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The IGCSE was often considered to be more similar to the older O-Levels qualification until changes to the GCSE first taken in 2017 than to the new GCSE in England, and for this reason it was often argued to be a more comprehensive and more challenging examination.Until the beginning of 2010, most schools offering the IGCSE were private international schools for expatriate children around the world.

However, a growing number of independent schools in the United Kingdom have started providing IGCSEs for international IGCSE subjects in the 2010s as an alternative to traditional British GCSEs, on the supposed basis that it is more difficult than the national curriculum.

The International General Certificate of Secondary Education is a GCSE-like English language based test and is known in the United Kingdom as being similar to the GCSE for prior achievement recognition purposes. It was established by Cambridge International Examinations University. The Edexcel and Oxford AQA review boards also deliver their own versions of International GCSEs.

At the beginning of Year 10, students usually begin learning the syllabus and take the exam at the end of Year 11. However, students will start learning the syllabus at some international schools at the beginning of Year 9 and take the exam at the end of Year 10.

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