Junior Cert Science: Science teachers slam new common level paper

Paper described as ‘totally dumbed down’


Science teachers hit out at the new common-level Junior Cycle paper, saying that it does not prepare students for Leaving Cert physics and chemistry. Michael McGrath, ASTI subject representative and a science teacher at St Augustine’s College in Dungarvan, Co Waterford had a “minimal” amount of physics and chemistry and almost no questions on experiments.

“It is totally dumbed down and I feel despondent,” Mr McGrath said. “If someone wants to take physics at senior cycle, they will find it is a massive leap between this course and what is expected for the Leaving Cert. Ireland will suffer because our future scientists will not be ready for their subjects in either third-level or the workplace.”

He said that a focus on critical thinking skills and a disdain for rote learning is misplaced. “When it comes to science, students do also need to know the facts, such as how to properly and safely use a bunsen burner or how their own kidneys work.”

Luke Saunders, Studyclix.ie founder and a science teacher at Jesus and Mary Secondary School in Enniscrone, Co Sligo, was slightly less critical of the new format but still had several concerns.

“It does feel overly simple for the high achievers and feels like a step backwards in terms of properly challenging the top third of the class,” he said. “This is a view, I believe, that is shared among most science teachers. By focusing on scientific literacy, almost anyone with a bit of common sense could do this paper, even with little or no preparation. It has perhaps moved too far from factual knowledge.”

Mr McGrath said that lecturers in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects are “tearing their hair out” about the quality of students being accepted onto their third-level courses and blamed “dumbing down” of the science course, which he feels will be exacerbated by the new common-level course. “We are following the English system: they have marched their students to the top of the hill, seen that it doesn’t work and are marching down again. We are meeting them on the way down and ignoring their advice that the view isn’t good up there.”

Mr McGrath was also critical of the changes to the biology section. “The biology section has dropped key, factual knowledge such as the human skeleton. Instead, we have questions on the density of the planet Jupiter and how many moons it has - do we really need this instead of specifics on the human body?”

He said that some of the questions were “dead easy” with the exception of a question linking bacteria to the theory of evolution, which he saw as an unnecessary linkage that would confuse many.

He added that his students were all “delighted” coming out of the paper, but that this was because they were not challenged. “I would always worry when all the students say the paper was a doddle,” he said.

Mr Saunders, however, did welcome that the paper was very topical, with references to climate change, sustainability, our depletion of iridium for use in mobile phones. There was also a question on cutting-edge research from UCC which showed the link between gut bacteria and stress-related disorders.

“Science teachers would have been interested to see how the space science section of the course was examined as this is a new addition to the curriculum,” said Mr Saunders. “The questions here were fair and should have been accessible to most students. A nice touch was that examiners managed to include a question on the moon that honoured the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing and also tied in a reference to the more recent landing of the Chinese Chang’e-4 lander that touched down on the dark side of the moon.”


Global warming can cause the melting of ice sheets and glaciers, which is partly responsible for rising sea levels.

(a) Name a human activity which has led to global warming.

(b) State a consequence of rising sea levels on coastal areas

(c) Ice sheets are the natural habitat of animals such as polar bears. State one adaptation of polar bears that makes them suited to this habitat.

(d) Would you expect the population of polar bears to increase or decrease as ice sheets melt?

(e) When solid ice changes state to become liquid water, this is called melting. What name is given to the change of state when liquid water becomes solid ice?