Q&A: What should students do to take full advantage of Leaving Cert changes?

Written exams from 2021 offer a good template for what to expect next June

Have the representations by the Leaving Cert class of 2022 to secure accredited grades succeeded?

No, they have not, but they have actually achieved almost everything they set out to secure.

In further amending the structure of how each subject is assessed, Minister for Education Norma Foley has given students a wide range of choice across all subjects. They can now focus on the sections of courses they feel most up to speed with in their studies over the remaining four months of this academic year.

Secondly, and most importantly, the Minister has promised that the overall grade profile for this year’s Leaving Cert students will be in line with that of last year’s class. Students this year will, therefore, receive equivalent grades to those secured in 2021 through the accredited grades process.

The purpose on the part of students in seeking accredited grades was driven by the fact that 60 per cent of the grades awarded last year were based on teachers’ estimates. These tended to be at least one grade higher than what students secured in their written exam papers.

In now guaranteeing the equivalent grade profile to this year’s cohort, the Minister has, in a way, met most of their demands.

What should students now do to maximise the benefit of these decisions?

For 25 per cent of this year’s Leaving Cert class, those who did not do transition year, these exams will be their first experience of external assessment.

For the remaining 75 per cent of students, the past two years have been like no others in living memory, and they will be approaching the coming months with much trepidation.

Working with your teachers, students should now identify how they will structure their studies in each subject to take full advantage of the revised assessment process.

While schools are due to receive details of adjustments to this year’s Leaving Cert exams soon, they will be very similar to last year. The 2021 written exams offer a good template for what to expect.

Students should use the forthcoming mock exams as a psychological preparation for the real thing in June. The fact that the mock papers as printed bear no relationship in most cases to the restructured ones which they will now face in June is irrelevant. Students need to practice sitting exams under as real conditions as it is possible to replicate.

The real value in taking mock exams is to practice selecting questions to answer under pressure, how to brainstorm in the first few minutes of each paper, use rough work to jot down key points for each question, fine-tune timing over the duration of the exam and use any extra time at the end of each exam to reread answers to gain those extra few marks.

Any other words of advice for students?

Completely ignore any further discussion or debate around whether accredited grades should have been used or otherwise for this year’s Leaving Cert.

You are now in a competition for places in courses in further and higher education with up to 50,000 of your peers in the CAO process, and a further 35,000 applicants who sat the Leaving Cert or its equivalent in other countries in the past and are seeking places this year.

Added together, the 60,000 Leaving Certs grades for the class of 2022 will be no lower than the equivalent students last year. But for individuals, whether a an offer of a place in a preferred course is secured will depend on how effectively you work over the coming months.

The playing pitch has been levelled by Norma Foley’s decisions; it’s now up to you to prepare for the exams in all their elements to the best of your ability.