Was Leaving Certificate harder in past?

Sir, – In an article on the issue of whether the Leaving Certificate was harder in the past than it is today (Education, November 5th), Dr David Malone of Maynooth University is quoted as stating that his research on this topic was prompted by a Tweet from a friend of his decrying the absence of matrices, calculus and complex numbers from a "modern Maths exam". Dr Malone states that he checked an Intermediate Certificate Maths exam from the mid-1990s when his friend sat the exam, and discovered those topics were not examined.

The topics listed were never on the Intermediate Certificate but they were essential topics on the Leaving Certificate until the 1990s, when they were removed in a process of making Leaving Certificate maths less demanding.

Dr Malone also states that the old Irish typeface was “phased out of the Irish paper” by the mid-1990s. The old Irish script was discontinued throughout the Irish education system in the mid-1960s.

If Dr Malone and his PhD student Hazel Murray scrutinise maths and science papers from the 1970s and 1980s more carefully and compare them with the papers set this year, they will see that there has been a significant lowering of expectations. A student who took the Leaving Certificate higher-level maths paper this year would not have recognised many of the topics examined 30 years ago.


It would be an interesting exercise for Dr Malone to ask a first-year student of his who has an A in higher-level maths to attempt the paper from 1989 and see how well he or she fares, Any third-level lecturer who teaches a subject such as economics which has a maths element, as I did until my recent retirement, will confirm that there has been a sharp decline in the mathematics competence of students entering the first year of courses which require such competence.

The article reproduces the first geometry question from a paper in “Elementary Mathematics for Girls Only” from the Intermediate Examination of 1962. The question is more difficult than any geometry question in this year’s Junior Certificate higher-level maths paper. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 13.

Sir, – It seems that for many people, the date at which the Leaving Cert exams started to get a lot easier can be dated precisely to the year after they sat theirs. – Yours, etc,