Access to International Examinations for High Schoolers

By Samantha Eddis, PhD

Home schoolers are not a monolithic group. Instead, they are as varied in their perspectives, pedagogies, and educational desires as the families they represent. I know this, as I have mixed with plenty of home schoolers while home educating my four children over the last twelve years. However, for the purpose of this article, I am going to target one section of our population– those home schoolers who want to access widely recognizable, accredited qualifications (such as SATs, ACTs or other options). In fact, I specifically want to mention one of the ‘other options’ that I have used since 2007, and will continue to use for all four of my children, and for the students that I also tutor:

High School Option for Home Schoolers – Cambridge International Examinations (CIE)

Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) is part of an internationally accredited qualification program, available in selected schools throughout the USA, as well as in many other countries, and available to home schoolers who want accredited qualifications to complete their high school years.

CIE is offered in a wide variety of subjects, at the lower level of IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) or the higher AS or A Level (Advanced Subsidiary or Advanced Level). To think about these levels in terms of traditional high school, IGCSEs are generally completed by the end of 10th Grade but they are equivalent to completing high school matriculation requirements. This is at the end of 10th Grade. The AS and A Level subjects are then taken and completed by the end of 12th grade.

In many colleges and universities, depending on the subjects taken, college credit is given for good passes at AS and A Level. If you want to know more about which colleges and universities accept the CIE program and the range and level of exams needed for application purposes, please visit and input your state or the college/university. Some universities, like ASU in Arizona, will give up to 8 credits for AS and A Levels, while others (many of them in Florida), will give up to 45 credits. So, it may be worth looking at the end goal (college or university) before embarking on IGCSEs and A Levels, so that you can maximise your opportunities at college or university.

Where is CIE offered?

CIE is an international program, created by the Cambridge Assessment Group, a department of the University Of Cambridge, United Kingdom. However, over 150,000 students in schools or home educating around the world take CIE subjects every year. In the USA, the CIE program is relatively new, though, it has been used in selected Florida schools since 1995. There are more CIE schools registering every year in the USA, including my state, Arizona. As home schoolers, we can access CIE subjects from anywhere, as all the curriculum specifications/syllabuses, resources lists, and plenty of free resources are available online. Textbooks can be bought online or usually ordered from the large bookstores. The only snag to taking CIE subjects is finding a Registered Examination Center to take the exams (see below for more details).

How does the CIE program develop students?

I am a huge fan of the CIE program, for several reasons. I used a similar program as a student in school; and, as a teacher, I have used a similar program in schools (in London and Hong Kong). CIE also enables the student greater flexibility, I feel, to choose subjects that they will enjoy, and gives them the opportunity to see exactly what is covered in each subject through the syllabus.

In addition, there is a greater emphasis on articulating knowledge and skill sets gained through essays, or short answer responses on the final examinations. I believe that, if a student really knows his or her material, it is possible to consistently illustrate this comprehension throughout the course and in the examinations. So, each CIE subject has been carefully crafted to develop:

1        Higher order thinking skills;

2        oral, writing and problem solving skills;

3        investigative and research skills;

4        independent learning and group work;

5        the ability to use initiative; and

6        an understanding of international perspectives.

Students who successfully take on CIE subjects are able to become independent learners and achieve a high quality of work of which they can be proud. Successful students can easily segue from IGCSEs into AP classes, A Levels or college classes, as they have already developed the skills that will guide them through these more demanding educational levels.

What subjects are offered with the CIE program?

Are you ready? There are about 50 subjects to choose from (check each syllabus carefully to make sure it is available for ‘private candidates’ as that is the term home schoolers use with CIE – though this is only necessary if you plan on taking the exams and want a qualification). The subjects include Mathematics, English Language and Literature, Sciences (either combined or separated into Biology, Chemistry and Physics), Foreign Languages, Humanities and Social Sciences such as Geography, History, Sociology, Psychology, and Global Perspectives, as well as other subjects like Accounting, Business Studies, Travel and Tourism. For more details, please go to and  or visit the Cambridge website at

If you do not want to do the subjects as an examination, you can still download the syllabuses from the CIE website at and use it as a program for learning. All the preparation work has been done for you, and there will always be plenty of resources on the Internet or from textbooks to help you cover the whole syllabus. [For my children, I want them to have qualifications at the end of the day so that they have third-party recognition for their hard work – I know they are great students, but they appreciate having their work assessed by an examination board].

A personal case study with CIE

My eldest child did not want to do virtual high school, and she did not want to go into the local high school after her years of home education. So we started with the CIE program, even though it was not available in any Arizona school (which meant no local center for examinations), and there was no one else that we knew that was trying this approach.

When my daughter started the CIE program in seven subjects, she was twelve years old. Finding textbooks to cover the syllabus was easy enough (CIE syllabuses are freely available online, and getting the books were not too hard). What was harder was the time spent accessing the Internet for ‘teaching support’ – study guides, lesson plans, free resources, free games on subject material, and so on. I worked hard to find resources for my daughter and the benefit of my extensive and continuing research for ‘teacher support’ is a website dedicated to IGCSEs, AS and A Levels that has plenty of information and the free resources that I have found. [Please visit the website at]

My daughter was able to take her IGCSEs when she was fourteen (two years is the usual time span to take IGCSEs) – but we first had to find a Registered Examination Center for her. Remember, as home schoolers, this is the only snag that we run into, but it is possible to find the center and never have a problem. Sometimes, as in our case, you can go to a different center if one becomes available closer to your home (though you can only change centers after completion of an examination session). My daughter took her AS and A Levels at a Center in Florida, and by the age of 17 had three university offers. My son will be taking his A levels in Arizona as we finally have some centers that are willing to accept home schoolers for their CIE exams.

How can you find out more?

Cambridge International Examinations are available for home schoolers, for the pure enjoyment of learning about a subject, or to complete final examinations in a Registered Examination Center. To find out more about the subjects available and about the Registered Examination Centers, please go to and have a look through the website. There is a lot of material to go through, especially if you are new to this high school curriculum. However, it is an option that may be worth exploring as a good fit for your family.

If you live in Arizona, and your home schooling group would like me to give a presentation and Q&A on the CIE program, please contact me via my website and I will see what can be arranged.

Ultimately, the reason I wrote this article was to share what I have been doing for the last five years. I feel as I have been holding onto a secret that other home schoolers should know about – and I would like to help others be successful in their home schooling lives. I am happy to respond to any questions that you might have about the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) program, so please contact me at

Samantha Eddis, PhD has been teaching and tutoring for over 30 years, and has been home educating for over twelve years. As a desire to give information back to the home educating community about accessing qualifications at high school level, she created her website earlier this year at She is currently developing teaching materials that are specific to the CIE curriculum subjects that she has taught, working on updating the website with more resources and links, tutoring and preparing her son for AS and A Level examinations.


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  1. Hi Samantha

    Finally managed to get onto a good website which you have eased my concerns. In Zimbabwe all private schools do the O, AS and A levels. But due to rise in school fees, many are taking our children out of the schools to do homeschooling. I want CIE for my twin girls. I will look into the abovementioned websites for the IGCSE syllabuses and hope all is there for them to study and write up. Thank you. Tracey

  2. Thanks for sharing amazing informational blog post..your articles helped me in many ways..

    Keep posting..cheers

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