Your Complete Guide to choosing your IGCSE options

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This guide is everything you need to know about all the IGCSE subjects offered at La Chat. It is not intended to be read in full so just skip to the subjects that are most relevant to you! It is ordered by category. Good luck with your choices!

Written by: Ali Shah, Laura Ferguson, Alexa Bryan, Sam Ashworth, Ruby Debell, Alberto Ferro, Izi Cook, Stephanie Guenther, François Osborne, Evie Lang, Jacobo Zunzunegui, Toby Larsen and Eileen Hahn.

 Languages

German

Pros: Firstly, German is a Swiss national language and useful European language to speak. German is needed in most parts of Switzerland – a majority of the Swiss population (60%) are German speaking. Also typically class sizes are smaller than Spanish classes, so there is a better “Student : Teacher ratio”. Lastly, German is important as a European language, as the largest European economy.

Cons: If you are an English or French mother-tongue speaker, Spanish is likely to be easier to pick up than German. German grammar can be quite a challenge requiring lots of memorization. It is very structured with few exceptions, but to succeed in becoming proficient in the language, students need to invest the time to memorize the rules of the language for example which of the twelve ways of saying “a” is correct and sixteen ways of saying “the”.

Skills: Speaking another foreign language will help to learn German as will an awareness of the grammar in your mother tongue. You need to be prepared to put in the time to improve your vocabulary.


 

Spanish

Pros: There is a strong relation between Spanish and French so as you improve in one of the languages, you are likley to also improve in the other.  All the Spanish teachers are friendly and welcoming and every lesson is enjoyable in its own way.  From watching shows to writing scripts, each class is a fun and interactive way to improve your level of Spanish.  As long as you work well in class, homework is simple to comprehend, freeing up your time for other subjects.  If you ever find a certain topic challenging, teachers are willing to support you in any way necessary.

Cons: Teachers will expect you to have improved in your use of accents and phrasing.  You will also study many more new tenses so if you are not up to date on the ones you learn in Y7-9, you may face some difficulty.

Skills: A basic understanding of the rules of both English and French will deeply improve your level of Spanish.  You should also be prepared to put in the time and effort it takes to understanding the different rules of the language.

Humanities

Geography

Pros:  “Everything has to do with geography”- Judy Marty. Geography is the study of the world that we live in, every other subject that we learn about has something to do with geography. It is an extremely enticing subject which essentially explores both natural, and manmade phenomenons on earth. This is a perfect subject for anyone who as ever asked ‘why?’ something happens, as geography often has an understandable explanation. Afterall, “There is no stupid question: stupid people don’t ask questions.” – Olivet Journal

IGCSE geography really opens the doors to the world of geography, going deeper into what you have done in geography in year 7,8, and 9. The course explores many different topics, in a different perspective to how you have previously studied geography.

If you have previously enjoyed geography, or not for one reason or another, you must remember that this IGCSE course offers a variety of topics, some more interesting than others (depending on what interests you). I would encourage anyone to take geography at IGCSE, and believe that anyone who has taken it would agree with me. This subject truly opens your eyes to the world, in a way that other subjects do not.

Cons: The exam requires you to be able to communicate vast amounts of information in a very short time, therefore it can be very hard, especially for slower writers. You are guaranteed an aching hand after answering an IGCSE question, unless you have a superhuman hand. The geography coursework is also notorious, leaving it too late will make your life hell! 

Skills: Being able to write quickly will help a lot when it comes to the exam but that isn’t something you should be worried about. It also helps for you to have a good memory, it can often be difficult to remember definitions, and case studies; but this shouldn’t be too much of a problem as the teachers have effective ways of communicating things so that you remember them. A general insight and interest to the world around you will generally be enough to make you enjoy geography at IGCSE. Having the ability to link different topics together in your head can be very useful, as you will then be able to see how one thing affects another. Having an updated knowledge of current affairs helps a lot as you can use that as a case study if you’re stuck in a test.


 

History

Pros: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ – George Santayana. One of the many reasons to choose this fact-filled and information intense subject. If you have felt like history during the past three years never delved deep enough to fill your curiosity, this is the subject for you. The course takes you from the beginning of World War I to the Gulf War over the span of two years. Each topic will force you to be open-minded and consider interesting perspectives from many positions. Don’t be intimidated by the amount of writing you will be assigned. The depth into which you go through each topic will easily cover the word count and often, bring you above it.

Cons: There is still a great deal of writing. If essays have never been your strong suit, this will be a chance to improve or may be your downfall. It also requires a lot of pure memorisation, which takes a lot of time and discipline.

Skills: Writing quickly and effectively. You are given 40 minutes to write as much as possible on three questions so the skill of being able to get straight to the point is extremely helpful.  Also, a strong ability in analysis will give you an edge when it comes to political cartoons and source analysis.

 

Sciences

From now on, students are required to take all three sciences, whether that means separately or together in combined or coordinated.  We thought it might be helpful to weigh out the options in case any of you are debating between the depth of science you would like to go into.

Chemistry

Pros: What is studying chemistry like? Is it challenging, enjoyable, rewarding or boring? The answer is all of the above. Learning new things in chemistry is always challenging but is also enjoyable. Chemistry is closely linked with other sciences and helps to improve in them too.  It is probably one of the most fascinating subjects in IGCSE and strikes a very good balance between intelligence and memorization. It’s extremely interesting learning how the world revolves around chemistry and how it is related to so many different aspects in our surroundings.  You get to perform a variety of experiments which will open your eyes to the world of chemistry and hopefully entice you to learn more.  What I find most fascinating about this subject is that you finally get to discover what our world is made of which you barely get to experience in Y7-9.    

Cons: Some concepts can be hard to understand at first but it is important to master them, since you will most likely need them throughout the course.  You will cover a lot of material in each lesson so lack of focus or absences will cause you to fall behind.  Since this subject is quite technical, you might have problems understanding all the terms used and failing to ask questions will only increase the difficulty of this science.  You will also have to complete quite a few lab reports which can be very time consuming. The lessons may get slightly boring during the start of the course due to repetition although there are some hard concepts to grasp.  

Skills: A basic understanding of mathematics covered in the years before is required. You will also need to perform a lot of unit conversions too.  The ability to write up lab reports will also come in handy.  In any case, if you find that this is not your strong point, you will still have lots of time to improve.


 

Biology

Pros: You would find Biology to be an interesting subject, if you are keen to know more about how your body and nature from a scientific perspective. You will learn all sorts of things, from how to classify species, to how certain enzymes can be used in production to speed up a process; you might even get to dissect a heart to find out how yours works (but don’t worry, if you’re a bit squeamish you can let those who like that sort of thing step forward). If you are planning to become a vet or a doctor, taking Biology is crucial to that process. Keeping all sciences does help to keep your options open if you’re not sure what you want to do later on.

Cons: If you find it easier to memorise facts and diagrams rather than learn concepts then you will find this much easier than the other two sciences. There is a lot of information to take in and revision is essential before tests. There is often no reasoning or rules to how things function, and sometimes it can be difficult to develop an understanding; depending on what sort of person you are and what you are interested in, you may find it boring.  If you have a trouble memorising facts then you may struggle with it, but I managed and I’m confident you would be able to manage as well, it is still a fun subject after all.

Skills:  Being able to memorize facts and understand things that aren’t always logical helps, being good at revision is good too because it’s not like maths where you can learn a rule and apply it to everything.


 

Physics

Pros: This IGCSE course provides you with an introduction to the world of physics. It kicks off with the mechanics unit, reviewing what has been done in year nine (mainly mission to Mars unit), as well as adding on completely new concepts. Another reason that would push you towards single award Physics is that the course goes more in depth than its Co-Sci counterpart, so if you enjoyed the physics topics in lower-school, IGCSE physics is the way to go.

Cons: If you don’t feel like maths is one of your strong suits, or if the physics topics covered so far in junior science didn’t appeal to you, maybe you will want to turn towards coordinated or combined science.

Skills: A good understanding of year 8 and 9 mathematics is helpful, especially rearranging equations, however, those skills will be reviewed. A number of equations will have to be learnt, so good memorizing skills are needed, but they will be used so often that they will become stuck in your head. You will also be required to perform unit conversions rather often.


 

Co-ordinated Science

Choosing to take coordinated science (more commonly referred to as Co-Sci) has its upsides and downsides. Whether or not it’s the right option varies from person to person, depending on personal preference and how one’s brain works best. I’m sure you’ve all heard that from now on, students must take all three sciences, either coordinated, or separately, so I hope to bring to light the main pros and cons of Co-Sci in relation to the option of three, distinct sciences.

Pros: By taking Co-Sci (not to be confused with combined science – which will be explained later) you get to take all three sciences without having to use your free choice; this was one of the main reasons that I chose to take it. Effectively, you’re squeezing in an additional subject: three sciences and a subject of your own choice on top of that. So if you really want to take either German, Spanish, another art or another humanity, I believe CoSci would be the choice for you.

For those of you who prefer working at a somewhat faster pace, an extra advantage to taking Co-Sci would be that you go through the subject syllabus in a shorter amount of time than the students who choose to take three separate sciences. This does mean that you might not go into as much depth as the other classes do with some topics, but don’t worry, the teachers are great and will bring you up to speed on everything you need to know.

Cons: One of the main disadvantages that seems to turn people away from Co-Sci is that you get fewer free periods. While free periods may seem like a chance to sleep in or leave school early, they’re actually the perfect and much-needed opportunity to buckle down and get work done. Personally, I haven’t found it hugely difficult to stay on top of the IGCSE workload with fewer free periods, but if you’re not very organised or find it difficult to get homework done at school with your friends around, then maybe Co-Sci isn’t the best option for you.

Going through the units of the syllabus faster means more end of unit tests; this isn’t an obvious disadvantage when comparing the different science options, since the paces aren’t hugely different. When the tests do roll around for the students taking three separate sciences, they often have to study more, as they go a little deeper into each topic, but these differences really are not so drastic. Note: in some cases it isn’t as well recognised by universities, especially in the UK.

Skills: No specific or particular skills are needed to choose Co-Sci, just the standard understanding of all three sciences that you already have from past years. If you feel that you are comfortable, for the most part, with going a bit faster, having a tad fewer free periods and more frequent tests, or simply that you would really love to take an additional subject, then you should take Co-Sci.


 

Combined science

Pros: The pros of doing combined science is that if you find science challenging, and or either you do not want to be associated with any science related jobs when you become older, combined science is for you. Another good thing is that there is a smaller number of students in the class meaning the teacher is able to spend more time explaining challenging concepts to students. Though my final point may sound boring, in the long run it will help you. The point is that the teachers drill into you important information which is normal but over many lessons which can mentally and physically be tiring after but it will help you.

Cons: The only con of taking this particular science is that the lessons can seem long and quite boring when you keep repeating everything. So naturally you will lose concentration in the end and maybe miss some important information.

Skills: A general understanding and interest in science will help you complete this course, yet it is not necessary. Knowledge you have acquired from science in year 7,8, and 9 will give you a good enough base to understand the concepts combined science explores. Generally combined science is viewed a the science for more unscientific people, but do not let this lead you into thinking it is an easy course. At the end of this course you will be able to tell anybody the basics of science and maybe some particular topics in depth.

Arts & ICT

ICT Video and Animation

Pros: Video and Animation is not an IGCSE course but can be a great choice for enlarging your abilities with technology. The first half of the year it includes filming and telling stories through the camera, it gives you a practical understanding of cameras but also includes a theoretical understanding of telling stories with the equipment you have. The rest of the year is animation in 2D and other computer related projects. With most of the projects you will have to write a 200 word ‘essay’ in which we reflect on what we did on a specific task the teacher assigns.

This course is mostly group projects so having your friends around in the course can make it even more enjoyable. Video and Animation is very intriguing and can be a very good choice if you don’t know what subject to take in the Arts department.

Cons: There aren’t many cons to this subject, but you must take in account that it is not an easy 7 subject, it will take effort and passion for the subject to achieve amazing grades. You need to put in a lot of hard work to get good grades. As well as this is not an IGCSE course and you will not be passing an external exam.

This course can be 1 year or it can also be a 2 year course. If you wish to take it for two years you can only do that in year 10. If you start the course in year 11 you will have to start at the same level as year 10

Skills: Most of the programs you will be using are not extensively hard but having an understanding for computers would help. Creativity for any art subject can be very crucial but although this skill is not required, it is encouraged. If you have enjoyed ICT in the years preceding you will most probably find this course fun and entertaining.


 

ICT Web Design

Pros: Web Design can be a great choice for anyone, despite not being an actual IGCSE course. The course is generally wide spread, showing you different ways to achieve similar results, leaving you with experience in all aspects of web design. This is a topic you wouldn’t normally experience in your day to day life, but with the rise in technology in business, this will be a great skill to have for the future. Being able to create a website which presents products or ideas is essential, it is the final piece of the puzzle for entrepreneurs in the 21st century.

This is only a 1 year course, meaning after a year you get a change of ICT scenery.

Many of the aspects we study in web design are fairly easy to grasp, with a little practice anyone can produce good work, and hopefully get good grades. The homework generally isn’t too overwhelming, and as everything is computer based you can get it done wherever you are, this also means 1 less heavy book to carry around in your bag all day.

Cons: There are very few cons to this subject, however many people are put off by the fact that it isn’t an IGCSE course, meaning you won’t pass an external exam. Some of the programs we use can be overwhelming and complicated which most people can grasp after some practice, but if you are a very non-techy person I’m afraid that this subject isn’t for you.

Skills: Generally it helps to be someone who understands computers, and who has enjoyed the work they have done in ICT in year 7,8, and 9. As you can imagine, when designing a website, the more creative the better, so it does help to be rather creative. However how nice your websites look won’t usually affect your grade.


 

ICT Programming

Pros: The ability to be a Computer Programmer is loaded with numerous benefits. It allows you work in teams (or alone) and apply your knowledge of coding to design new and innovative software. There are no limits to what you can create. By granting you the ability to use your imagination, programming aids in generating unique and useful software. With the continued development of technology, an element of programming will be needed for multiple jobs in the future. Programming is fantastic for creative people who like problem solving and are interested in technology.

Cons: Although programming can be amazing, it is not meant for everyone. If you don’t like technology, or loathe spending long hours tediously working on the computer, programming may not be the right choice for you. The coding world is fast paced. Programmers constantly need to read up on new information quickly and efficiently. This can be arduous and requires a lot of dedication and time.  Also, the constant use of the computer can have some health problems such as your wrist, eye, and back pain. But all in all, programming can fit just about anyone. (Yes, even grandma can learn how to code.)

Skills:  It gives you the skills of working in a team setting for big projects. In addition, it enriches your problem solving skills which can help you in everyday life. Also, it adds to your repertoire the skill of being tech savvy, which can help you and your friends (and you can get paid for it $$). Furthermore, it helps you explore the tech world and express your artistry.

ICT programing is an excellent subject to learn about. It generates loads of opportunities, Who knows, one day you could be an agent and work for the FBI as a secret hacker, or you could  be the next person to design the coolest new game from the app store. Anyone can do it, so don’t limit yourself and let the next person that learns this awesome skill be you.

Theatre 

Pros: It builds confidence. Some of the shyest people I know are in my theatre class, and they seem to become different people when they’re performing. The very first unit you do in theatre is mask-work, which is about gaining absolute control over your body, before you even add dialogue into the piece. In addition to helping build confidence, taking theatre builds public speaking skills, which aren’t only useful in acting, but are useful in most job opportunities, especially those such as Law.

Team-building is also a skill which is perfected in theatre classes, because you work with people with whom you wouldn’t usually work. In the second theatre unit, you focus on devising children’s theatre. This means going up to the Primary school to work with the year-twos on creating a play for them to perform in front of their parents. This also improves leadership skills, as each person will have to lead the class at least once.

Theatre incorporates all three art forms: art, music, and, obviously, theatre. This means that if you are struggling to choose between the three, theatre will provide you with opportunities in which you can practise music or visual art as well.

Cons: A lot is expected of you. A certain level of maturity is needed if you want to take theatre, especially in the unit in which you are to work with children. Additionally, regular updates in your journal are expected: homework isn’t set by the teacher; you’re just expected to do it. Every once in awhile, your teacher will tell you that your journal is due for the next lesson, and if you haven’t written in it for a while, you’re going to end up trying to cram everything you’ve done in the past 3 months into your journal, in a span of 3 days (been there). Staying organised will help avoid this problem. It is also important to note that this is not an IGCSE course and you will not be passing an external exam.

Skills: Organisation is key. Finding time to write in your journal after every lesson is really useful, and will save you a lot of time when your journal is actually due.  You also need to at least be willing to perform. Do not take theatre if you know that you have stage fright. Taking theatre will not cure your stage fright, it’ll just put you in more situations in which you need to face up to it. Take theatre if you really love performing.  A basic understanding of how to act will help, obviously.

If you already take LAMDA courses outside of school, then LAMDA will help you with theatre, and theatre will help you with your LAMDA exam. Being able to recognise and mimic basic emotions will help you. A lot.  Improvisation skills are particularly helpful. The improv unit was already something which you covered in year 9, and it is helpful if you forget your lines or what you were supposed to do. If you found improv challenging in year 9, you can still take theatre, but maybe polish up on how to do it just before school starts in September.  Having a good memory is extremely helpful for lines.


Music

Music is a great option to choose if you are interested and moderately experienced in the subject. However, there are pros and cons to it, and prior knowledge is definitely necessary if you want to take it.

Pros: Music is a great subject to take because it is a nice mix of theory and practical work and, if you enjoy music, is very interesting. You learn a lot about active listening; basically listening properly to the music and noticing all the different components rather than just having it as a sort of backing sound to your day.

IGCSE music also gives you opportunities to improve your performance on your instrument, through informal recitals and group projects in class. These are fun opportunities to perform and watch your classmates perform, and you also get to perform group projects with your friends.

Although all the music theory you learn can become slightly tedious, it is comes in handy when trying to compose and is actually pretty interesting. Whilst we are on the subject of composition, you should be aware that for the exam you have to compose I think three 3 minute pieces as well as the listening and performing parts of the exam. These compositions are fun to do and you learn a lot of different tools to use to make composing an easier process.

Cons: Whilst IGCSE music is a fun and engaging subject, there are some cons to it. Firstly, if you are not too experienced in music, you may find it difficult. You don’t need to be the next Mozart but you do have to be able to read notes easily and play an instrument pretty well. Preferably your classmates and you will all be at a similar level so you can all learn together (as cheesy as that sounds).

Another part of taking music that could be considered a disadvantage is the fact that it is not a subject where you can just listen in class and get an A*. For music, you need to be committed and passionate enough to practice your instrument regularly outside of class time and if possible, you should also take lessons. It is an extra bonus if you are into composing or songwriting outside of class.

Skills: In order to take music you obviously need to be able to play an instrument moderately well, Grade 4 or 5 in ABRSM examinations will drastically help you get higher grades in the exam. But don’t stress out too much, you can still take music even if you are not at that level, just expect to work up to that level by the end of the two years. You must also be able to read notes off a treble clef and preferably bass clef too. I recommend that you can sight-read music pretty easily as well. This will just make class projects a million times easier and more enjoyable. The pieces you are given in class will not be difficult or too challenging for most musicians, but you do need to be able to sight read.

I thought when I took music that you needed to already know a ton of music theory, but that is a lie. Of course, you need to know the basics like note lengths and other essentials, but really they teach you everything from the beginning (presuming you don’t already know it).


Art

There are a substantial number of issues that people have heard concerning IGCSE art. Some of them are true. Some of them, not so much.

Pros: For example: “you must already be amazing artist to even consider taking art”. Not true. I really can’t stress this enough. If it’s a creative outlet that you’re truly passionate about, but you don’t want to take it because you feel that you’re not good enough, that’s not a valid reason. Everyone improves so much when taking art, it’s honestly the perfect opportunity to improve your artistic eye and imagination. There is so much learning to do in every part of the artistic process.

Another assumption: “art teachers grade harshly”. Hmm… sort of true. One thing you’ll learn if you choose art is that there is a noticeable difference between the criteria used in art between years 9 and 10. Don’t be surprised if you got 7s through all of year 9, and you start getting 3s and 4s at the beginning of year 10. Almost everyone goes through that. It’s important not to be discouraged if your grades take a hit. Art in year 10 is all about being creative and thinking outside of the box, but you should read through the mark scheme before you hand in your work. The teachers have nothing against you. Really. It’s a quality art program, so it’s hard for a reason. The IGCSE criteria chart (which will be given to you) is precise and demanding and gives you a very good idea of where you need to be.

Cons: “Art takes so much time and work”. Very true. But it’s not always a bad thing. Though, if you already hate the idea of spending some of your free periods and lunch times in the art room, you might want to reconsider your choices. You do get a considerable amount of homework, so make sure to use your class time effectively, and use homework agendas to stay organised and plan ahead. Leaving art homework to the last minute is not a good idea. You will need to put effort into every piece you produce, not unlike assignments from other subjects. Being determined and committed, and having a deeply rooted passion for art usually helps motivate you to put in the time to make your art shine. 

Skills and tips: Despite the time commitment and grade anxiety, art can be a truly fulfilling subject. If you do choose art, I have a few tips that might’ve helped me going into this. One thing that I found has helped me in my organisation with art is keeping a small notebook where you can write down extra information about assignments (this shouldn’t replace your agenda) or plan out compositions for your prep sheets or do a few rough sketches that you wouldn’t want to use your big sketchbook for. It might not seem that important, but I’ve found it very useful this year; it’s just a place that I can messily write down all my creative ideas and not have to worry about losing loose papers.

A few more things that I think help with staying on top of the workload are goals and possibly a group chat. When I say goals, I mean not just writing down the deadline of the project and remembering it the weekend before it’s due, but every week, go to the art rooms one or two times at lunch to work on it a little. Don’t be scared or embarrassed to set up a table at the back of an art class when you have a free period (of course, you need the teacher’s permission, but they don’t usually have any problem with that) to work on whatever art project you have coming up. It really helps with time management and stress. A group chat, on Whatsapp, for example, will probably be a good idea once you’re in year 10. I have a Whatsapp group chat for the majority of my classes, and it’s just another great hack to stay organised. If one of you misses a few classes or has a problem with the homework, of course you can ask a teacher, but sometimes it’s easier to understand if a friend explains it to you; especially in art, where you can send pictures of demos or homework that benefit the whole group. As a class, you’ll notice that you grow closer together as you go through this.

On the topic of demos, it is vital that you watch each one very attentively as they probably won’t be repeated again. Whether the teacher is explaining how to roll your clay or how to properly mix your paints, they’re telling you for a reason. Of course, if you didn’t understand the task or you weren’t there, just ask, but it’s best not to talk to your mates and pay attention the first time through.

Prep sheets. Do not stress about these, everything will be explained to you in detail by the teachers at the beginning of the year, but since you’ve never done anything like this before, no one really knows what they’re doing for their first one. It may seem that you have to produce so many complicated works to fit onto your prep sheet, but honestly, the simplest artistic idea can work really well. One of my tips to help with the load is to keep any sketches you’ve ever made about the topic, even if it was a doodle on a napkin in a restaurant, keep it. You usually get time in class to work on planning out your sheet, and the teacher will come around to talk to you individually about the process, so bring all of your little sketches and they will tell you if they don’t work with the theme. Don’t throw any art away, no matter how terrible you feel it is, it could really come in handy later.

Something that I believe would be very beneficial in any class you take would be building a strong relationship with your teachers, right from the beginning, give them a good impression of how hardworking and determined your are, and how much you want to improve. That way, it’s easier to turn to them for help or advice. Art teachers are actually some of the most fun teachers I’ve ever had. They might seem a little intimidating at first, but you have to trust them. They’re really very approachable and they know what they’re doing, so they’re the best resource if you have a problem or a question.

You do not have to be a child prodigy in painting, but I feel like you must have a strong interest in the some aspect of the visual arts field to choose IGCSE art. It’s not only for the people who want to go to a prestigious artists’ university and pursue a serious career in visual arts. Taking art will help you in whatever path you choose to take (anything creative), but if you don’t feel that you can afford to put it the time or effort that will help you push your limits and improve, taking art might not be the best choice for you.



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