Higher-level maths students performing well despite doubling in exam numbers

Some 92% of students secured bonus points this year; just 2% failed to pass the exam

While there were concerns many might struggle after opting for higher level maths, most students are flourishing

While there were concerns many might struggle after opting for higher level maths, most students are flourishing


Leaving Cert students are performing remarkably well in higher level maths despite a doubling in the proportion of students taking on the more challenging exam in recent years, according to a new study.

An analysis of the impact of CAO bonus points since they were applied to higher-level maths shows the percentage of students taking the exam has jumped from 15 per cent in 2011 to 31 per cent in 2018.

While there were concerns that many might struggle after making the jump to higher level, most students are flourishing.

Some 92 per cent of this year’s students received the 25 bonus points, achieving a H6 (40 per cent) or better.

A total of 79 per cent secured what used to be known as an “honour” – a H5 (50 per cent) or better.

Modest increase

Just 2 per cent, or just over 300 students, failed to pass the exam.

While this is an increase – 48 – in the number of students failing since 2011, it is modest increase in the context of participation growing by 8,600.

Bonus points were brought in to maximise the number of students opting for higher-level maths and with the long-term goal of improving national competitiveness, skills needs and competencies underpinning innovation.

In addition, more than 4,300 additional female students have sat the higher maths exam since 2011.

Female applicants

This has created a significant increase in the pool of potential female applicants for Stem courses, many of which have poor uptake by females.

Lead researcher and executive dean of DCU’s faculty of engineering and computing Prof Lisa Looney said the bonus points were “clearly serving their purpose and it is fantastic to see a significant increase in the number of female students doing well in higher maths”.

“However, the challenge remains to attract more female students to build on this, by choosing Stem courses at third level,” she said.

She said a number of questions remain regarding improving general standards in maths among school-leavers.

“Upping participation at higher level, while a required step, only raises general standards of maths if the curriculum – how it is taught, assessed and resourced – supports this,” she said.

“Mathematical underpreparedness remains a concern at third level.”