Monday 16 July 2018

Explainer: How the new Leaving Cert grading system works


Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh
Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh

Aoife Walsh

Here's a complete breakdown of the new Leaving Cert grading system.

Every year I enjoy watching my students collect their results. Students arrive, nervously accept their envelope, and slink off to a corner to scan the page and take in the list of grades. Whether the student is happy or disappointed, the next step for many school-leavers is to calculate their CAO points and attempt to figure out the course for which they are likely to receive an offer, using the previous year's points as a guide.

While we can never predict what the points will be from one year to the next, the changes this year, both to the Leaving Cert grading system and points scale, mean candidates will not even be comparing like with like. As a result, their guesses will not only be meaningless, but likely to cause needless anxiety.

The new grading system reduces the number of grades, at both higher level and ordinary level, from 14 to eight. In general, the old bands covered five percentage marks (e.g. 60-65pc) but the new bands stretch across 10 percentage marks (e.g. 60-69pc) to reflect a more marked gap in performance between candidates' achievements.

Linked to this, the way in which the grades convert into points for college entry has also been revised. A notable change is the awarding of 37 points for between 30-39pc on a higher level paper.

Also of huge signficance is that points will no longer go up in standard steps of five and 10. Different increments will be used between grades: e.g. H1 gets 100 points, while H2 gets 88 (12 lower) and H3 gets 77 (11 lower). The new scale allows for students to score anything from 0 to 625, rather than only have totals ending in five or zero, which resulted in large numbers clustered on the same points, The greater differentiation in scores will minimise random selection.

All CAO applicants in 2017 are being awarded points under the new scale, no matter when they sat the Leaving Certificate. Bonus points for higher level maths still apply.

Today, there will be many students who will convince themselves, unnecessarily, that they will not receive an offer for their desired course and will begin to panic.

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We expect that the overall trend will be that, on average, cut off points will be down, which is a good thing for students. However, it is difficult to say where, and by how much. It is also inevitable that some courses will see an increase in the points cut-off.

The best advice for those anxiously awaiting their CAO offers is to be patient. Try not to overthink what will happen. Wait to see the offers and make decisions based on this, and this alone.

Anyone with any concern should contact the National Parents Council post primary helpline and talk it through with a guidance counsellor.

Don't panic! You have done the work and you will have options regardless of what happens on Monday.

Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin

Irish Independent

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