IGCSE or GCSE Maths for Home Schooled Students?

Choices of Qualification….

You have a choice between GCSE (the standard qualification, just like the one taken in schools) and IGCSE (the international GCSE, designed to be taken in more remote locations.). Both are suitable for a home schooled course, both can lead to a Higher grade (up to A*) or a Foundation grade (up to C). But the two exams are different in a couple of important respects, that may not be immediately obvious if you try to wade through the different syllabus documents.

Some schools have adopted IGCSE in place of GCSE and the qualification is recognised by UCAS as equivalent.

GCSE Maths

You will take 2 papers, one is calculator and one non-calculator. The exam is offered by EDEXCEL and AQA, and the content of the exam is the same, so you can use both board’s past papers in your practice period. Also, because this is the market leading GCSE, there are oodles of other materials published online and in paper form, for you to choose from.


Offered by EDEXCEL only, and appealing to a narrower market so there are fewer past papers and additional materials available. But the biggest difference is you can use a calculator for both papers. In order to make sure the value of an IGCSE is not diminished by this, the syllabus contains a few extra topics that do not appear on the GCSE syllabus. For example, at Foundation you will do some Set Theory, and at Higher you would do some Calculus.

Would IGCSE be better for me?

If you are quite comfortable with mental arithmetic and written “sums”, and you are pretty good with your tables, then you shouldn’t struggle too much with the non-calculator paper, and it isn’t worth venturing into the slightly more unusual qualification. If, however, you really struggle with arithmetic and really only feel confident with Maths if you can have a calculator to hand, then IGCSE is worth serious consideration.

Does it lead on OK to A level?

To prepare for A level you must do the Higher IGCSE exam. I did wonder, when I first met the syllabus, whether it was a good idea to let people “off the hook” by using a calculator all the time…. would it not mean that, for the one non-calculator paper you would take in Year 12, you had forgotten how to do arithmetic? The answer seems to be “no”, from my experience. If you repeatedly ask your calculator what 6×7 is, and it tells you 42, then eventually it seems to “stick”. Far from being a cheat, the constant sight of the correct answer seems to be quite helpful in learning those elusive tables facts! The Year 12 non-calculator module is not particluarly arithmetic-heavy in any case so, even if you need some revision of techniques, it’s not a heavyweight problem.

Where would I take the exam?

Either way, you will need to take the exam at a local approved examination centre.

Will I need a Maths Tutor?

You may want to just learn at home.  You and/or one of your family members needs to be pretty confident with Maths in order to manage on your own.  You may find yourself looking for a tutor if:

  • Learning Maths together turns out to be really stressful – experience (as a tutor and teacher myself) has taught me that even in the most cheerful of families, trying to do Maths together can be a minefield. Some adults struggle with Maths themselves so they bring to the table some sympathy with the learner, but also some fear of the subject and a sense that they have “blocks”.
  • Doing past papers and then wading through marking them is OK if you are persistent – it isn’t rocket science but you do need confidence to be able to say “yes, you really ARE hitting your personal target grade now”. You may find yourself wanting that reassurance from an experienced tutor, closer to the exam.
  • Maths just might turn out to be too hard for the student/parent team after all (this can happen with other subjects too but Maths is notorious). In these circumstances you may need to enlist the help of a tutor.
  • You KNOW that Maths is a subject you struggle with. It always has been…. you just don’t seem to “get it”…. it really upsets you sometimes. In this circumstance, you will find an experienced tutor a really valuable support.

I can help you if you are in or near Bournemouth UK

If you live in or near Bournemouth and are home schooled then I may be able to help you. the good news for you is, because most people need tuition after school hours, but you would probably prefer it during the day, most tutors will find it relatively easy to fit you in. The best tutors are fully booked for their evening slots for most of the time, but many have availablity during the daytimes, even close to exams.

For tutors all over the country try http://www.thetutorpages.com/


The power of practice

multiply out and simplifyDear M,

You are making great progress with algebra, I think. The crucial link between the written symbols and what they actually MEAN is not easy to make, but you are putting the hours of practice that you need, in order to become confident. 

Here are some more questions. I know we discussed the idea that I could build an interactive game for you that would check each piece of your working, and your answers, but on reflection, I think you are getting sufficiently fluent with algebra now, that this level of feedback would actually be unhelpful, like bolting stabilizers back onto a bicycle after you have begun to balance it by yourself. 

You are already in the (excellent) habit of keying the question into your calculator, keying in the answer, and comparing the two, What I would like you to focus on this week, is actually writing down the “easy version” and, if the question and answer DON’T match, then key in these workings out as well to narrow down the problem.

The huge advantage of you and the calculator (rather than the computer) doing the checking, is that you are able to use your calculator throughout the IGCSE exam, so you are practicing really useful skills, not using a tool that will be taken away from you.

After working on the last worksheet with you, we both realised that the sums were too densely packed on the page, and a bit dazzly. I hope this version is easier. I have left gaps for you to write the “easy version” out directly below the sum.

As you work, it may be worth being aware of the commonest errors you were making in the lesson (which are errors most people make, you are not alone 🙂  )

  • If there was a minus sign in front of the first bracket, you were not always “seeing it” clearly when you keyed expressions into your calculator
  • If there was a minus in front of the bracket as well as one inside it, you sometimes made the wrong decision (although you had pretty much stopped doing that by the end of the lesson, errors have a nasty habit of creeping back in a few days later!)
  • You made more errors when you did everything mentally, and fewer when you jotted the “easy version” as a working step.

Jargon-wise, what we are doing is called “multiplying out brackets and simplifying”. That’s the terms the examiner would use (instead of “writing down the easy version and writing down the answer”.

So here are three more worksheets:

multiply out and simplify 1

multiply out and simplify 2

multiply out and simplify 3