Leaving Cert biology: Covid features on ‘challenging’ paper

Questions on the higher-level paper slightly more difficult than in previous years

 Leaving Cert students sat the biology paper on Tuesday afternoon. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Leaving Cert students sat the biology paper on Tuesday afternoon. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


Biology students had more choices than ever before, but the questions were quite challenging in parts, teachers have said.

Luke Saunders, founder of Studyclix.ie and a biology teacher, said the questions on the higher-level paper were pitched to be slightly more difficult than in previous years.

“The early feedback I am getting from students is that they found the level of detail required in some questions to be challenging,” he said. “I think examiners understand, with more choice, students will have had the ability to really focus their study on a subset of topics and therefore set the questions to really focus on knowledge of the details.”

Wesley Hammond, a biology teacher at the Institute of Education in Dublin, said the questions were nicely phrased.

Tougher topics

“Some of the tougher topics such as genetics and plant reproduction were very manageable this year because the questions were straightforward and easily interpreted,” Mr Hammond said. “A few long questions in Section C combined different sections of the course, which some students might have found more challenging.”

Mr Saunders said that some students would have found the short questions challenging. “Several of the questions drilled into detail within the topic and would have thrown some students expecting to ease slowly into the exam,” he said.

Both teachers said they were happy to see a question on Covid-19 appear.

Contemporary biological issues

“Throughout the exams so far I have been surprised at the dearth of references to the global pandemic we are living through,” said Mr Saunders. “One of the central aims of the Leaving Cert biology syllabus is to make students aware of contemporary biological issues and to be able to apply their biological knowledge to modern society. I was therefore delighted to see that examiners made the call to include a question on Covid-19 on today’s higher paper. Q16 (c) delved into student’s understanding of the immune response to Sars-CoV-2 and then focused on vaccine-induced antibody responses.”

The ordinary level paper, meanwhile, also featured Covid, with a question focusing on viruses and how they are transmitted.

Mr Saunders praised the examiner’s decision to provide an experiment question on looking at plant cells under a microscope. “This would often be the first experiment covered in fifth year biology classes, back in 2019 before Covid emerged to wreak havoc with how teachers worked through the experiments and investigations on the course,” he said.

Try this one at home: Leaving Cert biology (higher level)

Sars-CoV-2 is a novel coronavirus which led to a global Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. A race to produce a vaccine began. The vaccine causes an immune response where antibodies are produced. (i) Mucous membrane linings produce mucus which can help as a physical barrier against the entry of viruses. Name two places in the body where mucus membrane linings are found. (ii) Give the precise location in the body where lymphocytes are produced. (iii) Identify the specific type of lymphocyte that produces antibodies. (iv) Identify one type of white blood cell, other than lymphocytes, that is involved in an immune response.