Marking State examinations


Sir, – The recent reports concerning the methodology for grading Leaving Certificate examinations merit discussion (“Leaving Cert marks are altered as part of ‘unwritten policy’, claim examiner”, News, January 17th).

An inference may be drawn from these reports that it is unfair that some grades are changed to ensure consistent results.

Well, it depends. If we expect the examination system to provide an order of merit and a ranking of students, then such practice is entirely fair – especially at the grade boundaries. Such an order of merit is important for society – it is used in hiring decisions and university admissions.

On the other hand, if we expect the system to provide a certification to students that they have achieved a given level of knowledge and are suitable and ready to become active citizens, then arguably it is unfair.

Perhaps some wider debate is needed as to what we as a society expect out of our examinations system.

But if we do jettison the idea of the Leaving Certificate as an order of merit, some of the available alternatives may prove unpalatable: nepotism, whereby young people with the “right” connections are given university places, or heaven forefend, the return of the old university matriculation exams! – Yours, etc,


School of Mathematics

and Statistics,

University College Dublin,

Belfield, Dublin 4.

Sir, – As a retired examiner of State exams, I question the accusations of unfairness in marking (News, January 16th). The instructions regarding adjustments worked in favour of the student: the script of a candidate scoring a total close to a grade cut-off figure was to be re-examined to see if that paper merited entry into the next grade up. The reasoning seemed entirely fair to me.

Regarding the percentages gaining higher grades, it would also seem logical to me that the figures should be largely similar from year to year, given the consistency of intelligence and application levels among second-level pupils.

Any appreciable variation in this would point to a need to adjust the marking scheme and this, in my experience, was done. I did not see marks gained being suppressed for purposes of statistics.

In my view, this system, at least, is a fair one. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – With commercial pressures affecting the traditional career havens for the offspring of the privileged, including the banks and journalism, it was only a matter of time before the affluent sought to pull up the ladder behind them and attack the State exams system. It is truly outrageous to such people that those who did not attend private schools can gain entry to lucrative professions. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.