this course (A and B). A discusses the development of modern nation states, 1848–1914; likewise, option B discusses international relations since 1919. In addition, the candidates must study the history of a chosen country/topic in depth, including but not limited to Germany (1918-45), Russia (1905-41), the WWI (1914-18). This course teaches candidates how to express their views coherently and civilly through writing while also allowing them a chance of analysis and critical thinking. Unfortunately for some, this exam for this subject is notorious for its essay questions as well.

  1. IGCSE Travel & Tourism

Though not a popular choice, it’s quite the subject. Candidates form an understanding about the industry of travel and tourism, in terms of structure, the impact of tourism on economy, and culture. They also gain knowledge of what is a touristic destination and the factors that make it so as well as learning about time zones and climate. What I find deeply intriguing is that they also learn how to deal with colleagues and customers: everything from customer care and handling complaints to promotion and presentation. The course also covers a range of other related topics, diving deep into the world of tourists. No essay questions for this one!

  1. IGCSE Business Studies

This course establishes an understanding of business activities (both in the private and public sector) while highlighting the importance of change. From financials to regulations and organisation, IGCSE Business covers it all. The factors that impact business are also studied. Paper 2 of IGCSE Business Studies, also known as Case Study, requires essay writing.

Business Studies and Economics seem similar at a glance; in fact, there are a few differences, to speak of. Business Studies covers the aspects of day-to-day business life while the Economics course is way more in depth: analysing and forming plans as well as evaluating problems (e.g. a slump in demand). Taking one course would help you in the other, that’s for sure. However, if you can’t, ask yourself about where you’re most likely going to end up: as a business owner/manager or an employee in the financial sector. If it’s the latter, economics is the one for you.

  1. IGCSE French/German/Spanish as a Foreign Language

The course enhances reading, writing, listening and speaking skills as well as offering insight to the cultures of the home countries of the chosen language. The course ensures that candidates communicate effectively at the A2 level while establishing a base for the B1 level. Vocabulary and skills are acquired through studying topics such as everyday activities, personal and social life. There are 4 skills to be covered; likewise, there are 4 papers, each examining a skill.

  1. IGCSE Accounting

The syllabus introduces the theory of accounting and its usage and application in the fields of economics and business. Recording, reporting, presenting and interpreting financial information–these are the skills candidates acquire throughout the course. Everything from bank and financial statements to policies are covered. The approach of questions is quite systematic. There are 2 papers: while Paper 1 covers multiple-choice questions, Paper 2 is a structured written paper. It’s not advised to take up the course if you do not plan on pursuing a related career to save the slot for a related IGCSE.

On to A Levels, it’s important to clarify that A Levels (which stand for the advanced level) are usually taken up by students who feel like they want to delve deeper into the subjects as the courses prepare the way for professionalism in chosen courses. It’s best to sign up for A Levels that will be beneficial to you, considering your passions and your career goals, to not have your effort wasting in vain. Also, most Egyptian unis don’t ask for any A Levels, unless a specific university requires a certain one while universities abroad care more about your A Levels and more often than not require a minimum of three. 

  1. A Level Maths

A Level Maths is a very popular go-to among students. If you’re a sucker for Maths, this will feel like home. However, it’s note-worthy that many experienced teachers point out that AS Maths is for everyone while A2 maths is only for the Mathholics. Bottom line is, Mathholics, knock yourself out.

  1. A Level Biology

If you’re not planning on doing anything medical or medicinal, don’t go there. The AS covers the materials of the IGCSE level on a microscopic level while the A2 goes way further with details. A Level biology is known to pave the way for doctors-to-be and to people who love to indulge in the mechanics of bodies and whatnot. If that’s you, hop on board. Like any other science A Level, there’s a practical paper, an alternative to practical paper, two theoretical papers (one at the AS level and one at the A2 level) and a multiple-choice questions paper.

  1. A Level Chemistry

In comparison to A Level Chemistry, IGCSE Chemistry covers the mere basics of the course. The course, in one way or another, debunks some concepts learnt at the ordinary level for they’re too simple to be considered facts. The mechanics of the reactions are broken down and studied in detail; unlike other A Levels, this is an exceptionally hard one. The theoretical side goes way deeper than the ordinary level, with more details to uncover. To say the least, it’s fascinating; if you’re a chemistry geek, you’re bound to enjoy the course and are in for a fun ride if registered. It’s not encouraged to sign up for A Level Chemistry if you’re unenthusiastic about the subject.

  1. A Level Physics

IGCSE physics sets a solid base for the advanced level. The AS level, on the theoretical side, doesn’t add much information to that acquired at the ordinary level. AS Physics is very oriented around calculations, and though the content is somewhat similar to that at the ordinary level, the questions are way harder. The phrase ‘practice makes perfect’ applies nicely enough at this level. On the other hand, A2 Physics adds way more information on the theoretical side. To handle the subject well, constant and thorough reviewing is preferred to just practice. It’s also recommended to have taken A Level Maths before starting the A Level Physics course to be at ease with the calculations. Signing up for an A Level that you do not enjoy may turn out to be a bad idea, so make your decisions wisely!

  1. A Level Arabic (Pearson Edexcel)

There are two units to be assessed. Unit 1 helps develop reading and comprehension skills as well as form an understanding of grammar rules. This is achieved by covering a range of topics. Candidates are advised to read and be invested in arabic media (magazines, films and books). Paper 1 assesses unit 1 through reading, writing and grammar sections. Unit 2 is all about writing and research. From a pre-prepared list, candidates choose a movie, book or whatnot to write about in the final examination. Paper 2 assesses research, writing and translation skills.

  1. A Level Sociology

Sociology is the study of social behaviours, how an individual acts in a group, the distinction of people into groups (e.g. class and race) and the factors that act and interact with the groups and societies. Questions such as why is a black man five times more likely to be stopped and searched are quite common. The course helps form an understanding about sociological theories, for example Feminism, Marxism and Functionalism. It allows candidates to view society in a critical way that helps them formulate well-structured reports and analysis about societal issues. It’s notable to mention that universities recognise enhanced social, economic and political knowledge gained by candidates through the study of the course. This is an essay subject.

  1. A Level Computer Science

This A Level provides a general understanding and perspective of computer technology; consequently, candidates’ decisions in this field become more informed and wiser. It also helps them contribute to a technology-dependent society. The course dives in programming and cyber security at great lengths, discussing algorithm design and theory concepts of the field (e.g. IP addresses). The syllabus aims to boost computational skills, have students understand subsystems and their mechanisms, the interrelation of components. This is an excellent foundation for aspiring programmers. There are 4 papers, 2 at the AS level and 2 at the A2 level. All 4 papers are short-answer structured questions.

Our choices as IGCSE/A Level students are endless, most schools offer different variations of courses,other than those mentioned above. Even if your school doesn’t offer a subject you have in mind, you can request to register the subject externally or even do self-study.

With all that being said, I can go on and on forever about all 70 IGCSE subjects, concluding that everyone has different tastes, interests and orientations. To take a final decision, talk to teachers, past students, your school counsellor and take a thoughtful look at the syllabus. What your friends or the vast majority will pick to study should never influence your choice. Mould your decision to fit your time space, personal interests and choice career.

Good luck making decisions, I wish you the best of everything!

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