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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Alamy Stock Photo Leaving Cert students begin with their first of two English exam papers this morning.
Leaving Cert

Over 130,000 students begin state examinations today - most sitting their first one ever

The majority of students in both exam years will be sitting their first state exam this morning as Junior Cycle exams were cancelled during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

ALMOST ALL OF the 134,800 students who are sitting their first exams in the Leaving Certificate and Junior Cycle exams today will be doing so for the first time. 

The state exams will take place in 5,697 main examination centres in over 800 schools around the country. Over 9,000 special centres have been set up to cater for students with additional needs.

For the second year in a row, there will be a record-high number of students sitting the exams. 

The majority of students in both exam years will be sitting their first ever state exam this morning as Junior Cycle exams were cancelled for the current sixth years during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

Leaving Cert students begin with their first of two English exam papers this morning, while Junior Cycle students will sit only one English paper this year due to much of the course now being completed through continuous assessments.

Education Minister Norma Foley said yesterday: “To all candidates, I extend the very best of luck and good wishes as you begin your examinations.”

Changes this year

A number of changes, such as additional time and questions, have been made ahead of this year’s exams to accommodate the impact the pandemic had on students’ learning.

For the senior students’ first exam, English Paper One, no adjustments have been made to the either the comprehension or the composing portion of the paper.

However, more questions and choices are provided to higher-level students in paper two throughout the exam, while ordinary-level students are provided with more opportunities to earn higher marks through broader questions relating to the course.

Foley announced last month that 25 August 2023 was the date that the exam results to be issued to Leaving Cert students this year, which was described as a “significant and very welcome step towards pre-pandemic norms”.

In 2021 and 2022, the results of the Leaving Certificate were issued on the first Friday of September, while calculated results were issued on the first Monday of September in 2020.

Speaking yesterday, Pat Burke, Chairperson of the State Examinations Commission said “The examinations this year have been subject to appropriate adjustments, proportionate to the educational experience of the class of 2023 over the course of the pandemic.”

“On behalf of my fellow Commissioners and all of the staff of the SEC, I wish to offer sincere best wishes to all those taking the certificate examinations this year,” Burke added.

The Leaving Cert will wrap up on 27 June with Applied Maths as the final exam, while the Junior Cycle finished earlier on 19 June with Applied Technology as its final exam.

Fees for both state exams, usually €116 for the Leaving Cert and €109 for the Junior Cycle, have been waived this year.

One thing that there’s no escape from however is the typical ‘Leaving Cert Weather’. Sunny spells are expected for the week, with estimated highs of 25 degrees on the west coast.

The Journal’s FactCheck Unit determined in 2018 that it was “partly true” that “exam weather” was an Irish climate phenomenon.


A new grading scale for the Leaving Certificate was introduced in 2017 which removed As, Bs and Cs and introduced Hs, Os, and Fs.

The ‘Common Points Scale’ places a specific 1-8 scale of grades which depends on the percentage you got in the exam for both higher and ordinary levels.

For higher level students, the available grades range from H1 to H8, for ordinary level students the available grades range from O1 to O8 and for foundation level students, for Irish and Maths exams only, the graders range from F1 to F8.

For each grade and percentage, a different number of points are attributed:

LEAVING Cert points Careers Portal How to calculate points and percentages under the Common Points Scale. Careers Portal

Co-Founder and CEO of StudyClix Luke Saunders told The Explainer podcast this week: “Now, what confuses this slightly is mathematics because it’s perceived to be a much more difficult subject to score well in. So, you get an extra 25 points for doing higher levels.”

Saunders said this was to encourage students to keep taking higher-level maths as one of the topics for the Leaving Cert and not drop down to ordinary.

Changes in the year future

A major revamp is set to be introduced to the leaving cert next year, 100 years after it was introduced, with “teacher-based” assessments taking priority over some written exams and the first of the English papers being completed at the end of fifth year.

‘The Senior Cycle’ will begin with fifth year students in September of this year and will slowly be rolled out for all future students, similar to how the Junior Cycle was developed.

Saunders told The Explainer podcast yesterday that for the new Senior Cycle to work the Department of Education must get the “main stakeholders” on board.

“You have to have that buy in from the teachers and the teachers have to feel involved in shaping those changes, because at the end of the day, they’re the ones delivering in the classroom,” Saunders said.

Saunders added that the department can create “ambitious ways of changing things” yet often fail to redevelop the courses to reflect those changes.

Saunders used the example of a biology teacher who, under the new structure, must create new assessments for all three core learning units – which all have at least five sub-units and between 2-8 topics in each to cover.

Saunders said: “The syllabus has to change in order for the teaching style to change.”

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