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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
samboal Loreto girls jumping for joy after getting their results last year.

Opinion It's not a Mickey Mouse exam, the Junior Cert does actually matter

To say it doesn’t is an insult to the 60,698 Irish students who studied for 3 years to sit the exam last June.

WITH THE JUNIOR Cert results out today, we’re bracing ourselves for the usual onslaught of media stories about exam celebrations getting out of hand, while totally ignoring the thousands of teenagers who will celebrate without going overboard.

We’re also getting ready to cringe at the other tired old cliché about how the Junior Cert really doesn’t matter, it’s only a Mickey Mouse exam, and it doesn’t count for anything.  What an insult to the 60,698 Irish students who studied for 3 years to sit the exam last June!

There’s a few good reasons why the Junior Cert matters, and those reasons apply to students of all levels of academic ability.

A lot of people tend to assume that the Junior Cert is always going to be trumped by a student’s Leaving Cert results, and might never even make it on to their CV. This is true for the majority of students who go on to do their Leaving Cert, and who then proceed to higher education.

An important certificate

But for many of the 12% of students who leave formal education after their Junior Cert, it’s an important certificate that represents their educational attainment at second level.

And for the majority who do go on to do the Leaving Cert, the Junior Cert is an important way-marker at the half-way point of secondary school.  Most people would agree that doing 5 or 6 years of secondary schooling without any form of formal assessment until the end would impact badly on motivation and effort in the earlier years, and add to the pressure in the latter years of secondary school. It would take a lot of maturity and motivation to maintain an appropriate work-rate when exams are up to 6 years away.

We can see on our own online learning system for maths that, while there are exceptions, students naturally tend to be more motivated and engaged during exam years (hardly surprising!).  If the Junior Cert exams didn’t exist, we think that a lot of students would leave it until the Leaving Cert exam year to “knuckle down” and get stuck into learning.

In the future, if the new Junior Cert Student Award can provide an appropriate level of continuous assessment, we should see even more engagement through all years of second level.

Practising the basics

But in the meantime, the Junior Cert, despite all the issues around an exam at the end of a 3 year Junior Cycle, at least provides that motivation without waiting until the end of 6 years. And for maths, it’s essential to work at understanding and practising the basics, in order to have a firm foundation for the more advanced topics that come in the Leaving Cert and at third level.

For students, parents and teachers alike, the Junior Cert results also provide an important snapshot of the student’s level of ability in their various subjects. This gives a starting point for the discussion as to what subjects they should pursue, and at what level, for the Leaving Cert. For those doing Transition Year, it can help them to identify weaknesses that they may want to work on, ahead of entering the Senior Cycle.

The other important thing that the Junior Cert provides is exam experience. Like them or not, exams are a very real part of the education system, whether at secondary level, third level or for ongoing professional qualifications.

Developing exam technique 

Most students struggle with exam technique (to such an extent that we had to write a booklet for our students, focusing completely on this topic). Students develop exam technique by preparing appropriately for exams, and by doing exams.

Until such a time as exams are replaced at Leaving Cert and beyond, the Junior Cert is an important training ground, and as such it serves a very useful purpose. Even for those who might not have got the grades they wanted, it’s a learning experience and with the right attitude, it can help them to do better next time.

So if you’re tempted today to have a moan about the Junior Cert, and to write it off as a waste of time, we’d ask you to think again. Don’t pour cold water or even an ice-bucket on the occasion. If you know any Junior Cert celebraters, just give them your best wishes, and don’t forget that a few euro is always appreciated at this important time in a student’s life!

Eamonn Toland is founder of is Ireland’s leading online support system for Project Maths. Students all over Ireland improve their maths through video lessons and interactive exercises, available 24/7, and they also get online support from Irish maths teachers, 7 days a week. 

Read: Are you worried about your teen heading out for JC night? Here’s some advice…>

Read: More than 60,000 students will get their Junior Cert results today>

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