Leaving Cert Q&A: Will results climb to a record high?

Grade inflation is likely when thousands receive their results on Friday

Students this year had the choice of sitting written exams, opting for “accredited grades” or both. Students will automatically be credited with the better of the two results

So when exactly will students get to see their Leaving Cert results?

Tens of thousands of Leaving Cert students will be able to access their results online from 10am on Friday, September 3rd, using the "candidate self service portal" on the State Examinations Commission's website. Students will not need to go to schools to get them, but they will be available from there also.

CAO results are due to be made available to students online four days later on September 7th at 2pm.

Remind me how the Leaving Cert was organised this year?


Students this year had the choice of sitting written exams, opting for “accredited grades”, or both. Students will automatically be credited with the better of the two results. Most students opted for a mix of written exams and accredited grades.

The accredited grades model is similar to calculated grades from last year in that it uses teachers’ estimated marks combined with a standardisation process aimed at promoting fairness and consistency across schools.

The system has been rebuilt using new computer code and quality assurance checks are in place, the State Examination Commission (SEC) said.

School historical data is not being used for calculating students’ accredited grades this year,but further “refinements” to last year’s system have been explored, according to the SEC.

Will students' results show a breakdown of whether grades were awarded from the written exams or the accredited grade process?

No. Neither candidates nor schools will know whether the result awarded was from an exam or an accredited grade. The results from both processes have equal status.

However, students will have access to this information four days after they receive their results – on Tuesday, September 7th, from 5pm. This will show which grade was achieved via accredited grades or written exams.

Are grades likely to be higher than normal this year?

Yes. Last year the average marks awarded in higher level subjects were about 10 per cent higher than normal.

This was due to the system of calculated grades, which was based on teachers’ estimates and a standardisation process. This year’s “accredited grades” is based on a similar system so, at the very least, we can expect a similar level of grade inflation from this process.

However, education analysts expect the fact that students’ will be automatically credited with a higher written exam result will push grade inflation higher than last year.

It’s difficult to say by how much. The only indicator we have is when students sat the delayed Leaving Cert exams in November and December last year. About 40 per cent of those students performed better in the written exams compared to their accredited grades.

So, will grade inflation push CAO points requirements higher?

In all likelihood, yes. There is a record number of CAO applicants – 84,000 – seeking college places this year, driven by a combination of demographics (high numbers of Leaving Cert students), overseas applications linked to Brexit and applications from mature students seeking to retrain.

CAO points requirements, put simply, are a reflection of supply and demand for individual courses.

The likelihood that students will – on average – perform better this year due to grade inflation will add to upwards pressure on points.

The Government, however, has added about 4,500 additional higher education places in high-demand courses in the hope that it will dampen down a rise in CAO points and ensure more students get their first or second choice.

What will all this mean for applicants applying for college places based on Leaving Cert results they achieved in previous years?

They are likely to be the big losers. It is estimated that about 15,000 or so applicants are applying to the CAO using results they achieved in previous years such as 2020, 2019, 2018 and so on.

If there is significant grade inflation this year they stand to lose out most. This is because their Leaving Cert results will be worth less than in previous years.

While applications with 2020 results might not be impacted as heavily, those with results from 2019 and earlier in particular will suffer given that there was only minimal grade inflation up to that point.

Grade inflation went through the roof in the UK this year. Does this mean those students will be at an unfair advantage in the points race?

If grade inflation is significantly higher in the UK compared to the Republic, it will put these students at an advantage in the hunt for CAO places.

There are 2,400 UK applicants this year out of a total of about 84,000. Their A-level results will be converted to CAO points using a published scale.

These numbers, however, are unlikely to make too much difference to most third-level courses, except in colleges such as Trinity College Dublin. It typically has the most UK applicants.

The fact that most UK – and EU – students have had college offers from other jurisdictions for almost a month also means it is doubtful that many will take up CAO offers even if they get them.

This could in theory lead to more college offers becoming available in round two of the CAO offers on September 13th.

Will high A-level grades disadvantage Leaving Cert students hoping to study in the UK?

Last year about 4,400 Irish domiciled students were accepted to UK universities, and this year there is a 26 per cent increase in applications. These students received conditional offers in May based on their predicted grades.

These offers still stand, according to universities, despite the record high results in the UK.

Incidentally, unlike other EU students, Irish students do not have to pay higher international fees due to rights maintained under the Common Travel Area.

How will the appeals process for Leaving Cert results work this year?

The timeline this year for candidates to apply to view scripts and to lodge their appeal applications will be very short to ensure the appeal process can be completed as quickly as possible.

Candidates will have from 5pm on September 7th until 8pm on September 8th to make their application to view their scripts and will be provided with an opportunity to view their marked scripts on September 11th.

Schools will have the option of an additional session on the morning of September 12th. It is not known yet when the outcome of appeals will be given to students.