Your Complete Guide to IGCSE Coursework

This guide includes everything you need to know about all the IGCSE coursework.

Like many of our other Complete Guides this article is not meant to be read in its entirety – just skip to whichever section is most relevant to you.

By Saoirse Boyle, Rebecca Lally, Hazel Fricska, and Nina Hopley

English Language

What do you need to do?

You need to submit 3 pieces of work, each of 500-800 words: a descriptive and/or narrative piece; an informative, analytical and/or argumentative piece; and a response to a text. Our teacher got us to write multiple practice pieces for each of the three text types during year 10 so that we could pick our favourites to redraft at the start of year 11. Your coursework portfolio is worth 50% of the total marks, which can help make up for lower scores in the exam if you know that is where you will struggle.

You need to pick different topics for each piece; this will allow you to create contrast through the portfolio and showcase different styles of writing. The descriptive piece offers the most creative freedom, although your teacher should offer some general guidance. We wrote pieces restaurants for our informative writing coursework and, for the media response piece, we wrote open letters to Wayne LaPierre, an American gun rights lobbyist.

Any advice?

    1. Don’t use a thesaurus. Switching out every other word for a supposedly better synonym is not what will make your work good! Your writing will come across as stilted and pretentious.
    2. Channel your efforts into creating fluidity and a consistent voice. Read through your work in your head and then out loud. Whilst reading ask yourself some questions: Where do the words start tripping over each other? Are you repeating anything?
    3. Try to show, rather than tell. Don’t fill your work with fluffy adjectives. Take the restaurant review as an example. You can say the food was “great”, “scrumptious”, “delicious”, “incredible”, but this doesn’t give the reader any new or important information! Instead, describe the different textures, the different colours on the plate and the flavours of the food.
    4. Listen to your teacher. Your work will be internally assessed by a panel of teachers. You are allowed one draft – make it count. Make it as good as you can before you hand it in; once you have received feedback make sure to take all their advice on board.
    5. Let others read your work. Friends, parents, classmates. Tell them to be brutal, to pick it apart. A fresh pair of eyes can provide valuable insight and notice little things that you won’t. This can be especially helpful to do with students from other English classes! Their teacher may have approached a requirement in a different way and this may help you see aspects of your work from different perspectives.
    6. Your creative piece is an opportunity to show off your beautiful writing and rich descriptive language. Don’t worry about the plot. You will not be able to write an entire story in less than 800 words without sounding rushed. Focus on creating atmosphere and providing insight into your character(s).
    7. Be as specific as possible in your informative piece. Again, no fluffy adjectives! What information is most important to the reader and how will you relay this to them?
    8. In your media response piece, acknowledge every single point the text makes, explicit or implicit. These points must be analysed and evaluated. You must show that you understand the general tone of the text and the opinion of the writer. Do you agree with the journalist? Follow these pointers to write a cohesive and well-developed argument.

History

What do you need to do?

You need to produce a detailed essay, up to 2000 words in length, answering a question set by the school. You will need to do your own research from a variety of sources, evaluate different information and form your own opinion/argument. This year, we were asked to evaluate the significance of Gustav Stresemann, a chancellor and foreign minister from Germany’s Weimar years.

Any advice?

  1. Define the question clearly. Take significance: what does ‘significance’ mean? How is it different from importance? How will you measure it? Are there different kinds of significance? Answer these questions in your introductory paragraph.
  2. Read widely on the topic before you start writing, or even planning. This is the phase which should take the longest. It is really, really hard to write or plan an essay until you are totally familiar with the topic. By developing an opinion before you start writing, you can be consistent through the entire essay and really drive your point home.
  3. Read from a variety of reliable sources. Read any and all sources put on moodle by your teacher, check out books from the MMC, use JSTOR. This will set you apart from other candidates.
  4. You don’t need to mention every event in a period of time, or a person’s life.  Decide what is most important and what adds substance to your argument.
  5. Keep your ‘background information’ concise. The assessor is a History teacher – just assume they already know the details of the Weimar constitution, or the state of Germany at the time. The point of this essay is not to say what happened, but to evaluate events and develop your own argument.
  6. Keep referencing the question! You literally cannot use the keyword of the question, in our case, ‘significance’, too many times.  You defined your criteria at the start of the essay, you should use these criteria and explain how information fits into it.
  7. Don’t just organize chronologically. Organise chronologically and, within that, thematically. Reference events that happen later or earlier if it backs up an assertion that you have made.
  8. Compare and contrast similar events. What was different about the handling of situation A and situation B? What was the significance of each event? How much did each event impact the following years?
  9. Acknowledge both sides of the story, the role played by other figures and surrounding circumstances.
  10. Listen to your teacher’s advice. Like in English it is your teacher who will be assessing it and they have your best interests at heart.

Geography

What do you need to do?

Geography coursework is worth 27.5% of your overall geography grade. You will be taken on a field day to collect data and, after that, you have the summer to write it all up.

2017’s topic: “An Investigation Into the Impact of Skiing on the Natural Environment”, carried out at Col de la Faucille.

2016’s topic: “An investigation into River Processes on La Promenthouse”, carried out at La Promenthouse river.

Before going on the field trip, you will be given class time to prepare your investigation. You will come up with a research question, hypotheses to test and you will write out justifications for these hypotheses. The data collection will occur in groups and you can share results with students from other classes. But, you will be on your own when it comes to writing up your final report.

Any advice?

  1. Don’t leave it all to the end of summer, or the night before it is due! Especially if you did not finish your introductory work at the end of the year. It was a lot more time consuming than anyone expected.
  2. Focus on the analytical part of the coursework – this is what you should spend the most time and effort on. Any analysis or assertion you make is fine, as long as you can back it up with data and/or geographical theory.
  3. Use at least 4 types of graphs. Don’t just use the same scatter graphs or bar charts over and over again. Your teachers will have suggestions for other types. Building a GE graph may be more time-consuming, but it is more interesting than an excel column graph and will help you stand out from the other candidates.  
  4. Make your draft count. This is your only chance to get feedback, so make it as good as it can be. Your teacher is there to help.
  5. Don’t stress about the word count. Even our teacher admitted it would be very difficult to get an A* in 2000 words. You shouldn’t write a thesis, but it’s totally ok if you end up with 4000.
  6. Follow any checklist or rubric you are given. Make sure you are fulfilling every requirement. Don’t miss out on easy marks!

Art

What do you need to do?

You will complete up to 8 prep sheets; it is preferable you make 8 to the best of your ability, as this will show the examiners you have a wide variety of skills. You will then do a final piece of work based on 2 of your prep sheets. You do have the option to do two exams, rather than coursework and one exam. While the coursework is more work overall, you will be under less time pressure than if you were taking an additional exam.

To score highly, you will need to perfect your technical skill. It is also crucial to demonstrate your artistic development – you can do this by including small mind maps based on a theme/unit, and by doing small ‘test’ sketches exploring various arrangements for a more detailed piece. In addition, your prep sheets should be aesthetically pleasing, as presentation does count. Bluetack your pieces of work to the sheet when you first hand it in, so you can rearrange the layout, or remove/add/improve any work. Use a variety of mediums to show versatility. Fortunately, the course will force you to create large projects and use different media (batik, lino, still life, collage).

Any advice?

It is okay if you feel that you need to redo almost every prep sheet that you handed in during year 10 – with time and patience, you will improve. When you have time away from the art class, during the holidays, reflect on the work that you have finished and try to perfect it. This way, when the deadline comes around in year 11, you will have finished and will be ready to focus all your artistic energy on the exam!

The most daunting thing about coursework is how many weeks you have to complete it! The themes are open ended and you have a lot of freedom. Unfortunately, this can paralyze rather than inspire. Art is time-consuming, and you are juggling it with 8 other subjects which each have their own homework and tests. You might push art to the side in order to tackle more imminent deadlines, dreaming of the great work you will produce when you have the time to sit down and devote yourself to it… but this will not happen. There is never going to be a ‘good time’ to do it. I ended up spending 6 days solid over the Christmas break drawing my final piece, and by day 3 I had started to despair, but I am so glad I finished it.

You should be prepared to fail: allocate time to hate your work, feel frustrated by your work and then pick yourself up and start again. Grab a black sharpie and title all of the documents that you are given by the department, such as, “ Year 11 coursework requirements” and, “Art unit planner”, with PLAN TO FAIL. This will remind you to get your head out of the clouds and make you start work immediately. Coursework is composed of prep sheets and a final piece (that has its own prep sheet as well): it is a lot of physical work to produce.

  1. Plan to fail! It will go wrong, take a direction you did not intend or even want! You must factor in time to start over.
  2. Commit to ideas. Brainstorm your theme exhaustively in the first week of the assignment to find an idea you really love, then commit. Don’t start over halfway through.
  3. Don’t start year 11 with incomplete prep sheets. Finish them all before the coursework final is due.
  4. Finish every drawing. You may hate it, but if you don’t finish it, you won’t learn anything from it.
  5. Use the guidelines the art department gives you. Pin them up on a notice board and share them with your parents – keep those deadlines firmly in sight.
  6. Use the Art room at lunchtime, consult your teachers regularly for advice and guidance.

Music

What do you need to do?

You need to complete*:

  1. Two stylistically different compositions
  2. Two solo performances
  3. A group performance

*There is also set work covering the work of one artist (for us, Felix Mendelssohn), World Music, and the music of one particular region (for us, Latin America). These are not part of the coursework component but are part of the syllabus.

Any advice?

It is ok if you have never played an instrument or studied music theory – as long as you love the subject. It may be wise to take private lessons in music theory and an instrument from the beginning of year 10. If you already play an instrument and know some music theory, you are ahead of the game!

In year 10 you are informed about the coursework, but class time is not devoted to it until year 11. Because the deadline is so far away, it is rare anyone starts working on it. Many of my peers decided to take the internal exam after realising they wouldn’t have the time to acquire the skills needed. Get started immediately. Record your performance to the best of your ability in year 10, even if you find it disappointing. In year 11 you will have the opportunity to listen to it again and re-record, challenging yourself further on the content. Same for compositions – experiment with melodies and sounds even if you are not confident. When Year 11 begins you will have a starting point to build from.

For compositions, as they have to be very different, listen to music from a variety of genres. In doing this you will find out what you like and it will be easier to create something you enjoy. If you find using Garageband difficult, talk to Mr. Aram. He always makes himself available to help, so don’t be shy or insecure about your work. He is not expecting you to be a musical prodigy!

When you are happy with your compositions in Garageband you then have to transpose everything into note form, using software like Sibelius. This is time-consuming and challenging, especially if you are not confident with musical notation. So, plan to learn and ask for help before it’s too late. Go to the music department at lunch or work on your score with your classmates so that you all struggle together and can help each other.

Music is such an enriching subject that allows insight into different cultures and can lead to global understanding and communication. You want your compositions to reflect this exposure – which is very challenging because you need a certain level of skill. You can acquire these with help from teachers and extracurricular lessons but it all takes time as you still have 8 other subjects with equal demands. Ultimately, plan to fail and to experiment so that you have the time to achieve your best.