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CISCE Indian School Certificate [ISC] Guide

CISCE Indian School Certificate [ISC] Guide

by April 28, 2016
Details to consider
Curricula - Which country is it from?


Curricula - Who underwrites it?

The Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations [CISCE]

Curricula - Age when taken?

Studied over two years from age 16 and sat at age 18.

To enter for study of the ISC students must have completed the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (Year-10) Examination. Students must have achieved passes in five subjects including English.

Exceptionally students who have studied an alternative curriculum may be admitted but only if they have taken and passed equivalent examinations in a single sitting in at least English and four other written subjects. A decision whether to accept a student from an alternative curriculum background is made centrally by the CISCE after an application from the Head on the basis of certified true copies of the Statement of Marks issued to the candidate by the alternative Examining Board.

Private candidates are not permitted to appear for the examination.

The CISCE conducts the final examinations for Class 12 every year in the months of February and March. Results are announced by the end of May.

Curricula - Subjects available?

All students must enter and sit for English, three, four or five elective subjects and “Socially Useful Productive Work and Community Service.”

No more than six subjects, including the compulsory subject English, can be studied.

Electives must be chosen from Indian Languages; Modern Foreign Languages – Chinese, French, German, Tibetan, or Spanish; Classical Languages – Arabic; Sanskrit; or Persian; Elective English; History; Political Science; Geography; Sociology; Psychology; Economics; Commerce; Accounts; Business Studies; Mathematics; Physics; Chemistry; Biology; Home Science; Fashion Designing; Electricity and Electronics; Engineering Science; Computer Science; Geometrical and Mechanical Drawing (869); Geometrical and Building Drawing; Art; Music - Indian Music – Hindustani, Indian Music – Carnatic, or Western Music; Physical Education; Environmental Science; and, Biotechnology.

A School may not enter candidates for subjects for the teaching of which no provision is made by the School and prospective parents are strongly advised to check on the breadth of subject options available at individual schools.

Curricula - Balance of coursework to exams?

100% examination in all academic subjects.

In the compulsory core subject of English, students sit a single examination, externally examined by the CISCE at the end of Year XII.

In the Electives of Indian, Foreign, and Classical Languages students also sit a single examination, externally examined by the CISCE, at the end of Year XII.
In both cases questions are set based on learning across the entire preceding two years of study.

In all other elective subjects, there are two examinations, one at the end of Year XI and one at the end of Year XII. The Year XI examinations are examined internally by the school and decide whether a student can continue study in Year XII. The Year XII examinations are examined externally by the CISCE.

In the Year XI examinations, students must achieve at least 40% marks in a minimum of four subjects which must include English, and a minimum attendance of 75%.

The final result of the Indian School Certificate (Year- XII) Examination is based entirely on external examinations at the end of Class XII and on students passing “Socially Useful Productive Work and Community Service,” this evaluated internally by the School.

“Socially Useful Productive Work and Community Service” is the only subject in which coursework and practical activity is graded and for which there is no examination.

Curricula - How much is rote based learning?

Rote based learning is significant is significant given the sole reliance on examinations to evaluate student attainment, but the examinations and coursework are significantly weighted to critical thinking.

Curricula - How easy is it?

The pass mark for each paper is 40%.

To pass, students must achieve 40% in a minimum of four subjects which must include English, and have attained a pass grade in “Socially Useful Productive Work and Community Service.” All examinations must be passed in a single sitting.

The General consensus is that the Indian School Certificate [ISC] is significantly harder than its All India Senior School Certificate Examination (AISSCE) CBSE counterpart.

Curricula - Materials for private study?

Extensive materials are available, although there is no access to examinations for private candidates.

Curricula - Grades awarded?

Grade boundaries differ from the scoring of the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education [ICSE] although grades remain within the numerical range between 1 and 9, 1 being the highest and 9 the lowest.

A “Very Good” grade is indicated by grades 1 and 2.

Grades 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 indicate a “Pass with Credit.”

Grades 7 and 8 indicate a “Pass.”

Grade 9 is classified as a “Failure.”

The standard reached in Community Service [“Socially Productive Work”] is graded A, B, C, D or E (Grade A being the highest and E the lowest.) Grades A, B, C or D indicate a “Pass” and E a “Failure.”

Curricula - Cost?

ICSE schools tend to be more expensive than their CBSE counterparts because of both the broader subject offer demanded by the syllabus and its perceived relative prestige. The differential reduces in ICSE schools offering limited subject choices and streams – parents should ascertain from schools their breadth of subject provision in order to determine whether any given ISCE school will meet the needs of their child(ren).

Curricula - Transfer-ability (to other curricula)?

A transfer to the alternative CBSE syllabus is theoretically possible given the density and breadth of curriculum, although it is likely to be extraordinarily complicated and not recommended.

Transfer between other ICSE schools is theoretically much simpler where courses are consistent, but given the significantly greater individual latitude ICSE schools have in their methodology and range of subject provision it is also not recommended if it can be avoided.

Curricula - Where does it lead?

Primary value lies in its qualifying status for undergraduate study.
The Indian School Certificate (ISC) is accepted, in lieu of (International) A Levels, as a qualification for entry into UK Universities, although, as with all Class XII examinations, actually passing is less relevant than the grades scored in each paper. UK universities generally expect a minimum Grade 1 or 2 pass in all subjects and a Grade 1 pass in the proposed, or related, proposed subjects of degree study.

As a qualification for direct entry into business in India, it is arguable that the qualification holds less weight than its CBSE counterpart.

There are also significant weaknesses of the ISC for entry into Indian Universities because of complex (arguably unfair) cut-offs which favour the generally higher scoring of the CBSE AISSCE.

For parents seeking an Indian education that will enable their children to proceed to study in universities outside India, the ISC comes into its own.

Curricula - Who is it best for?

The Indian School Certificate (ISC) has a better international reputation than its CBSE counterpart. The curriculum continues to involve Cambridge International in its development and, in its depth, and breadth for student studying the full maximum of 6 subjects, it compares well with its international counterparts.

Bottom line is that the ISC is better for the most academic children in terms of educational development and international access to further education, but for weaker and mixed ability students and all students seeking a return to India for work or further education its value may be compromised.

Curricula - Global value?

High (enough) - Internationally, the ISC, scored at its highest levels, is a recognised qualification in the West to access Higher Education. However, to some degree unfairly on the most gifted students, the ISC continues to be perceived as a less ambitious, or credible alternative to both the packaged International A Level (3 or more subjects) and International Baccalaureate Diploma.

It remains the case that Indian parents must weigh up the predominantly cultural benefits of an Indian curriculum, regardless of whether that is ICSE or CCBSE based, against the global value of A Level and International Baccalaureate alternatives, particularly in industry.

Despite the exceptional focus in the ISC on English, which is the only compulsory subject, many universities will still require ISC students to pass separate English language tests prior to securing a place.

Curricula - Employer’s opinion?

High value in India, particular for those scoring highly, although the board continues to lack the dominance, ubiquity and prestige of the CBSE for many employers. The CBSE remains the safe option in India.

The ISC has limited value outside India.

With global competition, it is arguable that the historic strength of even Class XII examinations from any syllabus is diminishing as the expectation standardises that students will continue to University.

This can offset any perceived weakness of the ISC as it is overtaken in employer value by the relevant undergraduate degree and its awarding institution.

University’s opinion?

For universities, the ISC provides a much stronger currency than the AAISCE even outside Mathematics and the Sciences. It is also formally accepted across UK Universities in lieu of the standard (International) A Level pre-qualification for entry.

It is very likely, however, that students will be required to undertake further examinations/tests in English to meet the entrance requirements of international universities. This is true both for students seeking later degree study in the Arts, Sciences or Humanities.


• The ISC provides significantly better balance between Sciences, Arts and Humanities than the AISSCE. For students seeking an Indian syllabus, committed to later degree based study in the humanities, the ICSE curriculum is the option (we cannot recommend the CBSE for grounding students in the Humanities)

• The ISC provides an international standard of senior school education - whilst maintaining the cultural context and values of Indian families. International alternatives cannot provide this context.

• The ISC provides a higher level of English language provision than the AISSCE. English is the compulsory language of instruction (CBSE approves both English and Hindi language as the medium of instruction).

• Development in conjunction with Cambridge University, and historical accreditation by the French Board of Examination, has given it better recognition than the CBSE curriculum internationally.

• The Indian School Certificate is recognized by universities in the UK and applicants are not required to obtain ‘A’ level qualifications for entry. This is not automatically the case for the CBSE.


• The ISC has a history of disadvantaging students leaving school after Grade XII seeking entrance to the Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE), the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) and the All India Pre Medical Test (AIPMT). These are naturally aligned with the CBSE and students set on this course should weigh their decision in the balance.

• The CBSE is government backed and significantly more recognised in India

• The curriculum is less standardised than the CBSE making transferring between schools more difficult.

• There is no guarantee that ISCE grading in individual papers will be weighted by Universities or Employees more highly, and the CBSE consistently presents the opportunity to earn higher scoring for similar ability students.

• The academic curriculum will stretch many lower to mixed ability children, and whilst around 98% of children do achieve the ISC, the pass grade has very limited value in industry or Higher Education, in India and internationally, set against an equivalent pass value in the CBSE.

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For Indian parents committed to an Indian education and looking to maximise the international value of their child’s education, the CISCE backed Indian School Certificate cannot be bettered.

However, for accessing further education, or direct employment, in India, the ISC is not as bankable as the AISSCE.

For parents committed to further education outside India for their children, and not wedded to the Indian cultural context that Indian schools uniquely provide, the alternative International A Level and International Baccalaureate schools are much better options.

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The Indian School Certificate [ISC] is a private sector alternative to the Year XII CBSE All India Secondary School Examination (AISSCE).

The examination is taken in ICSE schools and underwritten by the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations [CISCE]. The ISC is studied over a two-year period between Grades XI and XII by students between the ages of 16 and 18. Formulation of the curricula continues to be developed in association with the University of Cambridge.

The examination can only be sat in ICSE schools.

English is the only core subject and students can sit a maximum of 5 further electives. To pass students must study a minimum of 4 subjects including English. The qualification is entirely assessed by examinations, except for the internally assessed compulsory element of Community Service (Socially Useful Productive Work”) which is graded on the basis of coursework alone.

The examination is usually conducted in February/March and results are declared in May.

In terms of subject breadth, academic demands and international recognition as a pre-qualification for applying to undergraduate study outside India, the ISC is the most powerful of the Senior school Indian curriculum qualifications.

Prospective parents, however, if resolutely committed to an Indian education for their child(ren), must be aware that the choice between ICSE and CBSE curricular is one that will carry significant consequences for their child(ren) – and neither curriculum can be chosen without compromises and impact. It is also extremely difficult, and not recommended, to seek to transfer between curricular mid stream.

About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Editor of and UK. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at]

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