Leaving Cert paper 'full of problems', minister warned

Kevin Denny: has issues with higher level economics paper

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

A LEADING academic has raised serious concerns about how the Leaving Certificate higher level economics paper is set and marked.

Dr Kevin Denny of University College Dublin UCD has written to Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and the State Examinations Commission (SEC) about problems he sees with the paper or its marking scheme.

The marking scheme is what is provided to examiners to guide them in how to allocate marks for individual questions, and includes examples of answers.

Dr Denny raised issues about 14 of the 17 questions/answers on the paper and said he had "omitted mentioning some more minor problems".

Among his criticisms were that the paper did not allow for sufficient distinction between students, as well as the terminology in some questions.

Dr Denny said the most serious problems were with a question on trade/competitiveness /slowdown in the euro-growth areas, which dealt with a cornerstone of economics, the law of comparative advantage.

The senior lecturer, who has taught and examined economics in a university setting for over 20 years, said he wanted to be constructive and helpful.

The Leaving Cert economics syllabus is dated, having been drawn up in 1969, but while that was an issue, Dr Denny said it was not at the root of the problems he identified.

In its response, the SEC insisted that both the "academic integrity and structure of the paper are valid" and that the marking scheme was appropriate for the level of candidates.

The exam chiefs said the syllabus was intended as an introductory course of study at pre-university level, and this was reflected in the subject content and depth of understanding required.

The SEC added that consideration must also be given to how content is presented and explained in textbooks and other material available.

Dr Denny said he had checked comparable exams in the UK and Australia and he did not have the same issues.


He described as "a recurring problem" that students were required "to supply a number of reasons or functions in which there is no distinction between what is important or not important. . . Thus a student who correctly memorised some minor reason(s) for something would do as well as a student who understood what was important.

"Any exam paper should discriminate between students who understand what is important and those who do not."

He said that a related problem was that lists of "correct" answers set out in the marking scheme did not distinguish between "means" and "ends", and sometimes overlapped.

In addition, where students were asked to give an explanation, "the 'correct' answer provided was sometimes simply a definition".

Dr Denny noted that students and teachers used marking schemes to inform themselves of how best to answer subsequent papers.

He said it was also vital that the public had confidence in the integrity of the exams generally and "moreover the need for economic literacy in Ireland has never been higher".

His commentary relates exclusively to the 2012 higher level paper and marking scheme, and said he had not studied the ordinary level paper, or papers from other years.