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What is the Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE)?

Posted by Dr. Anna Wulick | Oct 17, 2015 11:00:00 AM

Advanced Placement (AP), Coursework/GPA


For students looking for a more challenging high school experience or for a chance to earn college credit, many high schools offer several advanced college-level program options. The newest one of these is the Cambridge AICE, an international diploma program created through Cambridge University in England.

Curious about whether this program is right for you? In this article, I will describe the AICE approach, the coursework necessary to get the diploma, and how it compares to AP and IB classes.

What is the Cambridge AICE?

AICE, which stands for Advanced International Certificate of Education and is pronounced like the word "ace," is a set of challenging college-level classes for high school students. It was developed by Cambridge Assessment, a non-profit, non-teaching department of the University of Cambridge in England. 

Like the AP and IB programs, AICE was designed to give students the option to pursue a more rigorous and ambitious curriculum by teaching you key skills to succeed in college-level work. At the same time, AICE classes and the diploma structure are flexible enough to let you tailor the coursework to your interests and strengths.

Besides the academic and intellectual appeal of learning in greater depth, AICE lets you earn an advanced diploma to boost your college application. It also could potentially get you college credit or let you place out of intro courses once you're a freshman. But, because it is a very new program, not all colleges view AICE classes in the same way they do AP classes. You can use the Cambridge Assessments lookup tool to check whether your target college accepts AICE


Where Is AICE Offered?

Currently in the US, AICE is primarily offered in Florida high schools, although there are some other schools offering this diploma scattered throughout the rest of the country. In Canada, AICE is only available in Toronto, but there are schools affiliated with AICE throughout the world, primarily concentrated in Great Britain.

If you’re looking for a school that offers the AICE diploma, you can use Cambridge Assessment’s lookup tool to find high schools around you.


The Financial Benefits of AICE

On top of its emphasis on flexible class offerings and its potential to strengthen your college application, AICE has several financial benefits as well. For one thing, AICE classes and exams are free for students – your school pays all the fees for this program.

For students in Florida, an AICE Diploma is a great way to secure some college money. If you've earned the diploma and completed 100 hours of community service, then you automatically qualify for the Florida Academic Scholars Award from the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program. But you don't need to earn the diploma to get this scholarship. Some combinations of AICE coursework, community service hours, and minimum scores on the SAT or ACT are also ways to get Florida Bright Futures awards. 


How Do You Enroll in the AICE Program?

You can't sign up for AICE on your own, but instead have to rely on your school to provide it - the same way your school either does or doesn't provide Honors and AP classes. If your school wants to sign up to offer AICE classes to students, your principal or head of school can go to the website that explains how to have your school join.

AICE is not guaranteed to teach you to levitate books, but there's nothing stopping you from using that argument to convince your principal to sign up.


How is AICE Structured?

The AICE program is made up of one-year classes called AS Levels, and two-year classes called A Levels. AICE classes can be taken individually, or you can take the two-year program and get an AICE diploma. There are some classes that can be started at the AS Level and then extended to the A Level later.


What Are the Classes Like?

AICE classes put a lot of emphasis on writing, critical thinking, and delving deep into their subjects. AICE classes aren't very rigidly structured, and AICE exams are somewhat modular. This flexibility allows teachers a lot more room to spend extra time investigating what seems to be interesting to students and leaving out or shortening other course sections.


Individual Classes or the Full Diploma?

With AICE, you get a choice of either taking individual classes from their course menu, or doing the full course of study needed to get the diploma.

If you decide to just take individual AICE classes, colleges will treat them just like individual AP classes. They will add rigor to your transcript, count more in your weighted GPA, and show colleges that you are willing to challenge yourself and are a motivated student. 

Getting the AICE diploma requires a much bigger investment of time and effort. But, since each class was designed to be part of the program, the skills and knowledge that you learn from one class will benefit you in others. Also, the classes are structured to fit together to give you a more rounded perspective on global issues.

Starting in June 2017, to get the AICE full diploma you will need to earn 7 course credits in 25 months (before then, a full diploma only requires 6 credits). 1 of these 7 credits has to be the mandatory core class Global Perspectives & Research. 

Working on the core was mandatory, but Joe couldn't help feeling a little silly digging around inside a giant apple.


What Classes Can You Take?

If you are going for the full AICE diploma, the one class you have to take is the Cambridge International AS Level Global Perspectives & Research. This class is the mandatory core of the program. But don't worry - it's less a content-heavy class, and more a skills-building workshop.

In Global Perspectives & Research, you first pick 3 global topics out of 28 options like artificial intelligence, international sports, tourism, and many others. Then, you do research to examine these topics from different perspectives such as economic impact, ethical dilemmas, environmental forecasts, and so on. Finally, you write a paper, take an exam, and do a group project about your research.

All the other classes are your choice. They fall into 4 groups:

  • Group 1: Mathematics & Science
  • Group 2: Languages
  • Group 3: Arts & Humanities
  • Group 4: Interdisciplinary

In order to earn the diploma, you'll need at least 1 credit each from Groups 1, 2, and 3. You can have at most 2 credits from Group 4. Other than that, anything goes.

So, for example, if you are a math whiz, you can load up on the Mathematics & Science Group classes, and only take 1 class from the Languages Group and 1 from the Arts & Humanities Group. 

What do you mean, that's an overload of math? There's no such thing as an overload of math!


Here are all the available classes:

Group 1: Mathematics and Sciences Group 2: Languages Group 3: Arts and Humanities Group 4: Interdisciplinary and Skills-Based Subjects
Applied Information and Communication Technology Afrikaans Accounting General Paper
Biology Arabic Art and Design Global Perspectives & Research
Chemistry Chinese Business Thinking Skills
Computing English Classical Studies  
Design and Technology French Design and Textiles  
Environmental Management German Divinity  
Further Mathematics Portuguese Economics  
Marine Science Spanish Food Studies  
Mathematics Urdu French Literature  
Physical Education   Geography  
Physical Science   History  
Physics   Islamic Studies  
Psychology   Language and Literature in English  
    Literature in English  
    Portuguese Literature  
    Spanish Literature  


How Does Grading Work?

In each class, you'll do a variety of graded work. In addition to final exams, students write essays, create presentations, and do group projects. Most of this work is graded by your teacher, but some of the essays, presentations, and all of the exams are sent away to be graded by Cambridge Assessment.

In each class, the range of passing grades goes from A* to E. A* is the AICE version of an A+. Getting an E is basically like getting a C in normal US grading, or like getting a 3 on an AP exam.

Depending on your individual AICE class grades, your full diploma will be awarded with Distinction, Merit, or Pass.

The more ornate the certificate, the greater the diploma honors. Distinction diplomas come studded with emeralds and feature a gilded background of the full text of Hamlet.


Should You Take AICE?

If the only advanced curriculum that your school offers is the AICE program, you should definitely sign up for as many courses as you can reasonably handle and do well in. The classes are similar to AP and IB classes in difficulty level, and colleges love seeing transcripts that show your willingness to tackle hard classes and manage a heavier workload.

But what if you have to choose between AICE, AP, and IB? I will lay out the pros and cons of each to help you decide.


Should You Take AICE or AP?

First, let's talk about the differences between these two programs.

AICE is designed almost in opposition to the way AP classes are structured. The AICE Diploma is a program rather than a random selection of classes. This means that it can offer classes in niche subjects like travel and tourism, marine science, and photography, and then fit those niche classes into an overall globally-minded framework. Also, unlike AP classes, which tend to go wide and broad in their subject areas, AICE classes are more narrow and focused.

AICE classes stress essay writing and project-based learning over memorization and multiple-choice exams. Because of this, teachers can dive deep into some particulars and deemphasize others, depending on student interest. According to some students, this also means that the AICE exams seem easier – as long as you have a well-reasoned, supported argument and can write well, your answers get a good score.

Finally, college credit for AP classes is based on the score you get on the AP exam, but college credit for AICE classes is based on passing the exam, not the score you receive. In other words, a 3 on an AP exam probably won't get you college credit in more selective colleges, but an E in an AICE class will.

If you have a choice between AP and AICE, pick AP if:

  • you are a very good test-taker who does best with fact-based learning
  • you are interested in a subject that AP offers and AICE doesn't
  • an excellent teacher is teaching the AP level
  • you've already taken the AICE level of a particular class, but are now interested in getting a broader overview of the same subject
  • your target colleges do not recognize AICE 

Pick AICE if:

  • you are interested in getting the full diploma
  • you would like to learn about a subject from a global perspective
  • you want to improve your writing and public speaking skills
  • you aren't sure you can get a 5 on an AP exam but would like to try for college credit or advanced placement
  • you live in Florida and can benefit financially from the Bright Futures Scholarship

Florida: land of Disney, sea cows, and free college money for good students.

Should You Take AICE or IB?

The IB and AICE programs are much more similar than they are different in the way they approach teaching and the curricula of their classes. 

The main distinguishing characteristic of AICE is that Cambridge Assessments is very vocal in its concerns about homework load, which is something IB doesn't address. AICE homework is designed to maximize your learning without unnecessary repetition or excess busywork. The designers of AICE talk a lot about student need to have time for extracurricular activities, family life, and social life. 

AICE is also more flexible for students who have strengths in certain subject areas. Unlike with the IB program, with AICE, you can get the AICE Diploma by taking mostly classes in the subject group where your strengths or interests lie. 

If you have a choice between IB and AICE, pick IB if:

  • you are interested in a more structured program where you won't have to design your own course of study
  • an amazing teacher is teaching your school's IB program
  • your target colleges do not recognize AICE

Pick AICE if:

  • you'd like more flexibility in designing your own course of study
  • you aren't sure if you want to go for the full diploma and would like the option of taking individual classes
  • you are interested in starting some classes at the 1-year AS Level before committing to the 2-year A Level
  • you live in Florida and can benefit financially from the Bright Futures Scholarship

Why buy the A-Level cow when you can get the AS-Level milk for free?


What’s Next?

Did you know that the AP now also has a diploma program? Check out our complete guide to AP Capstone and a complete list of the schools that offer it.

Interested in learning everything you can about all the different advanced placement options? Read our explanation of the International Baccalaureate.

Wondering how all of your advanced placement classes will benefit you once you get to college? We’ve got all the info on how colleges treat AP credits.

Want to improve your SAT score by 240 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Dr. Anna Wulick
About the Author

Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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