Students say Leaving Cert did not prepare them for college

By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent

University students have told researchers they felt the Leaving Certificate did not prepare them well enough for third-level education.

In a survey of more than 300 of its first-year students, Dublin City University found just one-in-four felt the exam had prepared them well to interrogate and critically evaluate information or ideas. Only slightly more felt they were well prepared by the Leaving Certificate to identify sources of information or to compare information from different sources.

While the findings echo criticisms levelled for several years by third-level educators, there have also been arguments the Leaving Certificate should not be solely to prepare students for college studies.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is in the early stages of a review that could lead to an overhaul of the two-year senior cycle of second-level education that leads to the Leaving Certificate.

The research for DCU Institute of Education’s Centre for Assessment Research Policy and Practice (CARPE) was carried out in April and May with students from a range of courses, all who did the Leaving Certificate last year.

It found that at least three-quarters of those who had completed almost a year at university felt well prepared by the Leaving Certificate to persist when learning was difficult, to be well organised and self-disciplined, and to cope with the pressure of heavy workload.

But only 40% felt it made them ready to perform well across different types of assessment or to be intellectually curious. Less than one-third felt prepared to be open-minded or explore ideas from a number of different perspectives.

More than 47,500 of around 56,000-plus students due to get their Leaving Certificate results next week have applied for third-level places through the Central Applications Office (CAO).

But, for well over 10,000 students each year, the Leaving Certificate is a stepping stone to training or further education courses, apprenticeships or into employment.

CARPE director Professor Michael O’Leary said, despite some encouraging elements, the DCU research reveals a worrying disconnect and a challenging transition between second-level and third-level education.

Despite being the main pathway used for entering third-level education, the Leaving Certificate programme is not, on this compelling new evidence, sufficiently equipping students with the necessary skills for third-level study.

Prof O’Leary said the undergraduate students’ perceptions require attention and action in the context of the NCCA review of the senior cycle. He suggested building on the reforms underway at junior cycle to provide students with tools to start developing greater learner autonomy.

“At senior cycle, this might involve, for example, exposing students to a wider range of literature and teaching them how to cite others to lend support to their views while at the same time broadening assessment to include approaches that facilitate the gathering of evidence for critical, independent thinking,” he said.

The State Examinations Commission will issue this year’s Leaving Certificate results next Wednesday, and most third-level places will be filled through offers made by the CAO the following Monday, August 20.

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