Are you ready to climb that mountain all over again?


The decision to repeat or not is a big one – are you chasing extra points or do you simply want a second chance at getting that great education? Think carefully and take a lot of advice

TO REPEAT or not to repeat? Its a thorny issue at the best of times. Some people are only delighted with the outcome of doing the exams second time around. For others, repeating leads to yet another bitter disappointment at results time the following year. Going back is a difficult decision. How do you know what’s best for you?

First you need to be honest with yourself, according to Paul Toal of “Students need to ask themselves exactly how hard they worked,” he says. “If you didn’t put in the effort, you need to acknowledge that and ask yourself whether you are willing to work hard on a second attempt.”

Motivation is the single biggest predictor of repeat success. “I had a student who really wanted to go to Queen’s University in Belfast,” Toal says. “He got an offer of a place in an Irish university but he really wanted Queen’s. He was just super motivated and he worked extremely well. He should get great results.”

In the absence of ambition or the necessary motivation, Toal recommends students either taking some time away from education to figure out what they want to do, or doing a post Leaving Cert course in an area of interest. “If you can build up a bit of maturity and experience it can really get you on track for a successful repeat year if that’s what you want,” Toal says.

Of course, if the Leaving Cert didn’t go so well, repeating isn’t necessarily your only option. “A lot of students ask me whether there’s a back door into their required course,” says Toal. “It’s worth getting some advice and exploring your options in terms of level six and seven qualifications or doing a degree and then a masters in your favoured area.”

These options need to be considered in terms of time and cost. How much extra study time is involved? Sometimes, repeating the Leaving Cert can be the quicker and cheaper option but it entirely depends on the path of study involved.

Where to repeat is another decision. Some students want to go back to their old school, while others prefer a fresh start in either a grind school or a school that has a specialist repeat class. “I had a student who wanted pharmacy and when she didn’t get it in her own school, she moved down to Galway and repeated. She didn’t get the points that time around and eventually opted to go to a Dublin grind school. That time she was successful. Each time she was focused and put the work in but in the end she needed something more – be it notes or a different style of teaching – and that worked for her,” says Toal. “That won’t be the case for everyone. Each student is different.”

Subject choice may influence your choice of school. If you know what subjects you want to study you need to check that your ideal combination is provided by your school of choice. Remember, if you have passed or achieved your minimum required grade in the core subjects, you do not need to sit them again. For example, if you have a C in maths, you could drop it and take up another subject like home economics if you believe you could get a better grade in home economics than you could in maths. There is of course a risk in doing a two-year course in one year but each student needs to calculate that for themselves.

It’s largely advisable to do seven subjects rather than trying to rely on six. “Anything can go wrong on a given day,” Toal says. “There could always be an exam that catches you out. You should try to have more than you need. Seven subjects allows you to do that.”

Toal warns against too much of a results focus. “You can’t forget that repeating students also need to be educated. School, even when repeating, shouldn’t be just about points and results. It’s about education and I think that a regular school rather than one that is simply focussed on repeating is well equipped to provide that,” he says. Changing teachers can lend a new perspective to students, but the key according to Toal is hard work.


Age: 19

From: Rathfarnham, Dublin

“I was certain that I didn’t want to repeat. I was saying that all year but when it came down to it I didn’t want to settle for something that I didn’t really want.

“I was aiming high last year. I did loads during the year but I found the exams really tricky. I ended up with 515 points on results day. I was on the brink of an A in so many subjects. It was so disappointing. I was offered science in UCD – I even accepted it – but when it came down to making the decision I decided to give the Leaving Cert another try.

“I did go back and view my papers but by that stage I had decided to repeat so it was more for my own information than looking for upgrades. It was pretty useful to see how the papers were marked.

“I’m hoping to get veterinary. I’ve wanted to do it since I was really young. I decided to go to Rathmines College. It’s really close to where I live and it caters for a lot of repeat students. It’s not really expensive which is always good. I liked the relaxed atmosphere and it was nice to get to know a whole new group of people.

“I did eight subjects last year, so this year I dropped English and Irish and just focused on the remaining six. There was a lot of pressure throughout the year. I was worrying the whole time. It’s weird but for all that stress, I actually found the year quite enjoyable. It was much better than doing the Leaving the first time around.

“This year, I felt much better coming out of the exams. I really hope I’ve done enough. I don’t know, we’ll see. If I don’t get it this year, I think I’ll end up taking a different route like pharmacy or radiology. I think I’d enjoy those careers.

“I’d definitely recommend repeating. I think it helps if you have something to aim for. I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience.”


Age: 19

From: South Circular Road, Dublin

“I had no idea what I wanted to do first time around and I sort of mucked up my CAO form. I was offered arts in UCD but I wasn’t really convinced. Some cousins of mine had repeated and they ended up getting exactly what they wanted. I thought if I repeated, I’d be able to get more points and I’d have a year to reflect on what I actually wanted to do.

“I opted to go to the Institute of Education – I couldn’t have repeated in my old school anyway but I had heard good things. It’s the place to go I suppose. It’s much more like college than school. You have to want to repeat. There’s absolutely no point in trying to make someone do it. It won’t work. I think it suited me really well.

“I went through phase after phase of different ideas. For a while I wanted to do law, then I toyed with the idea of teaching but science was always in the background. It just gradually began to rise to the top I suppose. I’m particularly interested in earth sciences but I was advised to keep my options open if I can so I’ve science in Trinity down as my first choice and earth science is my number two.

“The year went so quickly the second time around. I dropped history and took up agricultural science. It was a good decision. I was taking geography and biology and there was a bit of crossover there.

“I decided to take six subjects. It might seem like a risk not to have one extra but actually if you do the work rather than trying to guess what might come up and take risks in that way it’s okay. Trying to predict what’s going to come up is a much bigger gamble.

“The exams were calmer. I had done it all before. There wasn’t the same kind of adrenaline rush as the first time round. I remember the first time, doing the CAO application and it really hitting me that the exams were just around the corner. I could actually feel the stress levels rising. This time was a lot less frantic.

“I was happy enough with how everything went. I don’t want to jinx it but fingers crossed.”


Age: 25

From: Cork

“I actually did my first Leaving Cert nine years ago when I was just 16. It went okay. I got 500 points or thereabouts and I got the course I wanted – Law in UCC. I did the degree and a masters and I worked for a few years but while my job was fine, I wasn’t really happy with the idea that I’d be doing it for the rest of my life.

“I suppose that’s the problem with making life decisions at the age of 16 or 17. How are you really going to know what you want to do? It’s important to me to be in a job that I like.

“I’ve always loved animals and I applied last year for a place on a course in wildlife biology. I was offered a place but when it came down to it I wondered what I’d end up doing. Veterinary seemed more secure, with a more defined career path.

“You can’t do veterinary as a mature student so I had no option but to repeat the Leaving Cert. People who know me were like, “What? Are you crazy?”

I was working in Citizens Information and I applied for a career break in order to go back and study in the College of Commerce in Cork. It was the only place I could find that catered for adults.

“There are places where adults who have never done the Leaving Cert can go but there isn’t really much for adults who want to repeat. I was in classes with 18 and 19 year-olds but it was okay. In a way it didn’t seem that long since I had sat the exams the first time.

“I prepared myself mentally for it. I was a lot more focused than I had been first-time round. I knew what I had to do. I dropped maths (always hated it) and took up chemistry. I actually quite enjoyed it.

“I have a friend who’s a chemistry teacher so she helped me out. I need a C3. I think it will definitely be my seventh subject though – I’m not relying on it for points.

“I found the exams hard. You just get on with it because you have to. I didn’t have time to freak out, which is probably a good thing. If you thought too much about all that’s riding on a three-hour exam it would be too much. I was wrecked afterwards.

“Exams went okay. I think I’m close but if you asked me to guess whether I’ve done enough or not, I’d probably say I’m a bit short. We’ll see what happens. I have options if I don’t manage to get veterinary in UCD.

“Time will tell.”

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