How to understand the new points system

Peter McGuire explains the changes in the Leaving Certificate marking scheme

This year's Leaving Certs finally have their  results. For some, it may have been a little confusing. Gone are A1s, B2s and C3s and, in their place, are H1s-H8s for higher-level subjects and O1s-O8s for ordinary-level subjects. The failure rate has also fallen because the old E grade has been abolished and students taking higher-level papers get points for grades between 30-39 points.

What was wrong with the old system?

There were 14 grade bands under the old system ranging from an A1 to an NG. Most of these grades were separated by just five per cent. Students often, heartbreakingly, missed out on a course by just five points.

How does the new system work?

Hopefully, most students will by now be familiar with the new procedures and the CAO points calculator. If not, here’s a quick recap: There are just eight grade bands under the new system and they are separated by margins of 10 per cent. At higher level, the highest possible grade is a H1 (90-100 per cent), which gives a student 100 points, while the lowest grade is a H8 (0-30 per cent) for which students don’t get any points. At ordinary level, the highest grade is an O1 which gives a student 56 points, while the lowest are an 07 and an O8 for which students don’t get any points.

What are the benefits of the new system?

One of the biggest pluses is that it puts less focus on points gaps and reduces the likelihood that students will miss out due to random selection. Advocates say it should also reduce some of the pressure on students to struggle for just an extra one or two per cent.

Did the marking scheme change?

No. The State Examinations Commission still issued marking schemes for each exam, and papers were still marked on a bell curve, meaning students were not penalised if a paper or particular questions were especially difficult.

Do I still get bonus points for maths?


That’s the maximum number of points I can get?

As with the old system, a student’s points are calculated on their six best subjects. So, as with the old system, a student who gets between 90 and 100 per cent in six higher-level subjects will still get 600 points. If, for instance, a student got a H1, two H3s, a H4, an O1 and two O3s, under the new system they will pick up 413 CAO points.

One of my grades is a H7. Have I failed?

Under the old system, an E grade was given to students who scored between 25 and 39 per cent, and this was a fail for which they didn’t pick up any CAO points. Under the new system, however, a H7 is awarded for between 30 and 39 per cent, giving students 37 CAO points. The aim of this change is to recognise that a grade of between 30 and 39 per cent on a higher-level paper is still an achievement, and to discourage students dropping down to pass at the last minute.

Is the new system fair?

There are advantages and disadvantages to the new system and it is not without its critics. Under the old system, if John got 79 per cent in, say, English and Laura got 75 per cent, they got the same points. Now, however, if John gets 79 per cent and Laura gets 70 per cent, they still get the same points. There’s an argument that, in this competitive system, students who get an extra nine per cent should be rewarded and that they are being punished for doing better. For most students, however, the gains in some subject will likely be cancelled out by losses in others, but it remains to be seen how students react to these changes when they get their CAO offers.