Education helps children learn critical thinking, exposes them to new ideas, encourages creativity and imagination and plays a vital role in paving the path towards their desired career as an adult.
Due to this, parents go to great lengths to ensure that their children receive good education to ensure they have a bright future. Since there are many options available when it comes to education in Malaysia at different stages of a child’s life, parents have to research and plan before making a decision. The decision is made based on their confidence in the particular education pathway, affordability and their child’s ability and comfort.
Every parents’ dream is for their children to secure a well paying job, lead a happy and comfortable life and also contribute positively to society.
The most important academic stage in a student’s life is before one enters tertiary education. In Malaysia, two of the most popular examinations taken by students before pursuing tertiary education in college or university are the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) and International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE).
If you are a Malaysian, we are sure that you have heard of these examinations. Many of you will have a rough idea of SPM and IGCSE. Are you are unsure which one to choose for your children or would like to know more before you make a decision? In this article, we will explain all the things you need to know about SPM VS IGCSE. We will help you understand the details of both examinations and hopefully help you make the right decision.
Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM)
SPM is the main national exam for students who study under the Malaysian National Curriculum. They sit for this exam on the last year of their secondary school education when they are 17 years old, which is at the end of Form 5. This exam is offered in national and private schools.
International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE)
IGCSE which is based on British curriculum is offered by two examination board, Pearson Edexcel and Cambridge. However, Cambridge IGCSE is more popular internationally as a secondary education qualification.
What Subjects are covered in SPM & IGCSE?
Students who opt to sit for SPM is required to take six compulsory subjects:
- Malay language
- English language
- Islamic Studies (for Muslims) / Moral Studies (for non muslims)
- Science (Only for students who are in commerce, literature and arts stream)
Apart from the compulsory subjects, students have to choose a number of elective subjects depending on their stream. In total, students are allowed to sit for a maximum amount of 12 subjects.
One of the crucial point about this examination is that, in order to pass SPM and receive the certificate, students must pass these two subjects: Malay language and History.
For IGCSE on the other hand, students have the flexibility to choose from over 70 subjects in any combination. Here are some of the subject choices offered by IGCSE:
- IGCSE English
- IGCSE Malay
- Art & Design
- Computer Science
- Information & Communication Technology
- Mathematics Additional
- Travel & Tourism
There are no compulsory subjects for IGCSE and students are free to choose the subjects that interests them. However, most schools have made it compulsory for their students to take these three subjects: IGCSE English, Science and Mathematics.
Students are advised to choose a minimum of 5 subjects and maximum of 14 subjects. Students who pass 7 subjects stand to gain an International Certificate of Education or ICE.
With SPM, students must follow the standard path set by the Malaysian ministry of education where you go through the syllabus and progress to a higher level each year. Students start primary school by joining standard 1 when they are 7 years old and sit for SPM at the age of 17 which is at the end of form 5. Everyone goes through 11 years of education irrelevant of their ability before sitting for SPM.
In terms of duration, IGCSE has the upper hand because if you are a fast learning student, you will be allowed to sit for the examination earlier and complete secondary school education at the age of 16.
SPM examination is conducted only once a year. Before the pandemic, it was usually held in November. However, during the pandemic which hit the world in 2020, the exams were postponed from November 2020 to the following year February 2021. The exams has been held in February since then. It usually lasts around three weeks.
The Malaysian government is considering to make this change permanent as to avoid the SPM exams from being held in November and December which clashes with the monsoon season. There are SPM papers scheduled in September for any students who wish to resit for the Malay language, History and Mathematics paper.
IGCSE examination is held twice every year. Once in May/June and once in October/November. Students sit for the examinations in international schools or private examination centres. Despite the pandemic, most schools held the exam during the same period as previous years. Therefore, the IGCSE exams are held as per schedule without any delays.
SPM and IGCSE have their own grading system. The grades obtained in either SPM or IGCSE exams will determine the future tertiary education path of the students. The results will reflect if the student qualifies for further studies after secondary school, such as matriculation, foundation, certificate or diploma programmes (with specialization).
For SPM, the grades are assigned in a range from A+ (the highest grade) to G (‘G’ stands for Gagal that means ‘Fail’ in Malay). The full grades are recorded as A+, A, A-, B+, B, C+, C, D, E and G.
The IGCSE is reported on using two grading system. Initially, a grade scale from A* (highest) to G (minimum required performance) was used by all. However, in 2017, 9–1 grades have been introduced by the UK government for GCSEs in state schools in England. The table below shows the full grades of both grading systems:
The ‘U’ grade denotes the performance which is below the standard of the lowest grade. ‘U’ stands for Ungraded. The A*-G grading scale is still being used in most schools as they prefer this scale. Students with 9–1 grades and students with A*–G grades will be treated equally and will not be disadvantaged for universities acceptance.
Both SPM and IGCSE are examinations of equivalent level and is widely recognised all over the world. One is not better than the other in terms of recognition but there is significant difference. Both qualifications can get you into any reputable college or university depending on your grades.
If you are planning to pursue tertiary education in a public university or matrikulasi, SPM is the best way forward. This doesn’t mean that SPM is not accepted internationally. Even though SPM is set and examined by the Malaysian Examination Board (Lembaga Peperiksaan Malaysia), it is recognised anywhere around the world.
IGCSE is one of the world’s most popular international qualification for secondary education. However, if you would be a little challenging to get into public universities or matrikulasi in Malaysia with IGCSE. If you aim to enter a local or international private university or college, IGCSE is a great choice.
In terms of cost, SPM is definitely cheaper. Students from the government school do not need to pay any school fee and the SPM examination is considered free. The only cost born by students or parents are the additional study materials purchased and extra tutoring outside of school.
Even if you register as a private candidate to sit for SPM, it is still cheaper than IGCSE where each subject’s cost does not exceed RM25. The most expensive expenses might be the textbooks and revision books.
IGCSE examinations can cost anywhere from RM20,000 to RM100,000 per year depending on the school you attend, how many papers you take and the textbooks you use.
Alternatively, you can opt for private learning centres or hire tutors for home-schooling which will be a more affordable option compared to attending international schools. With these options, students need to register as private candidates and take their IGCSE exam at selected test centres around the country. Fees for each IGCSE paper range from RM600 to RM2,800.
However, the quality of private learning centres or schools varies from good to bad. Do your research, find out if the learning centres are suitable and meet the requirements of your chosen tertiary programme. Programme such as pre-university foundation or A levels usually require five to six IGCSE subjects with varying grades. This also depend on which university you choose.
Whatever choice you make, SPM or IGCSE, Superprof can help you find highly experienced tutors. Professional tutors with excellent qualifications to help students with their examinations are available on Superprof!
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