Moment of truth looms as students wait for points levels

It has been a stressful year for Leaving Certs. Now the next page of their education is about to begin

One year on: Joe O'Sullivan from Kenmare, Co Kerry who got nine As in his Leaving Certificate last year, pictured with his father Gerry and mother Bernie. Photograph: Eric Luke

One year on: Joe O'Sullivan from Kenmare, Co Kerry who got nine As in his Leaving Certificate last year, pictured with his father Gerry and mother Bernie. Photograph: Eric Luke


There will be equal measures of elation and upset for students this morning as they tear open their Leaving Certificate examination results or collect them from their schools. It concludes what must rank as one of the most stressful experiences of their lives, yet for many students hoping to go on to higher education the delivery of the results does little more than kick off yet another stressful challenge.

Those with poorer than expected results from their exams will worry about making it into the diploma or degree courses for which they have expressed a preference. Yet those with high points will face a similar worry if they have not quite got the points they need to secure a first-preference placing.

For all students going on to higher education it will be all about the points, and this means a five-day wait until next Monday, when the CAO releases each institution’s first-round offers. This will be the real moment of truth, to see whether ambitions have been matched by results.

Commentators agree, however, that a somewhat uneventful 2013 Leaving Cert examination process – one with few surprises or nasty twists – has led to an unsurprising Leaving Cert result tally. And an assessment in this newspaper some weeks ago of the first preferences selected by the class of 2013 has also shown that the CAO points demands for the most popular subjects are unlikely to shift to any great extent.

A static points demand for many subjects will also be helped by a small decline in the numbers who sat the exams in 2013. This year 55,572 candidates sat them, compared with 55,816 in 2012.

Maths and, to a slightly lesser extent, science subjects continue to grab the headlines. Once again it is down to the curriculum changes brought by Project Maths and the bonus points being offered for higher-level maths. And when maths is in the frame so, too, is science and the increased student interest in the subject.

Bonus points
The promise of 25 CAO bonus points for a minimum pass in higher maths has clearly changed student engagement with the subject, with participation rocketing in the two years since its introduction. Numbers taking honours jumped from 8,235 in 2011 to 13,014 in 2013, an increase of more than 58 per cent. Only 3.4 per cent of students doing higher maths in the current year failed, a factor that has pushed mathematics well down the list of most common failures – a table led by combined physics and chemistry.

A strong performance in maths has become a key aspect of the Government’s enterprise policy and the goal of achieving economic growth through innovation and research. An aptitude in maths is essential for many subjects across the range of sciences and engineering, and the Government’s goal is to see success with mathematics helping to deliver the technological and scientific expertise needed to feed the smart economy.

Although many more students are signing up for higher maths, the failure rate across maths overall remains stubbornly high: 3,466 in the 2013 cohort. Most of these occur at ordinary level (the failure rate for higher maths this year was 3.4 per cent), and the failure rate provides no room for complacency at ordinary level.

Performance in the sciences also provides a cause for some concern, given failure rates. Biology this year attracted 23,436 candidates, making it one of the most popular subjects, but failure rates stood at 8.2 per cent. Physics, chemistry, and combined physics and chemistry attracted just under 12,000 students, half the total for biology. Failure rates for these subjects stood at 7.2, 8.1 and 11.2 per cent. And applied maths had a failure rate of 6.6 per cent for the 1,470 students who took it.

Although some students will be disappointed with their results, they should not be disheartened. The range of subjects and courses available through the CAO process is vast, and with Leaving Cert numbers static there should be plenty of opportunities to pursue.

This year’s points requirement for third-level courses will be published in the Irish Times College Choice 2013 supplement, on Monday. Last year’s requirements, for comparison, are on pages 7-9 of today’s supplement

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