Wednesday, 27 June 2018

How to Study for IGCSEs - part 2, Which Syllabus?

Choosing your IGCSE exam board goes hand-in-hand with choosing your exam centre.  Some centres only offer one board but it is worth comparing the specifications anyway, as you may find that one style suits your child a LOT more than the others, in which case you may need to consider driving further in order to use the preferred board.  If your child does not have a strong preference you may be able to choose the exam centre based on which is closest (or best for other reasons).

As I mentioned before, this part of the process was the part that I found the most daunting and confusing, so I though it would help to outline a step-by-step process that I would use as a beginner.  Nowadays I would omit the first couple of steps as I have the exam boards bookmarked, but I wanted to show how to use the HE Exams wiki if you are feeling utterly lost - it really is a brilliant resource!
So, for example. The process is pretty much the same for any subject, but for the sake of taking you through the process, let's say you were interested in Geography, how would you go about comparing specifications?  This is how I would do it as a beginner:
a) go to the wiki subjects page and look up your subject (Geography).  Click on the 'Geography' link (highlighted in blue) and it will take you to a subject-specific page still in the wiki.

b) scroll down until you find the link under the CIE (Cambridge) heading - it says CIE IGCSE Geography.  That take you to the Cambridge (now called CAIE) website listing all available subjects.  I recommend bookmarking this page for future reference on all subjects, so you will be able to skip (a) & (b) next time...

c) scroll down until you find Geography.  You will see there are two options - 0460 and 0976. (If you click on 0460 you will see a note to UK schools that it will be unregulated from 2020.  It will still be available but you would need to check with your exam centre if they are still happy to offer it.) 0976 is the new version, so let's click on that...

d) scroll down for a selection of Syllabus PDFs - let's say you are considering sitting the exam next summer (2019), so click on the first one in the list.

e) scroll down to the contents list (p3).  It's worth reading the whole syllabus, but I like to skip first to the bit about the exam papers (aka assessment) - in this case p5.  

f) you can see on p5 that the exam is divided into three required components: Paper 1 and Paper 2, and then either Component 3 (coursework, which rules external candidates out) or Paper 4 - alternative to coursework.  You can also see how long the papers are and how much of the exam mark they are worth.  The rest of the PDF gives information on the course content and further details on the assessment, to give you an idea of what your child is going to be needing to learn, and is really helpful to compare with another exam board -

so leaving that tab open I would head back to the wiki and repeat steps (a) and (b) to get to the wiki Geography page...

g) scroll down to the Edexcel section and click on the highlighted bit: 'Edexcel International GCSE Geography from 2011'. This takes you to the Edexcel syllabus page.  (For a quick link to the Edexcel subjects page that you can bookmark for future reference, click here). There is just one syllabus - you will see the code 4GEO. 

h) Click on the download button under the 'Specification' heading, and it will take you to a PDF overview which you can scroll through as before to find assessment requirements and course content. 'page 1' shows that there is just one examination paper (code 4GEO/01) so already you have a choice between one long paper and 3 shorter ones - which style suits your child best?
From the examination paper overview on 'page 5' you can see that the paper is divided into 4 sections: one is the alternative to practical - it helps if they have experienced a fieldtrip, but we managed fine without.  The other three sections comprise of a choice from 3 topics each - the student chooses 2 each from section A&B, and 1 from section D. 
IMPORTANT: we missed this fact in our first year and ended up wasting time studying the whole book when we actually only needed to choose 5 of the 9 given sections to learn - we didn't realise this until we started revising with past papers!  You can see it is vital to read through the Spec.s before studying, which is why I'm writing this guide today!

Finally, once you have compared the syllabus PDFs & understand a bit better what is required in each, it may help to also have a look at a couple of past papers to get an idea for style. These can be accessed via the exam board websites...
For Cambridge, go to your bookmarked link from step (b) and click on Geography 0976, then you will see a menu in the upper left corner with a link to past papers etc.  If you click on this you will access a list of downloadable papers.  Because 0976 is a new paper there are no available past papers but there are several downloadable specimen papers to give you a good idea of what you will be taking. The examiner reports are also valuable, especially once you get into the studies.
For Edexcel, go to your bookmarked link from step (g) and click on Geography. Scroll down and you will see a link in the bottom right under 'Popular Topics' for past papers
*Please note: since I wrote the above I have realised that the Wiki link goes to Geography 2011 which is the paper Eldest sat.  There is now a new syllabus from 2017 that can be accessed from the step (g) link but they do not appear to have any past papers yet.  Hopefully the above steps have helped you to familiarise yourself with the process.

Hope that helps - if anyone spots any updates or mistakes do please let me know!  I am planning on a year away from any exam-related Home Ed for my boys & will need to return to it all in 2019 when I need to start over again - so it had better make sense!

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