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‘I was quite shocked’: Student gets record-matching 9 H1s after appealing Leaving Cert results

Caraíosa O’Farrell (18) matches joint-highest result any Leaving Cert student is known to have achieved

When Caraíosa O’Farrell (18) looked at her Leaving Cert exam scripts last September, she was convinced there were gaps in the way a couple of her exam scripts were marked.

She appealed, without success. Still convinced there were errors, she sought a further recheck through an independent appeals scrutineer with the State Examinations Commission (SEC).

O’Farrell, who had achieved an impressive seven H1 grades last September, recently got an official letter in the post to say she has now been upgraded to nine H1 grades.

It is the joint highest result that any Leaving Cert student is known to have ever achieved in the State exams.


Were it not for the maximum CAO ceiling of 625 points, her haul would be some 825 points.

O’Farrell says she was taken aback when she got the news.

“I am currently volunteering in India, and so I had kind of put the whole appeals process out of my head,” she said. “When my mum and dad sent me a photo of the letter from the State Examinations Commission. I was definitely quite shocked. It was a lovely surprise to get.”

There were also important bragging rights at stake: she has surpassed her brother, who got eight H1s in the 2019 Leaving Cert.

“We always enjoy competing with one another,” says O’Farrell, who attended St Conleth’s College in Dublin. “While the process did take several months to sort out, I didn’t mind since I am on a gap year.

“It was very clear to me that the SEC has a very thorough and fair process for any student who thinks that their exams were not marked correctly, and that it is worth pursuing.”

A new breakdown of results for high achievers supplied by the SEC shows a total of three candidates received nine H1s in 2022; a further 78 secured eight H1s, and 422 achieved seven H1s.

Until 2019, available records indicate that the highest result achieved by any Leaving Cert candidate was eight H1s.

From 2020 to 2022, there have been three candidates each year who have achieved nine H1s. Over the same period, there has been a trend towards record patterns of achievement linked to teacher-predicted grades and grade inflation.

O’Farrell says the key to her success was working hard in fifth year in particular, but also taking time to enjoy herself.

My favourite subjects were maths, applied maths and physics. I’m hoping the gap year will help me get a clearer understanding of the direction I want to take

—  Caraíosa O’Farrell

“I appreciated my final year of school. I really love languages. Taking part in French and Irish debating competitions was a nice break from studying,” she says.

“I really loved the environment at St Conleth’s and felt it was important to value those last few months, and making room for having fun makes studying easier.”

She isn’t sure what she wants to study in college yet.

“I love Stem [Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects], so whatever I do will be in that area. My favourite subjects were maths, applied maths and physics. I’m hoping the gap year will help me get a clearer understanding of the direction I want to take,” she says.

In India, meanwhile, she is volunteering in a community-led empowerment programme for women.

“I’ve always been interested by India so I thought it was a good idea to start here. When I looked into volunteering opportunities, I found a women’s empowerment programme in Kochi and it jumped out at me as something I thought would be a great experience,” she says.

“I really love India; I feel welcome and very safe here in Kochi and am enjoying teaching English and computer skills to women. The project is community-initiated and community-led. I feel inspired and empowered by the women I’ve met here and I know I will keep in contact with lots of them for the rest of my life.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent