Q&A: Am I better off opting for exams or predicted grades?

Students will have the option of taking calculated grades and sitting exams

Students will not have to choose between predicted grades and written exams. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Students will not have to choose between predicted grades and written exams. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien


Am I better off opting for written Leaving Cert exams in the coming months or predicted grades?

Students won’t have to choose between the two. All Leaving Cert candidates who were due to sit this year’s exams will be entitled to receive “calculated grades” if they so wish.

The option of sitting the exams - possibly later this year or early next - will still be there for students.

Students may also opt to sit an exam for an individual subject if they are unhappy with the result of their calculated grade.

Internal Department of Education estimates are that up to 20 per cent of candidates may end up sitting the written exams, but this is just guesswork at this stage.

How will predicted/ expected grading work?

The Department says students’ grades will be awarded based on a four-step process.  

Firstly, teachers will be asked to consider a combination of students' coursework, assessments and in-school tests over the past two to three years. They will also take into account the student's ranking in the class and make a  “balanced judgement” on what the student would have scored in the exam.

Secondly, the school principal will approve the estimated scores being provided and the rankings of each student in each subject in the school.

Thirdly, a special unit in the  Department of Education will process the data provided by each school and operate "national standardisation"  to ensure fairness among all students. 

This is a reference to a “bell curve” that is applied to grades each year to ensure similar proportions of students secure the same proportions of grades.

School profiles may also be used. In other words, grades may be adjusted to fit the typical profile of student achievement in individual schools.

Fourthly, the department will finalise the grades for each student which will be issued to each student as close as possible to the traditional date. Formal State certification will also be provided.

Will there be any safeguards to prevent undue pressure being placed on teachers or schools?

This will be a major issue. Teachers and schools may well feel conflicted or pressurised into awarding students higher grades.

However, the Department of Education insists grades will be issued by schools rather than individual teachers.

It says there will be clear detailed national guidelines for teachers to follow, including how to handle conflicts of interest. These have yet to be published.

Will I be able to appeal my predicted results?

Students will retain the right to appeal their grade - but this will focus only on  checks on school-entered data rather than reviewing the merits of the grade.

The appeals process will involve the department, rather than schools.

Students will also get a chance to sit some or all of the written exams later in the year or early next year, depending on when public health advice allows.

If I decide to sit the written Leaving Cert exams, will I be able to go to college in the coming year?

No. It seems likely that the written exams may be in late 2020 or early 2021, depending on when public health advice allows for them to be held. Higher education sources say this will be too late to take up courses in the coming academic year, but students could take up a course in the following year.

Will CAO points for courses go up or down due to these changes?

It is very difficult to say. CAO points are based on supply and demand for individual courses.

The fact that thousands of international students will not be taking up undergraduate college places will free up places in higher education and should lead to points reductions in some programmes.

However, the extent to which this will happen will vary dramatically.

For example, universities such as Trinity, UCD and the RCSI have relatively high proportions of international students, especially in areas such as medicine. This, in theory, should see points fall.

There are relatively few international students in other programmes and across institutes of technology generally. This, in theory, should means points won’t vary dramatically.

However, it’s not that simple.

There may be grade inflation on foot of predicted grades, which could see points rise in competitive courses.

More students may also end up opting for higher points courses on foot of these changes, which in turn could lead to upward points pressure on courses.

When will students get their results?

The plans is to mirror the normal pattern of results and offers, insofar as this is possible.

This should mean students getting their results and offers in mid-August. However, these details are still being hammered out, according to the Department of Education.

Is it likely college will begin later for first years?

Until recently, plans were that first years would begin college in November. However, the process of providing predicted grades should mean first years will be able to start college much earlier.

Higher education officials are still working these details out, but their hope is that first years will begin in September.

Many students have applied for college in the UK and Europe. How will the changes impact on them?

These students have been hugely affected by uncertainty over the timing of Leaving Cert results. It is estimated that about 2,000 are planning to go to college abroad.

It will come as a relief to many that Department of Education sources say predicted grades will arrive in time for these students in order to take up courses abroad.

What about students studying subjects without a formal teacher such as Russian or Polish?

Many students - especially those born abroad or whose parents are non-Irish nationals - take minority languages. In many cases, they do not have a formal school teacher.

It is difficult to see how they will be catered for under predicted grades, as sources say these grades will depend on a teacher / school applying them. There are still unanswered questions on this point.

I sat the Leaving last year but am applying for college this year. What will will happen to me?

Early indications are that students’ Leaving Cert results from previous years will still apply.

Sources say the use of a bell curve for this year’s students will aim to ensure these students will not be disadvantaged by grade inflation. However, we will know more as the details are ironed out.

What will happen to students in grind schools?

Under the Department of Education’s databases, these students - in many cases - are still linked to their original school. It remains to be seen how this will be resolved.

Similarly, in a given year there are many external candidates without a teacher or school. Again, we await details on how they will be catered for.

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