STUDENTS have been given a detailed preview of exactly what to expect in an oral Irish exam in 15 months' time, after exam chiefs ignored the advice of experts.
Now a row has broken out over whether or not plans to change the oral Irish test next year will lead to a 'dumbing down' of the subject in the Leaving Certificate.
The change will come into effect in 2012 when the marks for the oral increase from 25pc to 40pc of the total of 600 marks for the subject.
As part of the change, students will be asked to give a description in Irish of a series of pictures on a page.
The advice from the experts was that the page should be given to the students only a few minutes before the test so that their ability would be really tested.
But this advice has been ignored. Instead, 20 pages with pictures have been made available to schools -- a year and three months before the test.
One of these pages will be selected by the examiner and the student will be asked to give a description of it in four minutes for a maximum of 80 marks.
In that time there may be "a small number" of questions from the examiner about the pictures.
Anna Ni Ghallachoir from the Language Centre in NUI Maynooth said publishing the pages so far in advance gave students plenty of time to memorise what to say.
The Irish Independent has learnt that this was also the view of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the State's advisory body.
But the advice was rejected by the State Examinations Commission, which has posted the 20 pages on its website (www.examinations.ie).
The commission has also named the five poems, one of which will have to be read aloud in part during the oral test.
The commission said this was a test of the candidate's ability to understand the poem, as well as accuracy of pronunciation.
Students can get up to 35 marks for just two minutes of poetry reading, but critics said most students will simply learn them off by heart, without necessarily having any clear understanding. They also point out that the much more difficult task of answering the poetry question on the written paper is worth only 30 marks.
Ms Ni Ghallachoir said the arrangements for the poetry reading and picture description meant that students could boost their marks by rote learning but without displaying any real ability.
Critics said that the new arrangements do not reward the linguistic competence of native Irish speakers.
Fiona Ui Uiginn, deputy principal of Colaiste Iosagain in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, said the official justification for the additional marks for the oral was that students would have more time to develop the spoken language.
"A similar change was introduced a number of years ago in the case of foreign languages.
"The result: Ireland now ranks at the bottom of European surveys on foreign language competence," she added.