Most Leaving Cert students opt to sit written exams in June

Total of 81% intend to sit English with Irish the least popular at 58%

The vast majority of Leaving Cert students are opting to sit written exam papers in June in addition to receiving accredited grades.

It follows a Government decision earlier this year to give students a choice between exams, accredited grades, or both, in individual subjects. Students will be credited with the highest result.

State Examinations Commission figures show 87 per cent of this year's 60,000 candidates have chosen a combination of both written exams and accredited grades. A total of 6 per cent have opted for accredited grades only, while just 2 per cent have chosen written exams only.

In the regular or established Leaving Cert exams, Irish is the least popular written exam (58 per cent have chosen to sit it) followed by French and German (both 69 per cent).


A large majority intend to sit English (81 per cent) and maths (84 per cent), while the most popular exams are in the Stem area, which are biology (85 per cent), physics (87 per cent), chemistry (88 per cent) and applied maths (96 per cent).

These overall figures indicate that many students are concentrating their studies on a select number of subjects, rather than sitting all the exams they originally intended to take.


The move to give students a choice in this year’s exams follows pressure from students and Opposition parties who argued the move was needed in light of disruption due to the pandemic.

Teachers’ unions, however, argued such a move would undermine the traditional summer exams.

However, these candidates will be asked to undertake “proficiency assessment tests” in these subjects in May which will form the evidence for an accredited grade.

While 95 per cent of students have registered online for the exams, as required, up to 3,000 candidates have failed to do so or have not selected their choice of exams, accredited grades or both.

The commission said it will continue to engage with schools and candidates to ensure that it has accurate information for all candidates who wish to do the exams. It said it was likely that some may have already withdrawn from the Leaving Cert.

It is unclear how many students will actually sit the exams in June, given that guidance counsellors and teachers have been busy advising students over recent weeks to keep their options open.

There are concerns within the third-level sector that the new system will send grade inflation higher again this year and result in CAO points reaching a record high.

Government ministers are drawing up plans to add thousands of additional third-level places into high-demand courses this year in a bid to ease some of this pressure.

Exams only

In all subjects, the number of Leaving Cert candidates opting for exams only is fewer than 5 per cent of the number of candidates entered for the subject.

The only exceptions are non-curricular languages – such as Polish, Romanian and Lithuanian – where more than half (52 per cent) have opted to sit the exams only.

The commission said this was likely to be due to the difficulty experienced by students last year in securing calculated grades for subjects where they did not have a formal tutor or evidence on which a grade could be based.

A further breakdown of this year’s figures shows the numbers opting to do written exams are lower among those taking the Leaving Cert Applied (LCA).

About 65 per cent of LCA candidates have opted to sit exams, while 24 per cent intend to receive accredited grades only.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent