Students say yes to Irish and Stem subjects, except for maths

Increase in numbers taking science subjects did not extend to higher-level maths

Subject choice: maths and English experienced mixed fortunes in this year’s Leaving Cert exams

Subject choice: maths and English experienced mixed fortunes in this year’s Leaving Cert exams


Minority languages, which are taken by a very small number of students, continue to generate the highest rate of honours marks in the Leaving Cert.

Higher-level Russian saw the highest proportion of both A grades and honours marks. Of the 272 students who sat the exam, 82 per cent got As and just over 98 per cent received honours. There was only a 0.7 per cent failure rate.

Minority languages such as Russian often produce the highest grades because many students who sit the exams are native speakers.

Higher-level Latin took the second place for honours marks. Over 96 per cent of the 110 students who took the exam attained grade C or over.

The shortage of people taking languages at third level is a perennial problem, especially for Irish-based multinational companies in search of language grads, particularly in German, French, Spanish and Italian.

Despite the promise of job opportunities, the low uptake rate in languages in the Leaving Cert continued this year. A combined total of 7,272 students sat the German exams, 5,793 took Spanish and 436 took Italian.

French continues to be the most popular language, with 15,408 students sitting the higher-level exam and 11,390 sitting at ordinary level.

Irish The steady increase in the number of students taking higher-level Irish continued in 2015. Almost 19,500 sat the higher level exam this year, compared to about 18,100 last year and 16,700 in 2013.

More than 88 per cent of students who took the exam this year scored a C or higher.

A large number of students – about 23,600 – also sat the ordinary-level Irish paper, although this was not a major increase over last year when a little more than 23,300 students took the exam.

There was a 4 per cent failure rate and only 2.2 per cent of students received A grades. Seventy-four per cent of ordinary level students achieved an honours mark.

Science While the number of students taking the Leaving Cert this year was up 1.6 per cent overall, the numbers taking certain higher-level science courses rose even more after the success of Project Maths in attracting students into Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.

Higher-level technology candidates went up a whopping 18.7 per cent to 1,167 – and 81.6 per cent of those students received an A grade or higher.

There were 6.7 per cent more takers for higher-level physics this year, to 5,764. But the number of students who achieved a C grade or higher was down 3.2 per cent. The failure rate for that subject was relatively high, at 9.5 per cent, while 20.6 per cent got A grades.

Higher-level engineering was 5.6 per cent more popular than it was last year, with almost 4,500 students electing to take that exam.

Higher-level biology and chemistry numbers also increased, with biology up 4.7 per cent to about 25,600 students and chemistry up 4.2 per cent to 7,500.

The failure rate for ordinary level physics and chemistry was quite high, at 36.5 per cent of the 115 sitting the exam, and only 1.7 per cent received A grades. The 437 students who took the higher-level exam fared better, but the failure rate was still high at 12.3 per cent.

Maths The increase in Stem numbers did not extend to higher-level maths this year, as the proportion of Leaving Cert students taking that exam was the same as last year, at 27 per cent.

The subject has been attracting more and more students in recent years as a result of the Project Maths curriculum, and the bonus 25 points.

The controversial scheme, which lured students to the higher level subject with the promise of 25 extra points for a mark of 40 or higher, proved a success last year, when 27 per cent of students, or about 14,300, took the exam.

Despite the promise of more points and perhaps better CAO offers, 27 per cent of overall Leaving Cert students, or about 14,700, took the subject, ending a three-year trend of increases. The failure rate for higher-level maths was 5.2 per cent.

The ordinary-level maths paper drew the ire of students and teachers in June, who reported it was more difficult, and formatted differently, than expected.

The State Examination Commission (SEC) takes comments from students and teachers into account when formulating its draft marking scheme and announced earlier this month it would adjust its scheme for the paper, after people as high up the ranks as Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan raised concerns.

The adjustment resulted in a 7 per cent increase in students scoring a C or higher in 2015, compared to 2014. There was a 5.9 per cent failure rate, similar to the higher-level failure rate, even though that paper was no more difficult than expected.

For students who did not receive the required grade of C3 or better to study engineering at NUI Galway, that university has announced it is running a separate entrance examination for maths this month. The exam is on Wednesday, August 19th, along with a preparatory course in the days leading up to it. NUIG has done this in the past.

“Every year, we see a number of promising students who perform poorly on the day of the Leaving Cert exam. Our special entrance maths examination provides these students with a second opportunity to demonstrate they have reached the necessary standard in maths,” said Prof Gerry Lyons, dean of engineering and informatics at NUIG.

“Over the years, we have had some exceptionally talented students graduate and pursue successful careers in engineering because they were given the second chance which this exam represents.”

English Almost 36,100 students sat higher level English, while nearly 17,100 sat the ordinary-level exam.

Higher-level English has one of the lowest failure rates, with 1.2 per cent of students failing that exam. But it is equally difficult to get an A. Only 9 per cent of students got top marks, making it one of the few subjects with A grades in the single digits. Seventy-six per cent of students received an honours mark.

Other subjects Getting an A proved impossible in ordinary-level Japanese. None of the 62 students who sat the exam got top marks.

A grades were also hard to come by in ordinary-level in subjects including construction studies (0.1 per cent), agricultural science (0.3 per cent), classical studies (1.9 per cent), French (1.9 per cent), Irish (2.2 per cent), and music (4.4 per cent).

Only 4.8 per cent of higher-level art candidates got an A.

Students of design and communications graphics at higher level were up 2.3 per cent to almost 4,200 with a corresponding increase of 1.4 per cent in the numbers securing a grade C or higher.

Nobody failed the higher-level agricultural economics exam. Of the 85 students who took the exam, 87 per cent received an honours mark, and 10.6 per cent got an A grade.

The numbers taking agricultural economics is increasing year on year, with 85 students in 2015, compared to 78 students in 2014 and 46 in 2013.

Home economics and social scientific also saw an increase this year of 2.2 per cent, to about 8,800 students.

As for the higher-level geography paper, there were a few complaints at exam time that blurry maps and poor definition aerial photos made the exam less straightforward than students hoped.

The State Examinations Commission pointed out at the time that exam candidates were directed to a larger map accompanying the paper, rather than the extract printed in the paper itself.

The failure rate for the nearly 20,000 students who sat the exam was only 2.1 per cent, and a solid 76 per cent of students got honours marks.