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The International British Secondary (High) School System – Explained

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What is it?

International schools usually have to adopt a certain globally-applicable curriculum by which they can certify their graduating students, so that they are able to successfully apply to multiple universities around the world and are not just limited to their local ones.

The United Kingdom has developed its own International curriculum as such and it follows an equivalent pattern to that of the local British educational system. In this article, we will brush on how it is spread out, what are the simple differences in it and how it could benefit your child.

How does it work?

Secondary (or High) school in a British-based system are your last four years in school, and they are split into two stages – IGCSEs (or O-level) and A-levels. As for the content of the stages, it is similar to other countries’ high school systems, but the certificates have a better reputation because of the way and the difficulty of the examinations themselves.

For each of the courses, multiple subjects are offered by different exam boards and it is up to the student to decide what subjects they will be taking. However, it usually depends on what subjects the school itself offers teachers for (For Example, If a student wants to take an IGCSE in Economics and his/her school does not have an Economics teacher, then he/she will have to study the subject independently).


IGCSE stands for International General Certificate of Secondary Education, and it is taken over the course of grades 9 and 10. Students are required to study a minimum of 5 subjects (in most Turkish universities) or 7 subjects (in UK universities) and then perform their final examinations at the end of the 2-year course.

Each subject is taken through multiple examinations that individually revolve around different topics (for example, Physics itself has three different exams and so do other science subjects) and is awarded a final grade on a scale of A*/A-E, A* being the highest. The exams consist of a mix of different types of questions; multiple-choice, free-response as well as essay questions.


It stands for Advanced-Level (of education) and consists of two stages itself, the first being AS (Advanced Subsidiary) followed by A2 (Advanced Two) and they are one year long each so two years in total), taken in grades 11 and then finally grade 12. Most universities ask for a minimum of 3 to 4 A-level subjects as they are very difficult to score highly in.

The content for each A-level subject depends heavily on a foundation of ideas and concepts covered in the IGCSE course, so whether you take an IGCSE before your A-level will definitely affect your performance and how difficult A-level would be for you. The way the exams are organised is very similar to that of IGCSE exams.

EXAM BOARDS – What are they?

These are companies that make and offer the curricula, qualifications and training for teachers and centres following the British system. There are two main international ones here in Turkey, Edexcel and CIE, with little difference between them.

Pearson Edexcel

  • No practical laboratory AS-level exam for science subjects.
  • Modular system (I. E. Units can be examined individually throughout the year).
  • More private candidate/homeschool-friendly.

CIE (Cambridge Int. Exam.s)

  • There is a practical laboratory AS-level exam for science subjects.
  • Block system (I. E. Units have to be taken altogether at the end of each stage).
  • More diverse (I. E. More subjects are offered).

University Acceptance

The British system has a very high reputation amongst many prestigious universities around the world and is widely accepted, so it is sure to spread your horizons when it comes to university application. Some universities (and especially here in Turkey) accept IGCSE as a stand-alone certificate, meaning that you could have the chance to enter university two years early (depending on the course you are taking and the university you are applying to).


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