‘Very challenging’: Reaction to Leaving Cert French and history exams

More than 100,000 students have completed day six of the State exams

Leaving cert
Leaving Certs face French and history today, while Junior Cycle students have home economics and Spanish. Illustration: Paul Scott

  • Day six of the State exams is over for the more than 100,000 students who were sitting papers
  • Leaving Certs had French (9.30-12.50pm), which was “very challenging in parts”, and history (2-4.50pm), which was well-received but had a few “stings in the tail”
  • Junior Cycle students had home economics (9.30-11.30am) and Spanish (1.30-3.30pm)
  • I’ve done my best to stay calm and composed’: Our Leaving Cert student diarist Seán Cleary details his exam highs and lows
  • Any exam news or thoughts to share? Email Carl O’Brien: carl.obrien@irishtimes.com

Photograph: Alan Betson

That’s a wrap, folks...

So, day six of the State exams is over.

The exam halls will fill up tomorrow morning once again.

For the Leaving Certs, it’s business (9.30-12.30pm) and art (2-4.30pm).

For Junior Cycle students, it’s German (9.30-12.50pm) and construction studies (2-5pm).

For some it’s the end of the exams - hurray! - and a long summer awaits; for others, the worst is over and you’re on the home stretch.

Our live blog finishes up this evening, but we’ll still be covering reaction to the bigger exams here at irishtimes.com/education

Be sure to check in, if you can.

Thanks for reading -- and the best of luck with the remainder of the exams

Éamon de Valera. Photograph: General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Leaving Cert history: ‘An exam that played the hits

My colleague Peter McGuire has filed a detailed reaction piece on the marathon writing session that is Leaving Cert history.

The consensus is broadly positive, with the much anticipated appearance of de Valera; Home Rule; the GAA; the Eucharistic Congress and Northern Ireland.

You can read his piece here.

It also has the higher and ordinary papers embedded.

Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Sound issues in today’s French exam?

We’ve had a complaint from a school in Dublin about the sound quality for today’s French exam. This has happened in previous years for language exams.

Another parent said the CD used in one of the exams skipped repeatedly in another section.

" It’s unbelievable that in 2024, the SEC [State Examinations Commission] is still sending CDs for listening comprehensions for State exams but that’s a separate point. My son reported that the CD repeatedly skipped over one section so that they were unable to hear the question,” said one parent.

“The invigilator attempted to use the back up CD which had the same issue. It was not resolved and the students had to leave the section unanswered. My son was very disappointed because the listening comprehension itself was reasonable, but he now feels as though he won’t score well.”

We’re keen to know whether there was a wider issue - and we’ll alert the State Examinations Commission.

Do let us know by emailing: carl.obrien@irishtimes.com

Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Leaving Cert history: many students ‘thrilled’ despite ‘stings in the tail’

The early verdict on the Leaving Cert history exam is mostly positive.

Jamie Dockery, history teacher at Tyndall College, Carlow and Studyclix subject expert said students will be delighted with an exam that “played the hits”.

A much-predicted question on Stalin’s show trials as the Documents Based Question appeared, while he said the use of diary entries here was both interesting and challenging.

”This was an exam that ‘played the hits’, particularly in the Ireland topics with the topics of land reform; Home Rule; Edward Carson and John Redmond; the GAA, Eamon de Valera; the Eucharistic Congress and Northern Ireland all making much welcome appearances,” he said.

“The majority of well-prepared candidates will have been delighted with this selection of options.”

He had some minor criticisms of the Ireland section of the paper, with a lack of questions regarding the contribution of prominent women in Irish history.

“It should be noted that this was rectified in the ‘Europe and the Wider World’ section of the exam with the infamous Margaret Thatcher; Simone de Beauvoir; Betty Friedan and Marilyn Monroe all featuring,” he said.

In terms of the other questions in the ‘Europe and the Wider World Section’, he said it was very rewarding for the prepared student with a number of popular topics making an appearance.

Most students will have been thrilled to see topics such as the development of Germany foreign policy under Bismarck and/or Willhelm II; the impact of WWI; the social and economic effects on Africa of European retreat from empire; the Montgomery Bus Boycott; and the Moon Landing, he said.

“As a history teacher, I couldn’t be much more positive about the higher level paper and the options it offered the candidates. While, it contained many questions that were widely expected and predicted, it also offered the more discerning and hardworking student food for thought as well,” he said.

Stephen Tonge, history teacher with the Institute of Education, had a more mixed response to the paper.

It was “doable”, he said, but “with a few stings in the tail”

He said students that focused purely on case students will be challenged by trickier questions that needed them to add greater context.

“Those who prepared a broad range of topics will find some very manageable questions,” Tonge said.

He agree that the much-anticipated Stalin’s show trials question would have settled students, before venturing into section 2: Ireland.

“The history course is extensive, and students often need to prioritise sections,” he said. “Those who did topic 2: Political and Social Reform 1870-1914 will have found good questions that covered everything.

“Topic 3 on Sovereignty and Partition 1912-1949 will find a mix of the familiar and the novel. Question 1 was a very good question but required students to cover a vast array of material.”

Similarly, he said Question 3 drew together several areas around the central figure of de Valera, asking students to assess his successes and failures between 1932-1948.

“While manageable, students needed to think on their feet and adapt their knowledge of events relating to the consolidation of state, economic policy and foreign policy around a key personality,” he said.

“This would have been different to what they expected, but those with very good knowledge of the topic could have adapted well. The fourth question on the Eucharistic congress will be lovely and familiar to those who have gone back through previous papers as it regularly appears.”

Topic five on Northern Ireland, 1949 to 1993, introduced a “few stings in the tail”, Tonge said.

“Question 1 on the leadership of Lord Brookeborough may be unappealing as again it focuses on an individual rather than events, which is not how many students and teachers tend to approach the course,” he said.

“Question 2 on the Coleraine University controversy starts comfortably but narrows its scope by specifying the effects of it and the Civil Rights movement on Derry. That being said, Question 3 on the Sunningdale agreement and Anglo-Irish Agreement was pleasingly accessible to those who prepared that material.”

In Section 3, Topic 6: The United States and the World (1945-1989) would be the focus of most students’ attention, Tonge said.

“Many students will be upset to see no questions on economy, Johnson or Vietnam. Those who had sought to streamline their revision would find this section very restrictive,” he said.

Question 1 followed the trend of centering on a key personality and thus demanded students to think on their feet and recontextualize the material, Tonge noted.

“Question 2 was a case study with the added sting of necessitating an evaluation into the wider topic. Question 3 was very nice for students who prepared the feminist movement as the “and/or” qualification in the question allowed them the ability to dictate the scope of their response,” he said.

“In contrast Question 4′s insistence on including both the moon landing AND Star Wars (the RADAR defense system) might break a few hearts. In the syllabus Star Wars is listed as “Foreign Policy” and so its inclusion with the moon landing is notably out of context.”

Overall, he said the paper was manageable but “definitely challenging as students had to contend with questions that were unfamiliar”.

Ordinary level

The ordinary level exam - which can often be more predictable and accessible that its higher level counterpart - will have been equally well received by students and teachers, Dockery said.

“Again, Stalin’s show trials was the focus of the Documents Based Question. I very much welcome the higher and ordinary Level exam having similar DBQs, particularly considering that the average senior history groups will have higher and ordinary level students learning together in the one class.”

When teaching ordinary level students, Dockery said his advice to them is always to focus mainly on the case studies for each topic and the key personalities.

“Candidates who followed this approached will have been happy with this exam,” he said. “Many of the main personalities from Irish history found their way into the exam including O’Connell; Parnell; Davitt; Roscommon man Douglas Hyde; Collins and de Valera.

“Women will also well represented in the guise of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Countess Markievicz and Maureen O’Hara.”

He said the ‘Europe and the Wider World’ topics were also varied and offered the well prepared candidate the opportunity to do well.

“As a history teacher, my hope for any exams is that it will give the student a chance to show off all they know, and this exam certainly did that,” he said.

Leaving Cert students Sarah Daly, Kelsey Scully and Sophie Williams discuss their Leaving Cert exams at Trinity Comprehensive School, Ballymun, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Leaving Cert French: ‘A challenge for those seeking top grades’

Students were generally pleased with an approachable higher-level French paper, but there certainly were challenges for those aiming for top marks, teachers have said.

My colleague Peter McGuire has filed a detailed reaction piece here.

It also has the higher level and ordinary level exam papers embedded.

Try this one at home, from page 11 of today’s exam:

Votre cousin/cousine va venir habiter chez vous parce qu’il/elle va faire des études dans votre ville. Vos parents vous ont demandé de partager votre chambre avec lui/elle. Qu’est-ce que vous notez à ce sujet dans votre journal intime ?

Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Try for yourself: Junior Cycle home economics

In a sign of the times, there’s a big focus on recycling, cutting down waste and using locally sourced foods.

But we were most struck by this section, which may suit budding Room To Improve fans...

Page 4 of Junior Cycle home economics
Contributed to DocumentCloud by Carl O'Brien (The Irish Times) • View document or read text

Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

French Leaving Cert higher level: ‘Very challenging’ in parts

The verdict on the French higher level paper is mixed, according to teachers and students.

The French Teachers’ Association of Ireland said the aural was felt by students to be clear and well-paced, while the written section of the paper in general gave a good variety of topics and tasks for students.

However, it said the reading comprehension section was ”very challenging in parts” and required, at times, a “great deal of deduction from the student”.

“The answers sought in some questions required a knowledge of specific places and idioms which some students realistically would not have,” the association said, in a statement.

“This was also evident in written production - question three - where students were asked to give their opinion on the respective merits of travelling with a bike by ferry or plane. It was felt that the average student would not know about the possibilities of this.”

Corinne Gavenda, French teacher with the Institute of Education, said the exam’s contemporary topics and broad questions gave students lots of scope for their answers.

“Students will be happy with a paper that reflects many of the topics they would have prepared throughout their examination preparations,” she said. “Students looking for the top marks would have needed to pause and plan their pieces to ensure they were clear and coherent.”

Deborah Ewing, French teacher at St Mary’s, Knockbeg College, Carlow, and a Studyclix subject expert, said while it was a “friendly and approachable” paper, there were plenty of challenges for students aiming for the top H1 grade.

“The language in the comprehensions was very approachable and for the most part, students would have had little problem understanding the texts. However, key vocab was certainly being tested, with only some tricky vocab that students may not have met before,” she said.

Written exam

Students opening the paper will be pleased to see some contemporary and accessible topics appearing, Gavenda said.

“The reading comprehension texts of Section A were very relatable in their themes and manageable in their questions. The first text was a young woman reacting to criticism of her area in a manner that drew on social issues and particularly issues affecting young people,” she said.

“The vocabulary for all of this would be familiar as many would have prepared similar discussion points for their orals.”

Many, however, will have been momentarily bogged down by phrasing in question 5 (a) which would have required several passes to fully grasp, she said.

The second text featured a young adult pondering their direction in life, something that is very apt to students at this phase of their lives.

“Again the questions were very approachable with two straightforward possessive reformulations, but the third will have been a challenge to all but the top scores,” she said.

“In both texts the sixth question allowed students great scope to draw on the whole text, rather than a prescribed narrow range of paragraphs.”

The productive writing section, meanwhile, was “rich in viable choices”.

However, in order to make the most of these opportunities, students will have needed to pause and plan their approaches.

“While every student will be able to say something, top scorers will look to distinguish themselves with their clarity and spontaneity in expression,” she said.

“For example, in question 1 (A) students were asked to assess the idea that the media is giving a false image of young people.”

To effectively argue this, Gavenda students needed to express what that image is and then respond accordingly.

“Question 1 (B) may have puzzled those rushing as the question uses the atypical vocabulary choice of “des centres” rather than “les passe-temps” for ‘hobbies’,” she said.

“As such some may have thought the question meant locations of cultural interest rather than activities.”

The narrative question will have allowed everyone to accrue marks but might not appeal to those looking to differentiate themselves from their peers, she said.

“The final selections were all approachable. The diary gave them loads of scope to decide the mood of the piece. The email on cycling in Ireland was clear in both directions and structure,” she sad.

“As the Olympics are taking place in Paris this year, of course it made an appearance and so students should have lots to say. Question 5 offered a chance to use prepared environmentalist material in response to the claim ‘we all pollute’.”

The final question on optimism in the face of war, famine and natural disasters required a philosophical approach that would have been challenging to everyone, she said.

“However, with ample choice and a lack of time pressure, students should have been able to find a combination of questions that fairly represented themselves on the page.”

Deborah Ewing shared some similar observations on the written paper.

“The grammar question included finding a Participe Présent which would have been covered by teachers in class and finding the word to which a masculine pronoun referred to - both very doable. The themes in both comprehensions were very topical - problems in a neighbourhood and a student’s desire to give up his further studies and go travel the world,’ she said.

“There was good choice in the written section. Among some of the topics that came up were the media, the much anticipated Olympic games, pollution and a récit (narrative) on how you spent your 18th birthday money.”

However, she said there was not as much opportunity, as with previous years, for students to reuse and draw on material they had learned for the oral exam, which was “a pity”.

“The language was approachable in the questions. The topics were somewhat topical with some little twists that required students to read and understand the questions fully,” Ewing said.

“The written section would have posed no problems to well-prepared students, able to express their own opinion and use a variation of tenses. There was little room to use learned off material ,but rather express your own opinion on certain topics. There was largely positive feedback from the students to a fair and approachable paper.”


Gavenda said section A was about working from home and would have been extremely approachable for all students, as Section A usually is.

“Section B was about wheelchair basketball and so here we saw a reappearance of sport vocabulary. It was very clear and read at a friendly pace,” she said.

As per usual Section C was a conversation between two friends.

“There was a tricky question on “le canard rôti au miel”, honey roasted duck, which might be a bit difficult but otherwise there was no awkward vocabulary,” she said.

“Section D was topical with its theme of artificial intelligence. This demanded more focus as the answers are slightly longer but the vocabulary still very approachable.”

The final section would have posed the greatest challenge with some unusual phrases, “world champion of chips”, but these were only a few moments in an otherwise student-friendly exam, Gavenda said.


Overall, the ordinary Level paper was considered to be quite fair and a good assessment of what students would have studied in preparation for the exam, theFrench Teachers’ Association of Ireland said.

“For the most part, the reading comprehension questions were fair and within the students’ scope,” it said. “The written production section did push students to know their tenses but gave a good choice of tasks and was in line with what the students would have expected.”

It said this stood in sharp contrast to the Junior Cycle French Common Level paper on Tuesday which introduced “totally unexpected and unannounced written tasks to the surprise of students and teachers alike”.

Deborah Ewing also said the ordinary level paper was “predictable, straightforward and had no surprises”.

“The student that put in a solid bit of work would have found it accessible and would have been rewarded,” she said. “A solid foundation in grammar and vocabulary would have been necessary to achieve a top result . Overall students were happy coming out of the exam hall.”


It’s true ... some of us have never gotten over the Leaving Cert

Sorting and dispatching Leaving Certificate and Junior Cycle scripts at State Examinations Commission in Athlone in 2015. Much of this is now done online. Photograph: Alan Betson

In numbers...


- That’s the estimated number of examination papers being given to candidates during the course of this year’s State exams. It’s an even bigger logistical exercise than normal due to a record number of students sitting the exams and a greater number of individual subjects being assessed.

Since you didn’t ask, there are 136,160 candidates sitting exams in 5,849 main and some 9,500 special examination centres through the State’s network of over 800 post-primary schools, and other venues recognised by the State Examinations Commission.

Emer O'Neill, broadvcaster and PE teacher.

My elbow was in bits and I had to write for hours

Broadcaster, author and PE teacher Emer O’Neill is the latest to share her exam experiences in our ‘My Leaving’ series.

Despite a rough-and-tumble GAA match in the lead up to the exams, she aced the papers and secured a scholarship in the US.

You can read all about it here.

Also, you can check out others in our ‘My Leaving’ series:

Matt Cooper on the Leaving Cert: ‘I still have nightmares about it

Terry Prone on the Leaving Cert: ‘Fellow sixth years were crying in the corridors

Mario Rosenstock on the Leaving Cert: ‘It was smack bang in the middle of Euro ‘88. Naturally, the weather was amazing

Joanna Donnelly on the Leaving Cert: ‘I read my chemistry book for fun on off-days

Simon Harris on Leaving Cert: ‘The panic and fear we are instilling in people demands change

Sean Cleary (18), Leaving Cert exam diarist at Stepaside Educate Together Secondary School. Photograph: Fran Veale

Leaving Cert student diary: ‘I’ve done my best to stay calm and composed’

The Leaving Cert can spark a whole host of emotions: panic, anxiety, despair, joy, relief.

Seán Cleary, however, is feeling philosophical.

Our exam diarist shares his thoughts on how the exams are going so far here.

“Everybody knows that you can cram as much as possible into every waking hour, but I feel I reached a point where I can only have faith that I have done what I can, and that our teachers have prepared us as best as they can, too.”

With this kind of level headedness, he’ll go far.