Exam Problems


By now, many Leaving Certificate students will have finished their exams. There are several more papers next week but all of the main subjects have been completed.

As usual, it has been a very tough period for students, made more difficult this year by the mood of national festivity unleashed by the World Cup. It is hard not to feel sympathy for students who - even in the exam hall - could hear the celebrations which have marked Ireland's progress in the competition. In retrospect, perhaps it should have been possible for the Department of Education to have rescheduled the exams - even by twenty four hours - to avoid a clash with Ireland's matches.

The exam season has thrown up other, more serious, problems. The second higher-level maths paper dismayed both students and teachers. The tape for the aural French test was so fast that many students could not understand the questions. Worst of all, the higher-level biology test has drawn a wave of protest, unparalleled in recent years.

And it is not just students who have been complaining. Mr Joe Reville, a senior figure in the Irish Science Teachers Association has said the exam was designed to find out what the students did not know- rather than to complement their studies. Parents, teachers and students will wonder how students could be asked to review laboratory experimentation with a frog - even though this is illegal? Or how an exam paper could be set which is criticised as unfair by every leading commentator at a time when the Government is making strenuous efforts to reverse the alarming fall-off in interest in science subjects?

It is to be hoped that these concerns will be taken into account when the examiners review the paper shortly. To his credit, the Minister for Education, Mr Dempsey, has promised that this will be the case. As Mr Reville writes in this newspaper today, students should not worry unduly. The modus operandi of the examiners means that this year's marks will be broadly similar to previous years.

But this does not obviate the need for a thorough investigation by the Department. Those who set this paper have very serious questions to answer. They may be well motivated. They may favour a shift towards a more interpretative approach. But they also have an obligation to students. For all its faults, the Leaving Cert usually provides a fair test for students. On this occasion, students are right to feel frustated.