Leaving Cert: Record number taking higher-level subjects

Students aim to take advantage of CAO reforms as 121,000 prepare for exams

State Examinations Commission in Athlone where Leaving  and Junior Cert exam scripts are sorted for distribution. Photograph: Alan Betson

State Examinations Commission in Athlone where Leaving and Junior Cert exam scripts are sorted for distribution. Photograph: Alan Betson


The number of Leaving Cert students taking on higher-level subjects has climbed to a record high as pupils try to make the most from changes to the CAO points system.

Reforms aimed at easing some of the exam pressure mean that any student who fails an exam with an E grade at higher level will secure CAO points for the first time.

In all, more than 121,000 Junior Cert and Leaving Cert students are due to begin their exams tomorrow in 5,000 test centres across the country.

Among Leaving Cert maths candidates, a record 36 per cent have registered at higher level to sit the more challenging paper, up from about 20 per cent in 2011.

The increase follows the introduction of bonus points for higher-level maths in recent years, along with wider changes to the CAO points system.

There are also increases in the proportion of students who have applied to sit higher-level exams in the Leaving Cert for almost every subject. For example, almost half of students have opted for higher-level Irish (48 per cent, up 3 per cent on last year).

The same is true for English, where 74 per cent will take the more challenging paper (up 3 per cent).

The proportion taking higher level is also increasing across a range of other subjects including biology, geography and home economics.

However, the numbers who end up sitting the actual exams at higher level is likely to fall slightly, given that some students opt to take an ordinary-level paper on the day of the exam.

Official figures compiled by the State Examinations Commission show a total of just under 56,000 are due to sit the Leaving Cert, a figure similar to last year.

Leaving Cert 2017 Timetable

A further 2,758 are due to sit the Leaving Cert applied programme. While these numbers are up very slightly, a longer-term decline in the numbers completing this more vocational exam has been blamed by teachers on cuts in staff numbers and resources.

At Junior Cert level, just over 62,000 students are due to sit the exam, up about 2,000 on last year.

Locked boxes

In recent days, exam superintendents have taken possession of the locked boxes containing the four million-plus exam papers. The exams are due to be held in some 5,170 centres across the country over the course of the 13-day exam period. The results of the Leaving Certificate examinations will be available on Wednesday, August 16th. Results of the Junior Cert will be available in mid-September.

Students, meanwhile, have been sent best wishes from teachers’ unions and guidance counsellors ahead of the beginning of this year’s exams.

Pat Burke, chairman of commission, has sent students the organisation’s best wishes ahead of the commencement of the exams on Wednesday.

“Students will benefit from the continued calm reassurance of those who have supported them to this point. The commission will also continue to play its part in ensuring that candidates are facilitated to achieve their best in examinations which are delivered in a fair and open manner.”

Daily coverage

The Irish Times will provide coverage online and in print each day of the exam period. Coverage will feature news, analysis and expert opinion, plus advice and updates from students, teachers and experts. Highlights will include:

– Student and teacher reaction to Junior and Leaving Cert papers;

– Exam diarists: Leaving Cert students share their thoughts as the exams progress;

- “My Leaving Cert” – celebrities and public figures share their exam experiences.

State exams - in numbers

121,470 – Number of Junior and Leaving Cert candidates;

106 – Number of exams, including 90 curricular and 16 non-curricular;

578 – Drafters, setters and translators involved in developing different test instruments;

4 million – Exam papers produced this June, comprised of almost 48 million A4 pages;

5,123 – Number of superintendents needed at ordinary examination centres;

20,209 – Number of “reasonable accommodation” requests to facilitate 16,764 candidates with individual needs;

1 million – Number of individual grades to be generated;

383,108 – Projected number of marked scripts to be returned to schools for viewing;

13,399 – Number of appeals likely to be processed.