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When the choosing gets tough

The right subjects for you are the ones that engage your interests

 
Choosing your Leaving Cert subjects is a big decision. You’ll be studying these subjects for two years. They can affect what you decide to study in college and you may even end up choosing a career based on these subjects. So this isn’t a decision you should take lightly. Here are a few factors to consider when you’re making these tough decisions
 
Decisions, decisions, decisions
Depending on what you want to study after the Leaving Cert, some subjects are a matriculation requirement for certain courses. This means that they are mandatory to gain entry into a given college course. For example, a minimum C3 in higher level chemistry is required for veterinary, a minimum C3 in higher level maths is required for engineering, and a minimum C3 in higher level in two science subjects is required to study science in Trinity. 
 
It’s important not to lock yourself out of a course you want to study by not choosing a required subject. Do your research. Different colleges have different requirements for the same course. Check each college prospectus and make sure you’ve covered the course requirements for what you want to study after the Leaving Cert.
 
You’re good at what you enjoy
It’s much harder to do well in a subject that you don’t enjoy or aren’t naturally good at. Make sure to choose your favourite subject(s). When it comes to studying each subject, it is important you find them interesting to be able to excel at them. Studying a subject you enjoy can decrease the pressure and workload immensely. 
 
If you’re good at a subject it will come naturally to you. Take all of the budding engineers we have; these students tend to be naturals at mathematical subjects. Therefore physics would probably be a subject that would suit their ability and one they would be good at. 
 
Adopt a strategy
Always pick the subjects you want to do and that you think you’ll be good at. If you find an area that you are particularly good at, you could boost your ability by choosing subjects which complement each other. 
 
Some subjects can contain an overlap with other subjects, such as physics and applied maths or biology and agricultural science. Approaching subject choice in this style may help to lighten your work load. For example, if you study both biology and home economics, you’ll only have to learn about biomolecules once. 
 
Test your compatibility 
If you’re unsure of what subjects to choose, there are aptitude tests available through your school or even online. These often include a series of questions related to your personality. Your answers are then calculated to match what subjects or career is best suited to you. 
 
It might also be very useful to do an interest test at this point. An interest test can be the first indication of what career paths might appeal to you. If you’re very unsure of what subjects to choose, aptitude tests or interest tests can often be a great starting point.
 
Advice is only a question away
If you’re wondering about whether or not to choose a particular subject, it’s important to do some investigating. Browse the outline, chapters or headings of the course and see if they appeal to you. Arrange to meet the teacher of the subject and ask them what will be covered in the subject. 
 
Organising to meet with your career guidance counsellor can be of great value. Your guidance counsellor will have experience in helping students choose subjects that suit their desired career path, or subjects that complement each other. Your guidance counsellor will also have knowledge of subject requirements which are necessary to gain entry into particular college courses.
 
Common Questions:
 
How many subjects should I choose?
Your Leaving Cert results will be calculated using the six subjects that you performed best in. For this reason, most schools allow students to choose seven subjects. For students who are taking more than one ordinary level paper and wish to maximise their leaving cert results by having six higher level subjects, there is an option to pick up an eighth subject outside of their school.
 
Are there any subjects that I have to choose?
Unless you are exempt from any subject, students must choose English, Irish and maths. Other than these subjects, it is important to check any subject requirements there are for your preferred courses. These are subjects that candidates must have completed to gain entry to particular courses. For example pharmacy in Trinity requires candidates to achieve a minimum of a C3 in higher level chemistry. To check if your preferred course has any requirements you must meet upon entry, you can go to the college websites or use qualifax.ie.
 
How do I choose the right subjects that suit me?
There are lots of things to consider when choosing your subjects. Firstly, look at your Junior Cert results and find the subjects that you were best at. Choosing subjects that you are good at will help you achieve higher grades in the Leaving Cert. Next, consider the subjects that you enjoyed the most. Taking an interest in a subject will greatly help to motivate you when it comes to studying and allows the information to stick in your mind easily. Next, make sure to include any subjects you might need for third level study (either required by the course, or which will benefit your studies for that course).
 
Why do different colleges have different requirements for the same course?
Due to the structure of the CAO system, you may have to opt for your preferred course in several different colleges. This is the real problem with choosing subjects because all colleges have different minimum entry requirements, even for the same course. For example, if you wish to study business, assuming all students take English, Trinity and UL require you to have one language (Irish or a modern language), NUI colleges require you to have both Irish and a modern language, DCU and institutes of technologies require neither. On top of this, each college has different grade requirements in maths for their business course. I would advise you to assume you may not get the points you need for your first choice of college and make sure to meet the requirements for as many colleges as possible.
 
Are there any subjects that are easier than others?
This is a common misconception. There is no such thing as an “easy honour”.  It depends entirely on the student. A student with strong mathematical ability will favour maths over French and find it easier, but a student with a flair for languages will favour French over maths and find French easier. Many students read Leaving Cert results statistics and misunderstand their relevance. You must remember that where a subject appears to have a high percentage of As every year, it is due to the high standards and capabilities of the students taking that subject. There is no easy subject. Each subject requires time, dedication and consistent attention for two years.
 
If I don’t know what I want to study at third level yet, what subjects should I choose?
If you still aren’t sure what you wish to study, I would advise you to take a good mixture of subjects. A language and a science subject are important so that you don’t limit your options when it comes to your CAO. In order to maximise your Leaving Cert points, you should then choose subjects you are interested in and will enjoy studying. Aptitude and interest tests are a great idea for any student who is struggling to choose a path that suits them. There are plenty available on the internet or students can ask their guidance counsellor if any are offered in their school.
 
You can download a full PDF version of the Exam Times subject choice supplement here, or visit www.ioe.ie to learn how the Institute of Education can help you achieve your goals.