The ups and downs of results 2012


IT HAS been a good year for higher level maths and Irish but the jury is still out on project maths and science. Certainly, the students who decided to take a chance at higher level maths this year will be delighted. The failure rate is down, despite the extra candidates and anyone who managed a D3 or higher has an extra 25 CAO points to bring to the table. Offers come out on Monday and points are on the up.

One interesting development to emerge from the figures today is the decline in the number of external candidates sitting the exams. Students who attend so-called grind schools are listed as external candidates, as are students who opt to sit the exams as individuals. There were 4,361 external candidates for the Leaving Certificate 2009. That number dropped to 2,851 this year. A sign of the economic times for parents perhaps?


After seeing an alarming decline in the numbers taking higher level Irish over the past few years, 2012 was a very good year. An increase of almost 1,600 students taking the subject at higher level (that’s up by 11 per cent on last year) has reversed the trend completely. Fewer students opted for ordinary and foundation level this year. The change in attitude can be linked to the decision six years ago to double the marks for oral work for students who started secondary school in 2006. The oral Irish exam is now worth 40 per cent of the total mark

Irish is normally a subject in which students do well. This year is no exception with 17 per cent of higher level students managing an A grade and more than 87 per cent achieving an honour.


There were plenty of higher level maths students breathing a sigh of relief around the country this morning. There has been an increase of 35 per cent in the numbers taking higher level maths. Many of these students would have opted for the ordinary level paper had it not been for the temptation of 25 extra bonus CAO points for any grade above a D3 in the subject. For them, it was a calculated risk that paid off. Of the 11,131 students that sat the paper, 10,875 passed and the failure rate actually dropped this year. At higher level, almost 10 per cent of students got an A while more than 83 per cent managed the honour. Even if they didn’t get a C, anyone who passed now has those precious bonus points under the belt.

Overall, maths students did pretty well. The failure rate at all three levels is down. Applied maths students saw a huge A rate in their subject with almost 28 per cent of higher level students getting the top grade.


It’s still too early to deliver any substantial verdict on Project Maths, although all students were examined on elements of the new syllabus this year. Supporters of the programme will perhaps be disappointed to see that results from the pilot schools saw a slightly lower honours rate from higher level Project Maths students in comparison to students sitting the mainstream exam. Almost 79 per cent of higher level Project Maths students got an honour in comparison to the 83 per cent of mainstream higher level maths students who managed the same grade.

Ordinary level Project Maths students did better than their mainstream counterparts with almost 76 per cent achieving an A, B or C grade. Just 66 per cent of mainstream ordinary level students matched those grades.


Although there has been a boom in demand for science places at third level, it will be another year or two before we see any real effect in the senior cycle. For now, biology remains, by far the most popular science subject with 22,740 sitting the exam in June. Chemistry and agricultural science saw a reasonable increase in interest, but physics and physics and chemistry were slightly down.

High failure rates are a constant problem for those advocating science. The highest failure rates at higher level in this year’s exam all belong to the sciences. Physics and chemistry topped the table with 11 per cent of students failing. Chemistry is next at 9 per cent, agricultural science, biology and physics all have failure rates of between 7 and 9 per cent.

Agricultural science has one of the lower honours rates with just under 66 per cent of students getting an honour at higher level. The other sciences fare somewhat better with honours rates of more than 70 per cent. Physics students do best with almost three quarters of students managing an A, B or C grade.


French is still the dominant language but it is declining slightly year on year. Some 13,720 students opted for it this year. German remains steady at just over 4,300 higher level candidates and just over 2,500 students sat the higher level Spanish paper in June.

Spanish students fared best of the three with an excellent honours rate of over 82 per cent. 15 per cent of students got an A. 77 per cent of higher level German students got an A, B or C grade. Their A rate was similar to that of Spanish students at just over 15 per cent.

French was slightly tougher with a 75 per cent honours rate at higher level and a little under 14 per cent of students managing a higher level A.

Interestingly, Polish is very much on the up. The numbers taking the exam have increased from 541 in 2010 to 707 in 2012. Russian students numbered 251. At least some of these also sat the higher level Irish exam. A timetabling issue meant that such students had to sit biology, Irish and Russian papers all in one day. It probably paid off, however, as three quarters of the students who sat the exam managed an A.


Music was popular this year, up by more than 200 students at higher level to 5,644.

This may or may not be something to do with the spectacular results higher level students are getting in the subject. It has one of the highest honours rates – almost 95 per cent of students got an A, B or C grade this year. The A grades are thinner on the ground but almost 15 per cent of students still managed the A in the higher level paper.

Art, on the other hand, is slightly down. It lost more than 300 students at higher level this year. Numbers are now under 8,000. It’s a tough subject to get an A in. Just 5 per cent of students were awarded an A at higher level this year. Its honours rate is reasonably good at almost 79 per cent


Biology, home economics and geography often fall foul of the “easy” tag at subject choice time while the likes of higher level Irish, maths and history are seen as subjects to be wary of at higher level.

Well according to this year’s results, biology is the second hardest subject in which to get an honour at higher level. Just 71 per cent of students managed an A,B or C grade in the subject this year. Just under three quarters of home economics students got an honour but the A rate in the subject is low at below 8 per cent. Geography, a hugely popular higher level subject (more than 20,000 students sat the paper in June), has an A rate of 8 per cent and an honours rate of 74 per cent.

Higher level Irish, on the other hand, saw 87 per cent of its higher level students get an honour this year. Maths also had a massive honours rate of 83 per cent at higher level, while history, engineering, accounting and applied maths all had A,B,C rates of over 77 per cent.

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