Leaving Cert engineering: Rollercoasters and smartphones

Good reaction to an unexpectedly newsworthy paper

The somewhat uncanny inclusion of both a short and a long question about rollercoaster safety brought the higher level engineering paper bang up to date for Thursday morning’s Leaving Cert students.

Even without the Alton Towers incident, however, the paper held its own in a modern world with questions about touchscreen technology, smartphone components and fuel injection engine systems all making an appearance.

"The engineering exam has evolved," said ASTI subject rep Eamon Dennehy, who teachers in Heywood Community School in Laois. "There is an effort to make the topics relevant to students."

Indeed the special topic which features in the exam and which students research beforehand, changes each year. This means that the exam is always reasonably up-to-date. This year’s special research topic was on fuel injection systems and the exam question contained “a fair bit of detail” according to Dennehy. “The paper was certainly challenging in places. Students would have had to work hard to get their marks,” he said.


Chair of the Engineering Technology Teachers’ Association, Ciarán Callaghan agreed. “There was a good mix of engineering science and practical application,” he said. “The questions about rollercoaster safety design were excellent and relevant, although the examiners couldn’t have known how relevant they would be.”

The knowledge required in the rollercoaster question followed through to a question about the materials needed for mouthguards in sport . “The paper definitely required independent thought,” Callaghan said.

While the paper was challenging in parts, weaker students also got the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge. “The fuel injection question in particular was very well done,” Callaghan said. “Everyone got an opportunity in that question.”

There weren’t as many popular references on the ordinary level paper. Only about 800 of the 5,500 students who sit engineering do ordinary level.

Today’s exam was worth 50 per cent of the overall mark, students having already completed a project and practical examination earlier in the year.

Overall the engineering paper drew praise from teachers for its dynamism. “Who would have thought that when the iPad came out, questions about the type of glass used on its screen would be featuring on a Leaving Cert exam just a couple of years after that?” Callaghan said.