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Why bonus points for maths aren't always a fair deal

Today, Wednesday September 5, is the closing date for acceptances of CAO Round Two offers that were made last Thursday.

Some activity will continue on the CAO offer and acceptance front for the next few weeks. CAO will issue any offers which a college authorises it to make to the next qualified applicants on a course list, if there are still places to fill, and it is not too late to join the course.

There are still more than 160 courses on CAO's "Available Place" list. These courses have no further qualified applicants on their waiting lists, and are open to application from either existing or new applicants.

There may only be a couple of available places on any individual course, but it is worth checking and applying quickly if you are interested.

Meanwhile, looking back over this year's CAO season, one of the big stories was the introduction of the bonus points for higher level Leaving Cert maths, with a flat bonus of 25 points for any HL grade from A1 to D3.

There was much discussion about its impact on the cut-off points for many courses. Undoubtedly points went up on any course for which higher level maths was a requirement.

This did not really matter, as all applicants had the extra currency, so to speak. But it also affected courses where higher level maths was not a requirement.

CAO estimated that the bonus points were mainly of benefit to students who had to present higher level maths anyway, and that out of 12,914 CAO applicants this year who presented higher level maths (11,000 from this year and 2,000 from previous years' Leaving Certificates), only 3,353 Level 8 applicants actually benefited from bonus points, because in some cases, even with the bonus points, maths was not one of the applicant's six best subjects.

However, 3,000 is not an insignificant number. It seems indisputable that some applicants without higher level maths lost a place, even in courses where higher level was not a requirement.

Take two applicants to veterinary medicine in UCD, where any maths grade will satisfy, but applicants must have at least a HL grade C3 in chemistry. The first applicant took six subjects at higher level and maths at ordinary level, and obtained grade A1 in five higher level subjects, equalling 500 points.

He got a C3 in HL chemistry, worth 60 points, and a B1 in ordinary level maths, worth 45 points, so he counted his chemistry as his sixth subject and so totalled 560 points.

The second applicant took the same seven subjects, and also got five A1s. He also met the C3 in HL chemistry, but he took maths at HL and obtained a D1. His maths score is 55 plus the bonus of 25, giving him a total of 80, so naturally he uses that as his sixth score for points purposes, and his total is 580.

Both of these applicants would have reached last year's cut-off point of 560 for veterinary medicine. This year the cut-off in the second round was random selection on 580 (effectively 25 points more than last year, since it took 585 points to be guaranteed a place).

Our second hypothetical applicant was lucky to get a place, whereas our first applicant was at least 20 points short.

We are entering a period of proposed changes in the selection of students for third-level college places.

If bonus points are to be awarded in some subjects, might it not be fair to consider giving them for the subjects which are specific course requirements, as higher level chemistry was in this instance?

'Education now' returns next week

Irish Independent