Students who are writing ZIMSEC final exams in any year have all of one choice. A General Certificate of Education Certificate for either Ordinary Level or Advanced Level. Even the length of each subject course is predictably regulated.

With Cambridge the choice might not be so clear at first. There are GSCEs and IGSCEs. So what is the difference?


This stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education. It was a system that introduced back in 1988 to replace the General Certificate of Education and Certificate of Secondary Education.

It is currently administered in the UK and Commonwealth Countries. Like the incoming Zimbabwe syllabus it introduced coursework. Students now had to complete exercises and tasks in addition to writing the final exam.

Examples of tasks include experiments in subjects such as Physics, Chemistry and Biology. These were added to the final grade. Earlier coursework requirements similar to the ones being introduced by Minister Lazurus Dokora were scrapped.

Under GCSE pass symbols start from A* through to G. Employers and Universities however only consider grades A*-C. Typically students should have passes in English and Maths.

These grades are in the process of being replaced with Grades 1-9 which is similar to the ZIMSEC Grade 7 and old ZJC syllabus Grades. The lower the number the better the grade.


Stands for International General Certificate of Secondary Education. It is the international equivalent of the GSCE which was developed by Cambridge. The Advanced Level section is known as AS/A Level.

There is no coursework here and students are examined at the end of their course. Assessment is usually in the form of a written examination although oral/spoken exams are administered for subjects such as French.

IGCSE is meant mainly for students in overseas countries whose main language is not necessarily English. For example in Zimbabwe. To reflect this the syllabus includes a paper known as English as a Second Language and foreign languages such as French and Zulu.

Grades range from A* to U. If a student passes 7 or more subjects across prescribed groups with Grade C or better they are awarded an International Certificate of Education.The ICE is awarded in three grades: Distinction, Merit and Pass. It requires 2 passes in Languages, and one pass in every other group whilst the seventh subject can be from any group.

  • Group I: Languages
  • Group II: Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Group III: Sciences
  • Group IV: Mathematics
  • Group V: Creative, Technical and Vocational

Which to choose

In Zimbabwe schools and centers offer IGSCE so be mindful of this during your revision and exam preparation. You need to be aware of what the examination and assessment will be like. The worst you could do is to spend two years and a lot of money preparing for the wrong exam!

It happened to someone I know. In the end they did not fail but they got mediocre grades. When buying books and revising buy the right books and do not be tempted by unscrupulous book sellers who are just out to make a sale.