Q&A: Navigating this year’s Leaving Cert points race

Two experts give advice on the new grading system and college entry requirements

The first round of this year’s CAO offers will be released on Monday. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Expert guidance counsellors Brian Howard and Deirdre Garrett were working on irishtimes.com on Thursday answering people's queries about Leaving Cert results and the CAO.

Here is a selection of the questions and answers on the new points system and entry requirements, ahead of the first round of CAO offers on Monday.

Are points expected to move marginally down because of the new points system?

As you know, there is a new points and grading system in operation this year, which is very different from last year’s system. From this, you would know that the cut-off points for courses last year and this year may be quite different.


Supply and demand will still determine the cut-off points for 2017.

While the points can rise every year due to interest in a course, will the new grading system in itself increase the points for courses?

The trend is showing that the new points system may reduce the points for courses. Of course, other variables such as exam performance and the level of interest in a course will also influence the cut-off points. However, nothing is definite until the offers on Monday.

Even though a points drop is expected, could that still include courses such as Medicine and Law that are in high demand or in your opinion are they just too popular with students?

It depends on the examination performance of potential candidates. I don’t have this information. Until the admissions officers go to Galway and do their work in the next few days no one will know for definite if you are in or not. We will have to wait until Monday.

Will the new 10-point system increase random selection, since more people could get the same points?

No, the thinking is that the new system should eliminate a great deal of the current use of random selection.

The reason for this is that the points for the new grades are no longer increasing in steps of five. Different points steps are now being used between the new grades which will allow points totals of anything between 0 and 625.

This will prevent large groups of students ending up with the same points ending in 5 or 0 and hence reduce significantly the need for random selection.

On Monday, if I have enough points for my second choice and not my first, and I accept that offer, will I be able to accept my first choice on second-round offers if the points are lower than what I got?

Yes. Accepting an offer of your second choice will have no effect on higher course preferences in round two and future rounds.

My daughter got 365 points in the Leaving Cert and is short 20 points going by last year's points in CIT. She only wrote two courses down on her CAO form. Will she be offered something else on Monday or will she have to wait for the second round?

She will be offered the course highest up on her CAO list for which she meets the minimum entry requirement and the necessary cut-off points. She may get an offer in round two if points for her desired course go down and she now meets the new points cut-off.

Offers will only be made if the candidate meets the necessary entry requirements and points cut-off for the course. Some courses have a subject requirement also.

The CAO allows one to choose 10 level 8 courses as well as 10 level 6/7 courses, giving students an array of choice. Candidates are encouraged to complete their CAO fully.

I got 265 in the Leaving. Very, very disappointed. The course I would like is in St Pat's in Maynooth and should be about 300 points. I have been accepted for Hear, do you think I have any chance?

Unfortunately, there is a condition in Maynooth University in relation to Hear which states that you must attain a minimum of 300 points in the Leaving Cert, so based on this it doesn't look like you will benefit from Hear. It might be no harm giving Maynooth a ring to see what they have to say.

There are some very good alternative pathways to Arts degrees through the Fetac system.

You could do a pre-Arts course and enter Maynooth based on your results in this.

The admissions office in Maynooth will be able to advise where these courses are being run and maybe you could do a little bit of research on this option.

I applied to BIMM for their degree course - points last year were 750. I have 790 so I thought I was home and dry, then I saw that points for the previous two years were 850-ish. How could that be?

The examination performance of candidates was higher in the year where points were 850. The supply, ie the number of places on this course, has remained at 150 since 2014.

Does an O7 mean a fail? I read that the new pass rate was brought down to 30 per cent.

There is a little confusion around this. A score between 30 per cent and 39 per cent at higher level gets a grade H7. This is now considered a pass and is acceptable for matriculation purposes.

However, a similar score at ordinary level gets a grade O7, but this is not considered a pass grade. At ordinary level, 40 per cent or above (O6 or above) is required for a pass and to meet matriculation requirements.