How much will CAO points increase? All bets off this year

Grade inflation will send points upwards – but more college places may ease pressure

On Friday at 2pm when first-round offers are released, all will be revealed. Photograph: iStock

On Friday at 2pm when first-round offers are released, all will be revealed. Photograph: iStock


As the release of the CAO offers draws near, students and parents are flooding The Irish Times live helpdesk ( with inquiries relating to the expected points increase across courses.

On Friday at 2pm when first-round offers are released, all will be revealed.

But what elements will go into determining the score of the student who secures the final place in each course tomorrow?

The most important component in determining the CAO points score of that final place to be offered is the total number of places the college offers in a specific programme.

If the number of places remain the same as in 2019 and the CAO points score of Leaving Cert students remained constant in the current year compared to last year, then there will probably be very little movement in the points required to secure a place on that course.

As we all know 2020, and what has occurred in the current year, means that all bets are off when trying to predict how points will go for individual courses this year.

Grades for this year’s cohort of Leaving Cert students are on average 4.4 per cent ahead of those achieved by students in 2019.

Very generous

Looked at from the perspective of honours degree courses, where most of the competition for college places occurs, the number of students taking higher level papers has also increased by 3 per cent from 66 to 69.

We know teachers were very generous with their estimated grades for students. In fact, these marks would have to be reduced in 60 per cent of cases to bring the performance back in line with last year’s scores.

The actual reduction in the scores submitted by teachers was 17 per cent, with 4 per cent of estimated grades being increased. So, 79 per cent of estimated grades remained as teachers originally submitted them. The mean average CAO points score increase in student performance at higher level in 2020 is about 10 per cent.

If the number of places on offer from colleges remain constant, then one might expect CAO points for each programme to increase sharply.

This would be hugely upsetting for students who secured surprisingly good outcomes on Monday last, and thought on the basis of their results that they were certain to receive an offer of their preferred course.

For the 20,000 CAO applicants who carry results forward from 2019 and previous years, they are at a huge disadvantage.

The Government, mindful of the damage so many disappointed CAO applicants could have, has been frantically providing additional places throughout the third-level system. Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris announced that 80 0 were sourced on Wednesday, in addition to 1,250 additional places created last week. Many of these will be allocated to high-demand courses.

The hope is to bring them back down to as close as possible to 2019 levels. The extent to which he will have succeeded or not, will become evident at 2pm on Friday.