A quick comparison: GCSE and International GCSEs | Pearson qualifications

A quick comparison: GCSE and International GCSEs

Fri Jul 23 08:37:00 UTC 2021

Discover the key differences and similarities of the Pearson-Edexcel International GCSEs in Chinese, French, German and Spanish and 9-1 GCSE qualifications (all languages)

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Our 9-1 language GCSEs and the 2017 specification International GCSE qualifications in Chinese, French, German and Spanish have the same level of demand and are designed to accommodate a variety of different learners. Each of these qualifications rewards candidates with 9-1 grades and shares important similarities.

Both sets of qualifications:

  • have the same level of demand and can be aligned to qualification levels 1 and 2 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • share common ‘grammar lists’
  • cover all four language skills: Listening, speaking, reading and writing
  • allocate a 25% weighting to each skill in terms of the total qualification marks
  • are 100% externally marked by Pearson-Edexcel examiners
  • feature questions based on literary texts
  • enable students to have some element of ‘content control’ in the speaking test

Apart from enjoying the above similarities and the same status, the two qualifications are quite distinctive and are aimed at different types of learner. The International GCSEs, for example, are primarily intended for those studying at international centres but many independent UK schools, seeking an alternative to GCSE, also choose to offer them. The GCSEs are developed in response to Department of Education subject criteria and are subject to Ofqual approval. These are primarily intended for secondary school students in England but have also proved popular internationally.

Their key differences can be seen below:

* Foundation tier papers are targeted at grades 1-5 and Higher tier papers at grades 4-9

International GCSE features GCSE features
  • assessments that are not tiered (GCSE candidates must be entered at foundation or higher tier across the whole qualification*)
  • target-language questions for French, German and Spanish listening and reading assessments (whereas questions in GCSE listening and reading papers are in English)
  • a short grammar-focussed task
  • reading questions best on literary texts
  • different topic areas
  • no translations from the target language into English and vice versa
  • a ‘3 papers’ format (Listening, Reading & writing, Speaking)
  • Speaking test tasks based on a student-sourced picture and follow-on conversations linked to allocated topics from the specification (no role plays or other scripted tasks)
NB: There are no target language questions in the International GCSE in Chinese listening and reading papers. This is because logographic writing systems are used.
  • tiering (Candidates must be entered at foundation or higher tier across the whole qualification*)
  • minimal number of target language questions in the listening and reading papers
  • grammar assessment integrated in tasks
  • different topic areas
  • translations from the target language into English and vice versa
  • a ‘4 papers format’ (Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing)
  • roleplays and unseen picture-based task feature in the speaking test but student able to choose the topic of first of two conversations
International GCSE topic areas and subtopics GCSE themes, topics and subthemes

Home and Abroad

  1. Life in the town and rural life
  2. Holidays, tourist information and directions
  3. Services (e.g. bank, post office)*
  4. Customs
  5. Everyday life, traditions and communities

Education and Employment

  1. School life and routine
  2. School rules and pressures
  3. School trips, events and exchanges
  4. Work, careers and volunteering
  5. Future plans

Personal life and relationships

  1. House and home
  2. Daily routines and helping at home
  3. Role models*
  4. Relationships with family and friends
  5. Childhood*

The world around us

  1. Environmental issues
  2. Weather and climate*
  3. Travel and transport
  4. The media
  5. Information and communication technology

Social activities, fitness and health

  1.  Special occasions
  2. Hobbies, interests, sports and exercise
  3. Shopping and money matters
  4. Accidents, injuries, common ailments and health issues*
  5. Food and drink

*Sub-topics A3, C3, C5, D2 and E4 not assessed in Paper 3: Speaking

Identity and culture

  • Who am I?: relationships; when I was younger; what my friends and family are like; what makes a good friend; interests; socialising with friends and family; role models
  • Daily life: customs and everyday life; food and drink; shopping; social media and technology (use of, advantages and disadvantages)
  • Cultural life: celebrations and festivals; reading; music; sport; film and television

Local area, holiday and travel

  • Holidays: preferences; experiences; and destinations
  • Travel and tourist transactions: travel and accommodation; asking for help and dealing with problems; directions; eating out; shopping
  • Town, region and country: weather; places to see; things to do


  • What school is like: school types; school day; subjects; rules and pressures; celebrating success
  • School activities: school trips; events; exchanges

Future aspirations, study and work

  • Using languages beyond the classroom: forming relationships; travel; employment
  • Ambitions: further study; volunteering; training
  • Work: jobs; careers; professions

International and global dimension

  • Bringing the world together: sports events; music events; campaigns and good causes
  • Environmental issues: being ‘green’; access to natural resources
International GCSE GCSE

Paper 1 Listening


30 mins – 40 marks



Paper 2 Reading and writing


1hour 45 mins – 80 marks



Paper 3 Speaking


8-10 mins (no preparation time) – 40 marks



Paper 1 Listening and understanding


 F 35 mins / H 45 mins – 50 marks



Paper 2 Speaking


 F 7-9 mins / H 10-12 mins (plus 12 mins prep) –70 marks



Paper 3 Reading and understanding


 F 45 mins / H 1 hour - 50 marks



Paper 4 Writing


F 1 hour 10 mins /H 1 hour 20 mins – 60 marks



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