Although numbers who take it could drop from the 18,173 entered with the State Examinations Commission (SEC) by anything up to 3,000 when the first maths papers are distributed at schools on Friday afternoon, the 34% entered for the toughest level is a further indication of the impact of bonus points.
Since 2012, 25 extra CAO points have been awarded by all colleges to applicants who pass the subject at honours level. As a result, and also perhaps linked to the new Project Maths syllabus, the numbers sitting higher level have jumped from a record low of 16% in 2011 to 27% last year, when 32% indicated in advance they were preparing for the honours exam.
Of 53,868 students set to sit Leaving Certificate maths exams, just over 33,500 are entered for ordinary level and almost 2,200 for the foundation level exam.
Third-level colleges are considering extending the bonus points model to other subjects, or for applicants in Leaving Certificate subjects relevant to course choices.
However, there was also another rise last year in the proportion of higher-level candidates who failed, the 650 who did so representing 4.5% of those who sat maths at that level, twice the 2012 figure.
This could reflect the pressure faced by some students to attempt the tougher papers out of concern they might lose out on college places without the bonus points, and the trend is being monitored by the Department of Education.
The latest SEC figures come ahead of Wednesday’s start of the Leaving Certificate for 55,963 students, 1,030 more than were entered last year. A further 2,902 have been working towards the Leaving Certificate Applied. Junior Certificate numbers are down by just over 1,000 to 59,919 this year, bringing the total of students entered for state exams to 118,784.
SEC chairman Pat Burke wished candidates well and said the exams represent a big event in students’ lives.
“While the commission is focused on assessing all candidates in a fair, transparent and accessible manner, it is recognised that the examinations can be a stressful time for many young people,” said Mr Burke. “The support, understanding and reassurance provided by candidates’ families and schools, their communities and beyond, is therefore critical.”
An Economic and Social Research Institute study last week highlighted the stresses placed by the high stakes nature of the exam on sixth-year students, particularly the pressure of the link between results and progression to college and careers.
A new approach to college entry and Leaving Certificate is set to see fewer grade sub-divisions, as students often strive to gain every single exam mark under the current system in order to move to the next CAO points level, which has a knock-on effect on how subjects are studied. However, the changes will not take effect for at least two years.
More than 4,000 examiners will mark students’ work, with Leaving Certificate results due on Wednesday, August 12, and Junior Certificate students to get their results in mid-September.
Since the weekend, more than 5,000 superintendents involved in supervising the exams have been taking possession of boxes with the 4m exam papers to be used over the 13-day exam period.