Leaving Cert agricultural science: A ‘disquieting’ paper with some daunting first impressions

In a stressful exam scenario, students could easily have been spooked by some surprises

Photograph: Alan Betson

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Today’s Leaving Cert agricultural science higher level paper presented a daunting challenge for many students who were met with suprises and novel questions.

However, Catriona Hendry, agricultural science teacher with the Institute of Education, said the memory of those challenges will likely linger and obscure the fact that those students who kept a broad scope to their revision will have had lots of opportunities for marks.

“If students tried to be too narrow, selective or strategic in their revision they have found few places to hide as the questions ranged over the wide span of all the major course topics,” she said.

Question one, Hendry said, was a “tough introduction” to the paper.


“As an image identification question students will be familiar with the question type, but this examined specific equipment,” she said. “Many students may recognise these pieces as things mentioned as they went through the course, but there is no definitive list of equipment to know.”

She said it was not something that students could single out and practice.

“With so much choice they did not need to answer it, but many will remember that negative as it tints their impressions going forward,” she said. “Disquieting first impressions were a motif that permeated the paper.”

Question two (B), she said, was a “nice evaluation and communication question” with a novel introduction.

“In a stressful exam scenario students could be easily spooked, but the text acted as a useful primer that led you into the topic. Again, very doable but still a little daunting,” Hendry said.

Section one also had major surprises.

The first was the absence of the reoccurring “in a named enterprise” question where students could pick an activity and methodically progress through its elements.

“Enterprises were present but in a fractured and specific matter that narrowed the focus of requested material. Surprisingly there were no experiments in this section when typically a whole page would be given to them,” she said.

Finally, she said Question 3 (B) “removed the support scaffolding” of how to respond by allotting a full page to an answer box without any subdivisions.

“This meant that students had little indication of the quantity of information demanded for full marks,” she said. “The material wasn’t difficult but knowing how to best present it in the exam was. In many ways this exam’s challenge lay in the student’s still with exams, not just the course.|

In balance to this, she said it was important to remember that there were lots of”nice, accessible and fair questions”.

“Throughout the whole paper the calculations were straightforward,” she said. “The table in Question nine would be a direct echo of what students had in their revision notes. The novel ideas or framing of the question were mostly red herrings that masked a familiar task.

“Some students might have baulked at the unfamiliar term “agroforestry” but after a pause, a deep breath and scan of what was being asked many will feel satisfied that they managed to see the wood for the trees and claim their marks.”

Section B, she said, was “reassuringly typical” with clearer questions.

“Grass, sileage, beef, soil and the feeding of young animals all made appearances in a manner that will suit the well-prepared student. What was notable was a few absences: little tillage, seeding and only a passing pictorial reference to pigs,” she said.

“This is a paper that many students will be happy with once given the time to reflect but many will have felt the process of doing the paper to be more taxing than expected. Well-prepared students who could adapt to the questions should feel themselves rewarded with a trove of little victories.”