Leaving Cert: Fewer questions and more choice under new changes to exams

Time pressure on students will be relieved under changes to 2021 written papers

Leaving Cert students will have fewer questions to answer and greater choice in their written exams this year. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Leaving Cert students will have fewer questions to answer and greater choice in their written exams this year. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Leaving Cert students will have fewer questions to answer and greater choice in their written exams this year under changes announced on Tuesday evening.

The duration of each exam will remain unchanged which will substantially relieve time pressure on students.

The 63 -page State Examinations Commission (SEC) document states that these new changes will lessen the load on students in light of the disruption they have experienced due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The introduction of further choice and reduction in the number of questions to be answered means that, in many cases, the exam no longer samples across the entire syllabus or subject specification.

In the case of some subjects, entire categories of skill may not be assessed at all for candidates who choose particular combinations of questions that would not be allowed in a normal year.

A detailed subject-by-subject guide to the changes has been produced by the SEC.

In higher level English, for example, candidates will not be required to answer on Shakespearean drama.

On paper one, students will only be required to answer one question in section I (comprehending) instead of two.

In paper two, candidates will also be required to answer fewer questions than before with more choice available in section II ( comparative study) and in section III (poetry).

In prescribed poetry, for example, there will be additional choice with questions on five of the poets prescribed for study in 2021 rather than on four poets as was the norm.

The adjustments were finalised following discussions between the Department of Education, National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the SEC.

They are additional to the previous adjustments, but in some instances these further adjustments supersede the previous ones.

The adjustment apply to the written examinations only and there is no change to oral, aural, coursework or performance tests.

The document says the changes aim to maintain the overall structure and layout of the exam paper so they remain as familiar as possible to candidates.

No new material has been added to the papers and, for the most part, no material removed.

To the greatest extent possible, all amendments to the papers simply involve changing the instructions on the exam paper on what questions candidates are required to answer.

There may be a small redistribution of marks within exam papers as a result of the introduction of further choice.

However, in the case of subjects with more than one paper and subjects with practical coursework, oral, aural or listening tests, the relative weighting between the other components and the written paper will be retained.

The SEC says while every effort was made to ensure consistency in the level of reduction in the demand on candidates across different subjects and levels, the different structures of the exams placed “significant limits on the degree to which this could be achieved”.

“However, the great majority of candidates take a wide range of subjects (six to eight) and therefore, in the round, the level of benefit accruing to candidates from these changes will be broadly even across the range of subjects they take, although it is recognised that this will not be true in respect of all subject combinations.”

Description

The new document provides a description of what candidates will be required to answer in the exam and draws attention to how it differs from what is usually required.

The amended instructions as they will appear on the examination paper are also provided in the document.

A selection of changes to the Leaving Cert exam papers 2021:

Biology
Higher level and ordinary level

The 2021 examination papers will have three sections: Section A, Section B and Section C. Increased choice is provided with additional questions provided in the examination paper, combined with a reduced number of questions for candidates to complete.

Section A – There are seven short questions (Q1–Q7). Candidates are required to answer any four questions from this section. Each question carries 20 marks. The total for Section A is 80 marks.

Section B – There are three mandatory practical questions (Q8-Q10). Candidates are required to answer any one question from this section. Each question will align with a specific unit(s) within the syllabus as follows: Q8 will have practical activities from unit 1, sub-unit 2.1 and 2.5; Q9 will have practical activities from sub-unit 2.2 and Q10 will have practical activities from unit 3. Each question carries 30 marks. The total for Section B is 30 marks.

Section C – There are seven long questions (Q11-Q17), including additional internal choice in two questions (Q16 and Q17). Candidates are required to answer any three questions from this section. In relation to both Q16 and Q17, an additional part (d) has been added to each question, giving candidates a choice of four question parts (a), (b), (c), (d). If a candidate chooses to answer these questions they will be required to answer any two parts in each of these two questions.

Each question carries 60 marks. The total for Section C is 180 marks.

The total mark allocation for the examination paper in 2021 is 290 marks, instead of the usual 400 marks.

Business
Higher Level

The 2021 examination paper will have three sections as usual.

In Section 1, candidates are usually required to answer 8 short answer questions out of 10. In 2021, candidates will be required to answer 4 out of a total of 12 short answer questions.

In Section 2, as always, candidates are required to answer the Applied Business Question (ABQ).

In Section 3, candidates are usually required to answer 4 out of 7 questions – choosing one question from Part 1, two questions from Part 2 and one other question from Part 1 or Part 2. In 2021, there will be an additional question added to Part 1 to provide more choice. Candidates will be required to answer 3 out of 8 questions. They will be required to choose one question from Part 1, one question from Part 2 and the third question from either Part 1 or Part 2.

The total mark allocation for the examination paper will be 300 marks, instead of the usual 400 marks.

Instructions to candidates on the examination paper, Higher level, 2021

English
Higher Level, Paper 1

In Section I, Comprehending, instead of answering a Question A on one text and a Question B on another text, as is usually required, this year candidates will be required to answer only ONE question in Section I. They must answer either one Question A OR one Question B on ONE text in this section. All questions in Section I will be marked out of 40 marks in 2021, instead of the usual 50 marks allocated to each question.

Section II, Composing, will remain unchanged. Candidates will still be required to write one composition from the usual list of seven. The composition will be marked, as usual, out of 100 marks.

As a result of these changes, Paper 1 in 2021 will be marked out of a total of 140 marks, instead of the 200 mark total in place in previous years.

English
Higher Level, Paper 2

As with Paper 1, candidates will also be required to answer fewer questions than heretofore, with more choice available in Section II, The Comparative Study and in Section III, Poetry.

This year, instead of answering on all three of the sections that appear on this examination paper, candidates may choose to answer the required number of questions in any two of the following sections:

  • Section I, The Single Text (70 marks)
  • Section II, The Comparative Study (70 marks)
  • Section III, Poetry (70 marks)

NB In order to facilitate the level of choice laid out above, candidates will not be required to answer on Shakespearean Drama in 2021, although of course they may choose to do so.

The usual choice of questions will be offered in Section I, The Single Text, for candidates who opt to answer on this section. As in previous years, candidates will answer one of the two questions set on the particular single text which they have studied.

In Section II, The Comparative Study, a wider choice of modes will be offered, with questions on all three modes prescribed for study in 2021 appearing on the examination paper. Candidates who choose to answer a two-part comparative question – marked out of 30 and 40 marks respectively – must, as usual, refer to one text in answer to Part (a) and to two other texts in answer to Part (b). Candidates who elect to answer a question marked out of a single block of 70 marks in the 2021 examination must refer to at least two texts in their response. Candidates who choose to answer a question on a text in Section I, The Single Text, as usual, may not refer to the same text should they choose to answer a question in Section II, The Comparative Study.

Candidates who choose to answer on Section III, Poetry, will be required, as usual, to answer on both Part A, Unseen Poetry and Part B, Prescribed Poetry. There will be additional choice in Part B, with questions on five of the poets prescribed for study in 2021 rather than on four poets as was the norm.

As a result of these changes, Paper 2, like Paper I, will be marked in 2021 out of a total of 140 marks, instead of the usual 200 mark total.

French
Higher Level

There will be no change to the Listening Comprehension test in 2021.

In Section A, Reading Comprehensions, instead of answering both reading comprehensions 1 and 2, as is usually required, this year, candidates will be required to answer questions on only ONE reading comprehension in this section. Candidates will do either Reading Comprehension 1 or Reading Comprehension 2. This question will be marked out of 60 marks.

In Section B, Written production, as previously notified, candidates will be required to answer TWO questions: question 1, (a) or (b) or (c) and one other question from questions 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. (There will be no internal choice in questions 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6). Question 1 will be marked out of 40 marks and questions 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 will be marked out of 30 marks, (not 60 and 40 respectively as previously notified).

The total mark allocation for the written paper, excluding the aural component, will be 130 marks, instead of the usual 220 marks.

Geography
Higher Level

In Part One, candidates are required to answer short answer questions. In 2021, as in previous years, there are 12 questions in Part One, of which candidates will be required to answer 10.

In Part Two, candidates were previously required to answer four questions, choosing one question from each of the four sections, Physical, Regional, Electives, and Options. In 2021, candidates will be required to answer a total of three questions in Part Two. Candidates may not choose all three questions from the same section, however candidates may choose two questions from the same section. All questions will carry equal marks, 80 marks each.

The total mark allocation for the paper is 320 marks, instead of the usual 400 marks.

History
Higher level

Section 1: Candidates should answer Section 1 (the Documents Based Question) as normal.

Sections 2 and 3: Instead of writing three essays, the candidate are required to write two essays. The essay questions should be chosen from two different topics from the eleven topics in Section 2 (Ireland) and Section 3 (Europe and the wider world).

The total mark allocation for the paper is 300 marks, instead of the usual 400 marks.

Maths
Higher Level and Ordinary Level, Paper 1 and Paper 2

Both Paper 1 and Paper 2 at both levels usually contain two sections and candidates are required to answer all of the questions in each section.

For all four of these papers in 2021, Section A will contain six questions, as usual. However, the marks per question in Section A will increase to 30 marks, and candidates will be required to answer any four of the questions. In Section B, there will be four questions at 50 marks each, and candidates will be required to answer any two of them.

The total mark allocation for each examination paper will be 220 marks, instead of the usual 300 marks.

Applied Leaving Cert

There will be no adjustment to the final examination papers, but a scaling, by a factor of 1.25 will be applied to the mark awarded. For example, where a candidate is awarded 200 marks out of a total of 300, this will now be scaled by 1.25 so that the mark awarded for grading purposes will be 250 marks out of 300.

As previously noted, the mark will be capped at the examination total, so that a candidate whose scaled marks exceed the maximum marks available will be awarded the maximum marks.”