Degrees of difference: Level 7 and Level 8
Students and parents may have heard phrases such as Level 8 and Level 7, in relation to educational courses after Leaving Cert., and may not know what they mean.
The National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) places qualifications at an appropriate level on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. With a Leaving Cert, students may apply for studies from Level 5 to Level 8. Level 9 and 10 are master's and PhD courses, which require a student to already hold a Level 8 degree.
Level 8 is known as an honours degree - what many people think of when they think of a traditional university degree. They are offered at universities, institutes of technology, private colleges and training colleges. They are generally four years in duration, with some exceptions - for example medicine is five or six years, while arts degrees are often three.
Students mainly apply for these through the CAO, with some private colleges also offering Level 8 courses outside the CAO. Leaving Cert students are required to meet the minimum entry requirements and essential subjects for these courses and then compete with other students on points to win a place. Minimum requirements for all Level 8 courses are two higher level C3 grades and four ordinary level D3s (with the exception of Trinity College Dublin [TCD], which requires three higher C3s and three ordinary D3s). These will change in line with the new Leaving Cert grading scale in 2017. CAO points for these courses in 2015 ranged from 200 points to 595 depending on supply and demand.
Level 7 is an ordinary degree - previously referred to as a diploma - generally of three years duration. Application is mainly through the CAO, while some private colleges offer Level 7 courses outside the CAO. Once again, Leaving Cert students must meet the minimum entry requirements, essential subjects and then compete for places on points. Many institutions require a student to achieve five ordinary D3s for entry although there are some exceptions. Essential subject requirements are also lower for Level 7 courses. For example, a student wishing to study engineering at Level 8 in Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) will require a higher C3 in maths while engineering courses at Level 7 in DIT require an ordinary C3 in maths. Level 7 degrees are offered at universities, institutes of technology, and private colleges. CAO points this year ranged from AQA (all qualified applicants) to 450. Most Level 7 courses have an optional 'add on' year, making it possible to complete one extra year and receive a Level 8.
Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin
Question: My daughter would like to apply for medicine. Should we invest in a HPAT preparation course?
Aoife replies: The answer to your question is not very straightforward, I'm afraid.
At the very least, it is very helpful to be familiar with the test and timings, and students should practice and prepare. However, I am not sure of the value of investing in very expensive courses.
There are free materials available on the HPAT website and there are some free courses offered around the country.
I would suggest that your daughter familiarise herself with the timings and then take the practice tests under exam conditions to see how she is doing. If she finds that she is not achieving close to the required score, then, perhaps, consider a course.
Remember that if she reuses the same practice materials over and over again she is likely to get better scores each time, but this does not mean she will do better with new questions.
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