New era begins today: Shake-up of grading system aims to take pressure off students
The State exams enter a new era today with a shake-up in the grading system for Leaving Cert candidates and a shorter, new-style written English paper in the Junior Cert.
The new Leaving Cert grading scheme replaces the traditional ABC system as part of wider efforts to take unnecessary heat out of the CAO points race.
In a linked move, this year also sees the roll-out of a new CAO points scale, which awards points for a mark of between 30-39pc on a higher level paper.
Previously, such a result would return no points for the student.
The new-look grading system brings other major changes, which are aimed at taking the pressure off students who rely on rote learning to pick up marks here and there.
Meanwhile, the first of the reforms at junior cycle is making a big difference to the traditional English exams - and the Junior Cert timetable.
Coupled with the introduction of school-based assessments, there will be only one two-hour paper in English at higher as well as ordinary level. The shorter time period for English has given exam chiefs enough flexibility with scheduling to end the Junior Cert a day earlier than usual.
The dual approach to assessment means the English paper will be worth a maximum of 90pc of the marks - the other 10pc is for a written task already done in school.
There are almost 121,500 candidates entered for the Leaving and Junior Cert exams and Education Minister Richard Bruton led the good wishes to students. Mr Bruton said he wanted to remind everyone that while these exams were important, they were just one pathway in education.
"A range of opportunities now exists which will help students to fulfil their ambitions," he said.
Leaving Cert candidate numbers are relatively stable at 59,394, but there is a surge of entries for Junior Cert, to 62,076 - up almost 1,500 on last year - reflecting burgeoning enrolments at second level.
About one in three, or 19,958, Leaving Certificate candidates plans to sit higher level maths, a number that has increased steadily since 2012, when 25 CAO bonus points were introduced for a minimum 40pc in the paper.
There has also been an ongoing rise in entries for higher-level maths in the Junior Cert, as younger students set themselves up for more advanced study in senior cycle.
English is the first subject being examined in the reformed junior cycle programme, which is being phased in up until 2021.
The grading being applied to English will differ from the traditional format, which will continue to apply to other subjects until the new forms of assessment are introduced for each one.
For English, students will be awarded descriptors such as distinction, higher merit, merit, achieved, partially achieved and not graded, while in other subjects the traditional ABC grades will be used.
Later this year, students will be awarded a Junior Certificate Profile of Achievement (JCPA), to replace the Junior Certificate, as part of the reforms.
This year also sees an expansion of a pilot programme in online marking, which was introduced last year for Junior Cert higher level French.
It will also be used for Junior Cert English, at both higher and ordinary levels, for the 2017 exams. The SEC said this technology was used by all UK examinations boards, including Northern Ireland, and throughout Europe, and facilitates high-quality, reliable marking.
Taking heat out of the points race with new marks and scale
The shake-up in the Leaving Certificate grading system, coupled with a new CAO points scale, aims to reward effort and end the days of students putting themselves under enormous pressure to learn "off by heart".
Until last year, candidates faced the equivalent of 14 grades, A1 to NG, generally separated by five percentage points. Those frequent intervals were a temptation to play the system and try to pick up a few extra marks to get to the next grade. Now there will be eight grades: H1-H8 at higher level and O1-O8 at ordinary.
It means wider bands: H3 will represent a mark of between 70-79, an amalgamation of a B3 (70-74) and a B2 (75-79). With fewer steps, reaching the next one will require a considerable hike in achievement.
Exam chiefs say there will be no "rounding up". So, a mark that translates into 79.83pc will be a H3. They say that "rounding up" was never practice, but are clearly anticipating some disappointment this year from students who are so close, but yet so far.
The new points scale, a related measure, is also abandoning its standard five-point divisions.
While a H1 (90-100pc) will attract 100 points, a H2 (80-89pc) will get 88 and a H3 (70-80pc) will be worth 77 and so forth.