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What’s the difference between the American and British Curriculum?

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The American and British education systems have some similarities; however, they have some distinct differences too. This article explains the major differences of these two education systems.

Grades in both systems

AgeBritish systemAmerican system
3-4NurseryPreschool
4-5ReceptionPreschool
5-6Year 1Kindergarten
6-7Year 2Grade 1
7-8Year 3Grade 2
8-9Year 4Grade 3
9-10Year 5Grade 4
10-11Year 6Grade 5
11-12Year 7Grade 6
12-13Year 8Grade 7
13-14Year 9Grade 8
14-15Year 10Grade 9
15-16Year 11Grade 10
16-17Year 12Grade 11
17-18Year 13Grade 12

The British Education System

In the United Kingdom, schools follow the National Curriculum that begins with the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework. EYFS provides a holistic framework of milestones and benchmarks where children learn through developmental stages.

When students get into upper grades education learners pick areas they want to concentrate on with the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) or International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) if outside of the United Kingdom.

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  • General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE):

The GCSE is the main school-leaving certificate in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland (Scotland has an independent national qualifications system).

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In recent years, the UK government has introduced a GCSE reform program, including a grading system that uses numbers (1-9) instead of letters (A-G).

GCSEs are available in approximately 50 subjects and are usually preceded by full-time five-semester courses. GCSE exams are taken in May/June when students are in Grade 11 (Year 11) and their results are published in August.

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  • International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE)

The IGCSE is an internationally recognized exam at the same level as the GCSE. It aims to adopt a broader approach to learning.

Schools may offer any combination of subjects for which each student receives a separate certificate. There are over 70 subjects, including over 30 language courses, offering a variety of options for students with a wide range of abilities, including those whose first language is not English.

  • A Levels

The A-Level diploma was introduced in Great Britain in 1951, and its idea is to educate the best candidates for leading universities.

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The A-Levels are taken between the ages of 16 and 18 and are much more difficult than the GCSEs. They can’t be taken without having passed GCSEs in similar subjects. If you want to go to university, you have to take both exams.

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The US Education System

In the US, students study general subjects until the end of high school, which is Grade 12, the UK equivalent of Year 13. Most children attend preschool part-time, but state-provided education does not start until Kindergarten (Year 1 in the UK).

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The US system is typically divided into three levels:

  • Basic: Elementary school (K – Grade 5),
  • Middle school (Grades 6-8)
  • High school (Grades 9–12).

At the end of high school, students apply for college education based on a number of elements: their grades in all four years of high school (Grade Point Average), results from various exams, teachers’ opinions, personal achievements and extracurricular activities.

  • Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)

The SAT is a standardized test widely used for college admissions. The purpose of the SAT is to measure a high school student’s readiness for college, and provide colleges with one common data point that can be used to compare all applicants.

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  • American College Test

ACT is another standardized test for high school students wishing to study at universities or colleges in the US. Like the SAT, it assesses the general academic aptitude of high school students and the ability to study at the college level.

  • Advanced Placement (AP)

AP provides high school students with the opportunity to take college-level courses. American colleges and universities may grant placement and course credit to students who obtain high scores on the examinations.

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