Top 10 Hardest IGCSE Subjects - Ranked in Order

It can be a hard decision to choose subjects for your IGCSE programme. It's always good to know which subjects are going to be particularly challenging. What do you reckon are the hardest IGCSE subjects?

Now is a good time to think about the subjects you will pursue after your school life, so it would be good to pick subjects that are aligned with you, your learning style as well as your capacities.

But keeping that in mind, we have put together a list of the top 10 hardest IGCSE subjects to make your choices slightly easier, ranked from the slightly less difficult ones to the very hardest.

10) IGCSE Mathematics

Working at office

Mathematics is usually compulsory in IGCSE schools - this is the school's choice. It has a large syllabus filled with relatively complex concepts compared to previous years, requiring more critical thinking and problem solving skills. The only good way to score high in Mathematics is to dedicate time to understanding all the different formulas and equations you need to use.

For IGCSE, you will be given various formulas and equations, and you would have to recognise how to apply them. Questions will be given in unfamiliar contexts that you will have to understand, and you will also be asked to critically analyse the problem. Understanding maths can be a process that takes time, consistent effort, good resources and high-quality teachers.

Since the subject is usually compulsory, you might have to take it even if you have no particular interest in Maths. This might be one of the other reasons why IGCSE Mathematics makes the list of one of the hardest subjects. The average pass rate for the subject is around 70%, which makes sense especially if students are new to analysing mathematical content.

9) IGCSE History

History is an optional subject but also highly popular among IGCSE students, mostly because History is a great subject for your university applications. When combined with A Level History, you will be displaying a range of skills which goes beyond just historical knowledge and key dates.

The understanding of individuals and societies in the past, as well as acquired skills including historical investigation, analysis, and evaluation, will encourage an international understanding for you and build your skill set. However, it can also be a lot of information to learn. You will need to provide extended answers and discuss several historical concepts, such as cause and consequence, change and contuinity, as well as similarity and difference.

The average pass rate for the subject - around 65% - is quite lower than people might initially expect for a Humanities subject, which is why IGCSE History makes our list of challenging subjects. However, IGCSE History can be incredibly fulfilling if you are interested in the subject, and your interest could definitely propel you to engage further with the content and get the grades you desire - the subject gets easier with interest!

8) IGCSE Biology

Plants in beakers

Biology makes this list although it can be relatively easy when compared to other science subjects. The reason why Biology is one of the hardest subjects is because it has an extensive syllabus. Students have to cover a large variety of concepts, like they would in a subject like History.

To make up for the huge amount of content as well as the advanced topics, questions in Biology are fairly simple and straightforward. However, the main problem is that students will have to memorise a lot of content for Biology. In other words, the subject has lesser application and critical thinking when compared to other science subjects like Physics and Chemistry, but it requires more memorization.

The average pass rate for Biology is around 70%, which is also a reason why this subject makes our list. A lot of students who are interested in pursuing science for university education pick all three science subjects - or Triple Science, as is referred to in IGCSE schools. With a lot of effort put into these subjects, students do see gratifying pay-offs down the line, especially if they will be pursuing science in the future.

7) IGCSE English Language

English Language is usually compulsory in most IGCSE programmes. It is a relatively difficult subject for a lot of students, mostly because it requires you to master a variety of communication and writing techniques, in a relatively short period of time.

Students also need to develop higher reading and critical thinking skills, and also be able to display their understanding of writing and storytelling. Since most students are already familiar with English by the time they enter the IGCSE programme, it can be confusing why they find this subject difficult. The answer is that the course is unpredictable.

The content of your examinations can be picked from a vast range of topics, and students have to read and analyse previously unseen texts - texts they have no prior knowledge of. Grammatical errors will be penalized, and students need to use English with clarity and precision as they display their analytical skills.

For this subject, there is not a lot of content - it lacks knowledge that you can actually sit and revise for. You need to hone your writing technique, and write your essays accurately with good time management. The only good way to score high for English Language is practice writing - a lot - and hope the exam content will let you write well.

6) IGCSE Modern Foreign Languages

Red is the dominant color in this collection of national flags.

Modern Foreign Languages are formed by a group of subjects that are all deemed as Foreign Languages. For IGCSE, you can pick one Foreign Language. Subject options might vary according to regional contexts but they include the following. among many others:

  • Arabic,
  • Chinese,
  • French,
  • German,
  • Italian,
  • Malay, and
  • Spanish.

Most students tend to take French, German and Spanish - Spanish is the most popular choice each year. Although students mostly take just one of the Modern Foreign Languages, some students might take two of them - for a bit of a challenge, or simply because they might already know a bit of the language.

These subjects can get hard since students will get tested on all four of the major language skills - listening, speaking, reading and writing. On top of this, students have to gain an insight into different contexts - including countries and communities where the language is spoken, to learn how the language is used in different situations.

Learners also need to acquaint themselves with the foreign languages' vocabulary, their various grammar rules, as well as project themselves with confidence - especially while they speak. However, it is important to note that there are a lot of rewards that come with learning a language, even though it will be difficult to get an extremely high score.

Learning a language is has many cognitive benefits that develops as part of your language, communication and cultural skills. Taking one Foreign Language subject is usually compulsory in most IGCSE programmes. The average is quite high at around 80%, however, the average score is usually lower than 60%, which is why IGCSE Modern Foreign Languages is considered to be hard.

5) IGCSE Chemistry

Flat bottom of Erlenmeyer flask

Chemistry is the second hardest science subject - making it harder than IGCSE Biology. Naturally, students who pick IGCSE Chemistry in this way will have to put in a lot of extra hours compared to other non-science related subjects they could be taking.

IGCSE Chem is hard for students mainly due to the vast syllabus and the complexity of topics that make it slightly challenging even for bright students to get a really high score. While Chemistry is not impossible to score high in, it requires constant effort from students - it is not impossible, but significantly hard to score high in.

The pass rate for IGCSE Chem is 85%, which is quite a high score, although the rate is slightly lesser than IGCSE Physics. There are a lot of practical applications and interesting scientific concepts in the syllabus, which can be extremely interesting for students - and with interest and effort, it is very much possible to score your desired high score in this subject.

4) IGCSE Computer Science

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IGCSE Computer Science is considered a moderately difficult yet highly popular subject. Students usually pick the subject due to it's ever increasing relevance and scope. In fact, there is an exponential growth in the number of students picking Computer Science for IGCSE each year.

The subject has a lot of mathematics-related content, in addition to a fairly large syllabus and pretty challenging questions that require critical thinking, logic and reasoning - especially in the second Paper.

To excel in Computer Science, you will have to apply your IGCSE Mathematics skills, because these two subjects compliment each other, and contain interrelatable topics. Although the pass rate for Computer Science is fairly high for IGCSE, it is recommended that you take the subject only if you have a genuine interest in it, since that will exponentially help the process of learning it.

3) IGCSE Literature

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Literature delves into the aesthetics of written language, and the IGCSE syllabus requires students to explore a lot of content, including older texts like Shakespeare, as well as modern texts and poetry. The main reason why IGCSE Literature is one of the hardest subjects is due to the unpredicatablity of the examination content.

Both the examinations will consist of previously unseen texts, that you will have to analyse with no prior knowledge except your developed literary skills. Another aspect to take into consideration is the amount of planning you need to put into your written essays - time management during the examination, as you condense the unfamiliar texts with your analysis.

The pass rate for IGCSE Literature is around 70%, which is comparatively standard for such a difficult subject. However, only about 5 - 10% of students can actually reach an A or A*. The only way to reach this grade is through hours of strategic practice - and keeping in mind that you are revising for a subject that you cannot completely be prepared for, the only way is to hone your writing skills as well as your cultural and thematic understanding.

2) - IGCSE Physics

3D Render of Newton's cradles

On top of being regarded one of the hardest IGCSE subjects, Physics is also well-known for it's Maths content. There are various equations and concepts that you will be required to master and apply to questions. The volume of equations that students are required to master is also significantly high in Physics, when compared to IGCSE Biology or Chemistry.

This is not to say that Physics is a subject to be avoided. In fact, if you are vying for a science-related career, this subject can be a great addition for your A-Level options as well as your university applications. Moreover, if you're not completely sure which of the Triple Sciences to pursue in the future, it's always best to take all three of them for IGCSE.

The average pass rate for IGCSE Physics is surprisingly very high, at around 85%. However, this is because most schools emphasise heavily on the sciences, especially Physics. Moreover, students tend to opt for additional lessons and tuitions to keep up with IGCSE Physics.

One useful tip to keep in mind is that Physics and Math are inter-related in nature, so taking both these subjects can potentially ease your load a little. There is a similarity in their examination content, which makes it easier for you to apply the content within unfamiliar contexts you will receive in the examinations.

1) IGCSE Additional Mathematics


Additional Mathematics is by far, through student consensus, the hardest IGCSE subject. It is not regular Mathematics, and has quite an extensive syllabus. The content that it covers contain concepts that are difficult to grasp, and are meant for higher level students who are willing to put in a good deal of practice and independant study.

Most schools do not usually opt for this subject since chances of lower grades are quite high in Additional Math, and many students do fail due to the general difficulty of the subject. However, if you have good mathematical ability and an inclination towards Mathematics, this is a great subject to pick.

Achieving an A* for this subject will be a testament to your skills. Additional Maths will definitely add value to your college and university applications, as well as create a strong foundation for your A Level Mathematics. Moreover, if you successfully complete this course, you can easily transition into IB Math at a standard level with little to no extra effort whatsoever.

Where to get additional help

In addition to the notes you make in class, it is always good to get remedial help from your teachers, or your friends and classmates.

There are a lot of students who find IGCSE harder than their A Levels or IB DP due to a few reasons such as:

  • the vast number of subjects you must take,
  • lengthy subjects with a lot to study, such as Biology, History or Geography, and
  • not knowing how to write your answers, or when to use your resources.

For this, it's always good to create a digital space for all your notes, as well find a comfortable platform to raise all your doubts and to go topic-by-topic - while matching the syllabus and also thinking ahead for your assessments.

A vast majority of our students come to us for resources and help with IGCSE topics, and then stay for the fun, easy-to-understand format and learning experience. Vidyalai provides live online one-to-one classe with the best teachers, handpicked from across the world. We guarantee 100% satisfaction, or else your first lesson is completely free! Request a class in any subject you might require a little extra help with and take the next step towards academic excellence.

Top 10 Hardest IGCSE Subjects - Ranked in Order
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