The Leaving Certificate
), commonly referred to as the Leaving Cert
) is the final course in the Irish
secondary school system and culminates with the Leaving Certificate Examination
. 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
. Most students taking the examination are aged 16-19; in excess of eighty percent of this group undertake the exam. The Examination is overseen by the State Examinations Commission
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, introduced in 1924, is the most common programme taken. A minimum of six subjects are presented, including the compulsory Irish; most students take six or seven subjects. Students are not obliged to present in English and Mathematics; however these have become de facto essential subjects, primarily due to college and university admission policies. Similarly, in recent years a modern European language is often studied by many students as universities increasingly require it and also to broaden options.
- Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme: The Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, introduced in 1989, 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, introduced in 1995, 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 emphasize areas of achievement and excellence which are not catered for by traditional academic programmes.
Grading and available subjects
Below are 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
(often referred to as Honours), Ordinary
(often referred to as Pass), and Foundation
. Foundation Level may only be taken in two subjects: Irish and Mathematics. All other subjects may be sat in both 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. But 39.7% on the same paper will score zero points.
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 Science.
- Irish (mandatory subject for NUI entry; some students can receive an exemption)
Russian and Japanese are not examined to the same degree as the other languages, as they are based on a 2-year course, while the others are based on a 5-year course (including Junior Certificate).
Non-curricular EU languages
Article 149 of the Treaty of Nice
states that “Community action shall be aimed at developing the European dimension in education, particularly through the teaching and dissemination of the languages of the Member States.” In accordance with this, the State Examinations Commission also facilitates examinations in the following language subjects, although students have to meet certain criteria in order to be examined in them. The format of these papers is quite different to the curricular Language examinations, as they are based on the European Baccalaureate.
- Modern Greek
- Agricultural Science
- Applied Mathematics
- Physics and Chemistry
- Architectural Technology
- Engineering Technology
- Home Economics, Scientific and Social
- Design and Communication Graphics
- Agricultural Economics†
Arts and Humanities
- Ancient Greek†
- Classical Studies†
- Hebrew Studies
- History (Early Modern or Modern)
- Religious Education
|| Points for |
| Points for |
| Points for|
|90 – 100
|| 20 |
|85 – 89.9
|| 15 |
|80 – 84.9
|| 10 |
|75 – 79.9
|| 5 |
|70 – 74.9
|| 0 |
|65 – 69.9
|| 0 |
|60 – 64.9
|| 0 |
|55 – 59.9
|| 0 |
|50 – 54.9
|| 0 |
|45 – 49.9
|| 0 |
|40 – 44.9
|| 0 |
|25 – 39.9
|| 0 |
|10 – 24.9
|| 0 |
|0 – 9.9
|| 0 |
†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 option which may be taken along with the other optional subjects. It is a more life-oriented selection.
|| Percentage Range
|| Points awarded |
|| 80 – 100
|| 70 |
|| 65 – 79.9
|| 50 |
|| 50 – 64.9
|| 30 |
|| 0 – 49.9
|| 0 |
Each subject is examined with at least one written paper (English, Mathematics, Irish and some of the optional courses contain two written papers). Some subjects such as Art and Technology involve a practical exam which is supervised by an external examiner. Language courses are examined through both oral and aural-known as 'tape'- methods, as well as the written. The oral exams take place some months before the written exams, and the aurals take place in the same weeks as the written. Some subjects, such as Chemistry, and Agricultural Science, involve the keeping of a 'book' by students, or the creation of a project. 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.
Matriculation to University using the Leaving Certificate
Republic of Ireland
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 programmes require Mathematics and/or a physical science. Other courses, such as medicine, have similar matriculation requirements.
The most a person can get in points in the leaving certificate is 600, equivalent to six A1's in six Higher Level papers.
If demand exceeds supply for a course (it usually does), the CAO will award candidates "points" based on their Leaving Certificate performance in six subjects. The maximum possible score is 600. The majority of candidates present between six and eight subjects, including English, Mathematics and Irish (exemptions available) and usually a foreign language. Once all other criteria have been met, applicants with the highest points are offered a place on the course.
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 staring 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 2007, 16.5% of students attempted the Mathematics (Higher Level) paper) .
Some universities require a foreign language and Irish. Exemptions are available for: learning difficulties, birth outside of the Republic of Ireland, not having taken Irish before the age of eleven years or studying abroad for a period of at least two years after the age of eleven .
Traditionally relatively large numbers of Irish students went to university in the United Kingdom
, particularly in Northern Ireland
and larger British cities
- this has tailed off somewhat since the expansion of education in the Republic. Increasingly students from the Republic of Ireland
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. On June 8, 2004 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 seven or eight) than a typical A level student.
The exams begin on the first Wednesday of June every year, traditionally commencing with English
Paper One, followed by Paper Two. . The exams last two and a half weeks; the 2008 exams began on 4 June
and ended on 20 June
, with results released on 13 August
In 2008, the exam timetable was reorganised to reduce the intensity of exam period. Particular changes included the moving of English Paper Two to Thursday morning, 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. Full details of the new timetable can be seen on http://www.examinations.ie
Only one school outside Ireland offers the Leaving Certificate exam to their students. Since 1997 students at the ISM international school in Tripoli
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".