Leaving Certificate (Ireland)
The Leaving Certificate Examinations (Irish: Scrúduithe na hArdteistiméireachta), commonly referred to as the Leaving Cert (Irish: Ardteist), is the final examination in the Irish secondary school system. It takes a minimum of two years preparation, but an optional Transition Year means that for those students it takes place three years after the Junior Certificate Examination. These years are referred to collectively as "The Senior Cycle." Most students taking the examination are aged 16–20; in excess of eighty percent of this group undertake the exam. The Examination is overseen by the State Examinations Commission. There is also some involvement of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. The Irish Leaving Certificate examinations are taken annually by approximately 55'000 students.
- 1 Programmes
- 2 Grading and available subjects
- 3 Recommended Subjects
- 4 Exam format
- 5 Leaving Certificate Leak Controversy
- 6 Matriculation to university using the Leaving Certificate
- 7 Dates
- 8 International usage
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
There are three distinct programmes that can be followed. While the outcomes of each programme are quite distinct, each is intended to reinforce the principles of secondary education; to prepare the student for education, society and work.
- Established Leaving Certificate: The Established Leaving Certificate is the most common programme taken. A minimum of six subjects are examined, including the compulsory Irish; most students take seven subjects. All students must also present in English and Mathematics.
- Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme: The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, introduced as a more practical "hands-on" complement to the conventional Leaving Certificate, is similar to the established programme. The student takes at least five traditional subjects, one of which must be Irish. Two of the student's subjects must be part of one of a list of Vocational subject groupings. They must also study a modern European language and two Link Modules, Preparation for the World of Work and Enterprise Education. The programme is designed to help the student find their potential for self-directed learning, innovation and enterprise.
- Leaving Certificate Applied: The Leaving Certificate Applied, another cohort and variant of the traditional Leaving Certificate, is taken to prepare the student for adult and working life. It consists of three elements. These are General Education, Vocational Education and Vocational Preparation. It is designed to emphasise areas of achievement and excellence which are not catered for by traditional academic programmes.
Grading and available subjects
There is a maximum of 625 points available on the Irish Leaving Certificate. The most recent findings show: 162 students got six higher-level A1 grades, 50 got seven A1s, 13 got eight A1s, and one student got nine A1s.
According to a recent report of the BBC, Irish universities may upgrade points value of British A-levels in the future in comparison to the points value of the Irish Leaving Certificate.
Also, according to The Irish Mirror News, up to 2000 students dropped Irish language recently as a subject within the Irish Leaving Certificate due to learning difficulties but switched, nevertheless, to another language.
In addition, as reported by The Irish Examiner, recent studies show that the number of medicine students seems to be too low to satisfy the demand of the system so that there seem to be staffing problems at emergency departments and that in general the medical system is perceived as lacking. According to Dr Luke, who was interviewed by The Irish Examiner, one step towards the right direction would be to allow more students to study medicine and to "lower the Leaving Cert. points for medicine".
According to The Irish Times, allegations are increasingly being put forward regarding teachers' doing students' project work.
Recent statistics show a particularly high failure rate in Maths and science for the Irish Leaving Certificate.
Below is the list of subjects available to Established Leaving Certificate students, though most schools only offer a limited number. There are three levels in the Irish exam system Higher (commonly referred to as Honours), Ordinary ( commonly referred to as Pass), and Foundation. Foundation Level may only be taken in three subjects: Irish, English and Mathematics. All other subjects may be sat in either Ordinary or Higher Levels. Percentage ranges are given on the table below, along with the points given for each grade. In general, a Higher Level grade is worth 40 points more than the equivalent Ordinary Level grade (e.g. a Higher C1 is 70, an Ordinary C1 is 30). However no points are awarded for a grade below D3 (below 40%). Thus if a student scores 40% on a Higher Level paper he/she will receive a D3, worth 45 points. However, some candidates awarded a grade D3 may discover that their total mark is actually below the 40% boundary between D3 and E. This is because of a longstanding practice in place since the introduction of the first grading system to award a grade D with a tolerance of up to 2%. This does not apply at any other grade boundary. Since recently, an extra 25 points are awarded to students who pass (attain a score of 40% or higher) higher level Mathematics. This brings the largest number of points available to 125 for this one subject. If a student gets an A2, instead of receiving 90 points, as they would in other subjects, they receive 115. for a B3 their total score would bring them to 100 points, not 75. This means that the minimum number of points a student receives, should they pass, is 70, 10 greater than the highest number of points available in ordinary level Mathematics, and 50 greater than an A1 in Foundation Level.
The points allocations in the table below have been collectively agreed by the third-level institutions involved in the CAO scheme, and relativities that they imply have no official standing in the eyes of the State Examinations Commission or the Department of Education and Skills.
Changes to the Grading System
|Mark of 120||Grade|
|et c.||et c.|
The Department of Education in Ireland has introduced a new grading system, where the current 14 band ABC grading system would be reduced to eight broader bands, ranging form H1 – H8 at higher level and O1-08 at ordinary level.  Little is known asides this and the table on the right.
L1, Mandatory languages
- Irish (mandatory with exceptions)
L2, Modern and Classical languages
- English (required for university matriculation)
- Ancient Greek†
The following languages can only be taken if the student is from a member state of the European Union, speak the language in which they opt to be examined in as a mother tongue, has followed a programme of study leading to the Leaving Certificate and is taking Leaving Certificate English. Another condition is that candidates may undertake examination in one non-curricular language subject only.
- Croatian (newly introduced specification)
- Home Economics, Scientific and Social
- Design and Communication Graphics
- Construction Studies
- Agricultural Economics†
- Business (formerly Business Organisation)
Arts and Humanities
†Subject exclusions – candidates may not take any of following subject combinations:
- Agricultural Economics and Economics
- Classical Studies and Ancient Greek
- Classical Studies and Latin
- "Physics and Chemistry" (combined) and either "Physics" (alone) or "Chemistry" (alone)
The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme is an additional Link Module which may be taken along with the other optional subjects. Students wishing to sit the LCVP Link Modules Exam must meet certain requirement. They must take an extra language subject and must have one or more of the following subject combinations:
- Specialist Groupings
- Construction Studies or Engineering or Technical Drawing (any two)
- Physics and Construction Studies or Engineering
- Agricultural Science and Construction Studies or Engineering
- Agricultural Science and Chemistry or Physics or Physics & Chemistry (combined subject)
- Home Economics and Agricultural Science or Biology
- Home Economics and Art
- Accounting or Business or Economics (any two)
- Physics and Chemistry
- Biology and Agricultural Science
- Biology and Chemistry or Physics or Physics & Chemistry (combined)
- Services Groupings
- Engineering and Business or Accounting or Economics
- Construction Studies and Business or Accounting or Economics
- Home Economics and Business or Accounting or Economics
- Agricultural Science and Business or Accounting or Economics
- Art and Business or Accounting or Economics
- Music and Business or Accounting or Economics
|LCVP Grade||Percentage Range||Points awarded||Equivalent|
|Gradam / Distinction (GD)||80–100||70||Higher C1|
|Fiúntas / Merit (FM)||65 – 79.99||50||Higher D2 / Ordinary A2|
|Pas / Pass (PP)||50 – 64.99||30||Ordinary C1|
|Gan Rath / Unsuccessful (U)||0 – 49.99||0||NG|
- Irish (mandatory with exceptions)
- At least one Science subject
- At least one other Language subject
- 1–3 other subjects
China's Ambassador to Ireland Jianguo Xu expressed his "surprise" that out of the six official UN languages - Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish - Mandarin Chinese is the only one which is not a Leaving Certificate subject.
Subjects are examined through a number of methods. These will include at least one written paper (English, Mathematics, Irish and some of the optional courses contain two written papers).
Language courses examine the students writing, conversation and listening skills. The spoken section of the exams ('oral') take place some months before the written exams, and the listening ('aurals') take place in the same weeks as the written.
A number of subjects in the sciences and arts include the keeping of records or creation of a physical object or project. This work is designed to provide tangible proof of the students abilities. However, not every book or project is examined, with inspectors being sent to a small few, randomly selected schools each year, or simply examining a small selection of projects from each class to check the standard. Some subjects such as Art and Technology involve a practical exam which is supervised by an external examiner.
Each subjects paper at Leaving Certificate level may have as few as two variants, or as many as six. They are divided by level: Higher and Ordinary, and in the case of Irish, English and Mathematics, Foundation. Each subject level-variant will also have provisions for both English and Irish speakers, with the exception of English and Irish themselves (which are printed exclusively in the relevant language). Certain subjects are printed in a combined English/Irish format, such as French or German. This leaves such subjects with only two versions: a bilingual Higher, and a bilingual Ordinary. However Mathematics in contrast has a total of six: three levels: Higher, Ordinary and Foundation, each with both English and Irish versions.
Higher Level papers are printed on pink paper, while Ordinary Level papers are printed on powder blue paper. In the case of certain subjects, such as Geography, full-colour photographs need to be printed and as such, all pages but the cover are white.
Leaving Certificate Leak Controversy
On the first day of examinations on 3 June 2009, the second paper of the Leaving Certificate English examination, (initially scheduled for 4 June), was accidentally distributed instead of Paper 1 at an examination centre in St. Oliver's Community College, Drogheda, Co. Louth. It was confirmed that a number of candidates had seen the paper before the mistake was acted upon. The examiner had failed to report the incident straight away and was immediately suspended. A State Examinations Commission official had visited the examination centre on the day in question as part of a routine inspection, and no report was made by the invigilator to the official. Due to the time at which the SEC was informed, it was unable to distribute the contingency paper in time for the following morning. Details of the leaked paper had circulated onto many messenger boards and social networking sites, many hours after the incident had taken place. The exam was rescheduled for Saturday 6 June, from 09:30 to 12:50. About 10 Jewish students, who could not sit the exam at the rescheduled time because it conflicted with Shabbat, were sent to an Orthodox household in Dublin, where they were sequestered from all electronic media (as is normal for Shabbat) and kept under supervision until they sat the exam on Sunday morning.
Matriculation to university using the Leaving Certificate
Matriculation is administered by the Central Applications Office (CAO) following requirements laid down by the universities. Applicants must present English and usually Mathematics and Irish. Some courses require specific subjects to be taken at secondary level. For example, veterinary medicine applicants must present with a minimum grade of C3 in Chemistry at higher level. Most commonly, engineering and science programs require Mathematics and/or a physical science. Other courses, such as medicine, have similar matriculation requirements. The greatest score that can be achieved in the Leaving Certificate is 625 points, equivalent to six higher level A1's and 25 bonus points for passing (scoring a D3 or higher) higher level mathematics.
Generally, students will be required to have pass grades in English, Irish and Mathematics to gain entry to university in Ireland. Up until recently, any candidate who failed any one of these subjects was deemed to have failed their Leaving Certificate, and would not be awarded a certificate. This classification was removed successively, and now the concept of failing the leaving certificate is not applied. If demand exceeds supply for a course (which it usually does), the CAO will award candidates points based on their Leaving Certificate performance in six subjects. The majority of candidates take six to eight subjects, including English, Mathematics and Irish (exemptions available) and usually a foreign language, with the points from their six highest scoring subjects being considered. Once base criteria have been met, course places are offered to the applicants with the highest points.
Subjects taken at foundation level are rarely counted for matriculation to university.
The University of Limerick awards up to 40 bonus points for Mathematics (Higher Level) in an increasing scale of points starting at 5 bonus points for a C3 continuing up to 40 for an A1 grade. This is an attempt to correct the recent decline in demand for scientific subjects. In recent years, approximately 16.2% of students attempted the higher level Mathematics paper. It also reflects a return to earlier times in the past years when the points scored for mathematics were doubled. This bonus for achievement in mathematics was removed eventually because of a populist reaction against bias being shown towards persons who were supposedly "naturally" talented at mathematics, and being unfair to persons who were not mathematically inclined. Recent Minister for Education, Batt O'Keeffe, acknowledged that he sat mathematics at ordinary level in the Leaving Certificate because he was aware of the extensive study that would be required by this subject.
Some universities require a foreign language and Irish. Exemptions are available for learning difficulties, birth outside of Ireland, not having taken Irish before the age of eleven years, and studying abroad for a period of at least two years after the age of eleven.
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Some Irish students go to university in the United Kingdom, particularly in Northern Ireland and larger British cities. Increasingly students from the Republic attend university in Northern Ireland, and vice-versa.
In recognition of this, the Established Leaving Certificate underwent a process with UCAS to gain entry to the UCAS Tariff for direct entry to United Kingdom universities. This introduced the examination directly onto the UCAS Tariff, allowing it to be compared more easily with other qualifications on the UCAS Tariff. After comparing syllabi of the Irish Leaving Certificate and British GCE A-Levels, it was decided that a Leaving Certificate (higher) subject will be worth two-thirds of an A-level (UK, except Scotland). Leaving Certificate students undertake several more subjects (often a total of six to eight) than a typical A level student.
The Irish Leaving Certificate can be used for university applications in Germany. For subjects that require the applicant to produce a certain minimum average grade, however, the Irish point score must first be converted into the German grading system, e.g. 520 points = 1.5 in the German Abitur, 450 points = 2.0 and so on.
The exams begin on the first Wednesday after the June Bank Holiday every year, traditionally commencing with English Paper One, followed by Paper Two. The exams typically last two and a half weeks in the May-June session. In the most recent examinations cohort, exams will begin on 3 June and end on 19 June, with results being released on 12 August, but for some students may last longer due to exams in uncommon subjects, such as Swedish, Polish, etc.
The exam timetable was reorganised in order to reduce the intensity of exam period. Particular changes included the moving of English Paper Two to Thursday afternoon, as opposed to its usual time of Wednesday afternoon after English Paper One, to reduce the amount of writing candidates were required to do at the beginning of the exams.
Only one school outside Ireland offers the Leaving Certificate exam to their students. The students at the ISM international school in Tripoli, Libya take the Leaving Cert, with Arabic being substituted for Irish. The School's principal said, "We have students from 42 countries studying at our school; the Irish Leaving Certificate programme offered us the kind of academic standard and subject spread that we were looking for".
- Exemption to the Irish language is detailed in Circular M10/94 (Department of Education, Ireland, 1994) and can be acquired under time spent abroad or learning disability
- Some institutions award these points; most award nil.
- Candidate Information Booklet 2013
- "Irish Leaving Certificate Examination Points Calculation Grid". Central Applications Office. Retrieved 28 June 2007.
- Flynn, Seán (6 June 2009). "Exam authority talks to superintendent who distributed paper". The Irish Times. Retrieved 6 June 2009.
- Minihan, Mary (5 June 2009). "Jewish pupils face quarantine over postponed Leaving exam". The Irish Times. Retrieved 5 June 2009.
- The Irish Leaving Certificate, Expert Group Report for Awards Seeking Admission to the UCAS Tariff, November 2003 2186 KB PDF file
- Start writing wikibooks for leaving cert subjects @ State Examination Commission, Ireland
- UCAS – The UCAS Tariff
- CAO Degree & Diploma Points 2005
- Official CAO Level 8 Points 2005
- Official CAO Level 6/7 Points 2005
- Leaving Certificate Applied Website
- Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme Website
- 2011 Leaving Cert Exam Timetable