Was the Leaving Cert harder in the past?

Sir, – As Sean Byrne points out in his letter (November 7th), matrices, calculus and complex numbers were on the Leaving Cert, rather than the Inter Cert in the mid-1990s. However, that isn't how my friend remembered it, and this makes the point that our memories of our own exam experiences can be fallible. This may well explain the phenomenon identified in Mary Flynn's letter (November 7th), where people think that the exams got easier just after they went through the system.

The article ("Was the Leaving Cert harder in the old days?", Education, November 5th) is not completely clear as to when Irish script was phased out, but on our web page we do have a more detailed note on how this happened coming up to 1970, including scans of various papers showing when it was replaced by Latin script.

Mr Byrne is also correct when he points out that a student who took the exam today would be unfamiliar with many topics examined 30 years ago. However, students who took the exam 30 years ago would also be unfamiliar with some topics examined today (eg statistics and probability were an option for higher Leaving Cert, whereas today all topics, including statistics and probability, are compulsory). Such students might also be unfamiliar with the style of questioning, for example this year’s exam introduced students to the Cantor Set.

I am not sure I would agree with the assessment that the 1962 question, shown in the article, is harder than anything on today’s Junior Cert.


The question would have been allotted approximately 20 minutes.

It required students to reproduce a short theorem that they would have learned in class and then make a two-line deduction based on it.

While the 1962 question is abstract, I would consider comparing this with the range of skills that must be displayed by a Junior Cert Ordinary-level student doing the 20-minute geometry question (2019, paper II, question 11).

The corresponding Junior Cert higher-level question is more challenging again, with less assigned time.



of Mathematics

and Statistics,

Maynooth University,

Co Kildare.