Distinction and Higher Merit in Junior Cycle [2023]

Distinction and Higher Merit are the top two grades you can achieve in the Junior Cycle. This new Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA) will eventually replace the Junior Certificate. The modification was initially made in 2017 in the form of a new grading system, although they were limited to a few specific subjects. Beginning in 2022, this new grading system, along with the classroom-based assessments system, has been implemented for all Junior Cycle subjects.

Distinction and Higher Merit

Percentage (%)GradeAbbreviation
(What You’ll See on Your JCPA)
90 to 100DistinctionDN

So, Distinction, or as it will appear on your Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement- DN, is the highest achievable grade in Junior Cycle. You’ll have to score at least or over 90 to get a Distinction. Remember, unlike Leaving Cert, there is no points system in Junior Cycle.

Percentage (%)GradeAbbreviation
(What You’ll See on Your JCPA)
75 to 89.99Higher MeritHM

Higher Merit, or as it will appear on your Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement- HM, is the second highest grade in Junior Cycle. You’ll have to score between at or over 75 and less than 90 to get a Higher Merit.

New Junior Cycle Grading vs Old Junior Cert Grading

2021 is the year when the last of the Junior Certificate exams were terminated. For the first time in two years, the Junior Cycle exam has taken place. Due to the pandemic, they were abruptly postponed in 2020 by the Department of Education, and they were also abandoned last year for the same reason.

However, this year’s Junior Cycle students have sat their written exams, which started on Wednesday, June 8.

The new grading system has also been fully implemented since 2022. Here’s a short overview of the new grading system versus the old one.

New Grading SystemNew Grading SystemNew Grading SystemOld Grading SystemOld Grading System
Junior CycleJunior CycleJunior CycleJunior CertificateJunior Certificate
LevelPercentage (%)Grade DescriptorsAbbreviationPercentage (%)Grade Descriptors
Higher (Ard), Ordinary (Gnáth), Foundation (Bonn)

90 to 100DistinctionDN85 to 100A
75 to 89.99Higher MeritHM70 to 84.99B
55 to 74.99MeritMT55 to 69.99C
40 to 54.99AchievedAC40 to 54.99D
20 to 39.99Partially AchievedPA25 to 39.99E
0 to 19.99Not Graded (NG)NG10 to 24.99F
0 to 9.99NG

As you can see, the new grading system has 6 bands in it. Achievements are measured using six grades: Distinction, Higher Merit, Merit, Achieved, Partially Achieved, and Not Graded. In comparison, the old system had 7 bands.

From 2022, the JC subjects are available at 3 primary Levels:

  1. Higher Level (Irish: Ardleibhéal)
  2. Ordinary Level (Irish: Gnáthleibhéal)
  3. Common Level (Irish: Leibhéal Comónta)

All subjects— aside from English, Irish, and Maths— have Common Level exams now. Only English, Irish, and Maths are available at the Higher or Ordinary Level. However, if these subjects are proving too difficult for you, you can also take them at another level called Foundation Level. But remember, this may restrict you from getting your course of choice later down your education path. So, always double-check.

This is also why, in this article, we’ll only provide past years’ statistical comparisons for subjects that were previously evaluated under the updated Junior Cycle specification. These are:

  1. English
  2. Science
  3. Business Studies

Percentage (%) of Distinction & Higher Merit in All Subjects in JC [2019-2022]

As you already know, the only subjects that were previously evaluated under the updated Junior Cycle specification are English, Science, and Business Studies. So we’ll only show comparative data for these three specifically. Also, no JC exam was held in the year 2020 and 2021.

Note that, under the new grading system, the only subjects available at Higher and Ordinary Level are English, Irish, Gaeilge and Mathematics. All other subjects are available only at Common Level.

In English [2017-2022]

English has historically been one of the most difficult subjects to obtain a Distinction in. The trend has not changed since the new grading system was introduced for it back in 2017. Only an average of 2.31% of the students received Distinction at both the Higher Level (HL) and Ordinary Level (OL). It is noteworthy that it was the only subject to have the new JC grades system in 2017-2018. Plus, most of the students (about 3/4th to 4/5th) tend to take English at the Higher Level.

An average of 19.3% scored Higher Merit in it in Higher Level. A record 33.2% students scored an HM in 2017 at Ordinary Level. However, this percentage has been declining ever since. Only 22% of students scored HM in 2022 at Ordinary Level. The same is true for Ordinary Level. However, it saw only a 2.2% decline between 2017-2022.

YearLevelTotal StudentsPercentage (%) of DistinctionPercentage of
Higher Merit

In Science [2019-2022]

The new grading system has also been applied to Science since 2019. This subject has always been available only at the Common Level. The percentage of Distinction and Higher Merit in Science has risen since 2019. However, in the case of HM, it’s a mere 0.1% increase as opposed to 1.7% for DN.

YearLevelTotal StudentsPercentage (%) of DistinctionPercentage of
Higher Merit

In Business Studies [2019-2022]

The new grading system has also been applied for Business Studies since 2019, and like Science, it is also only available at the Common Level. While the percentage of HM decreased, the percentage of DN increased between 2019-2022.

YearLevelTotal StudentsPercentage of DistinctionPercentage of
Higher Merit

In Maths [2022]

Mathematics saw the new grading system just this year. So we don’t have any historical data. While the percentage of DN grade at around 3.5% for both Higher and Ordinary Levels, the percentage of HM is quite healthy at both Levels.

It clearly suggests, while students struggle to get to the top, achieving an HM should be easy if you approach your preparation smartly. But don’t worry, we’ll dive a bit deeper into it a bit later.

YearLevelTotal StudentsPercentage of DistinctionPercentage of
Higher Merit

In Gaeilge & Irish [2022]

Lastly, the only other subjects to have Higher and Ordinary Levels are Gaeilge & Irish. These two also got their introduction in 2022.

YearSubjectLevelTotal StudentsPercentage of DistinctionPercentage of
Higher Merit
Gaeilge T1HL25993.623

In Other Subjects [2022]

Now, let’s look at the percentage of DN and HM in some other notable JC subjects. Note that all these subjects are only available at the Common Level. You can look at the whole set of data from State Examinations Commission’s website.

YearLevelSubjectTotal StudentsPercentage of DistinctionPercentage of
Higher Merit
Applied Technology56622.119.5

Which Subjects Get the Most Distinctions & Higher Merits? [2022]

Here’s a list of the top 5 subjects that saw the most students getting Distinction and Higher Merit.

SubjectLevelPercentage of DistinctionSubjectLevelPercentage of
Higher Merit
ClassicsCommon5.3Wood TechnologyCommon36.3
FrenchCommon4.1Home EconomicsCommon29.8

Which Subjects Get the Least Distinctions & Higher Merits? [2022]

Here’s a list of the top 5 subjects that saw the least students getting Distinction and Higher Merit.

SubjectLevelPercentage of DistinctionSubjectLevelPercentage of
Higher Merit
Home EconomicsCommon2.1Visual ArtCommon14.1
EnglishOrdinary2.1Gaeilge T1Ordinary15.4
Applied TechnologyCommon2.1IrishOrdinary17.9
Wood TechnologyCommon2.3Applied TechnologyCommon19.5

How to Get Distinction/Higher Merit in All Subjects?

While getting Distinctions in all subjects may prove to be quite difficult, it isn’t impossible. Here’s what you can do:

Self-Study Tips

If you want to graduate from JC with a Distinction or Higher Merit, you can follow some carefully curated advice. Some of the best are as following:

A. Think Like Your Examiner

Examiners typically look for two elements in exam scripts:

  1. Does the learner comprehend the subject at hand?
  2. Has the student “studied hard” and put forth the necessary effort?

That’s basically it. Your challenge is to convince the examiner of this.

For all anyone would have cared, you could have read the entire book. However, if you are unable to prove this in the exam, your examiner will have to assume the worst and believe that you were lax and didn’t do any reading or studying.

One other thing that examiners dislike is seeing a textbook response, as most people will be doing. Instead, provide a story in your response. Add value.

B. Review Previous Questions

Reviewing previous questions will help you understand how difficult the questions will be and how deep you need to go to answer them in a satisfactory manner.

C. Set the Right Goals

It’s best to go through an overview of your entire syllabus and break it down into chunks. Divide your whole academic year so you can put the appropriate emphasis on each subject. If you’re weak at one, it will take more time and effort and vice versa.

Thus you mitigate the risk of getting caught in a subject that you put out to finish later. Also, keep time for the necessary number of revisions.

Seek Expert Help

There are subjects which may not be feasible for self-study. One of those is Maths. You can either contact your seniors who scored a DN in maths or consult us.

Getting Distinction or Higher Merit in Maths

Among the 40275 students that appeared in JC 2022 exam, 3.6% got the Distinction grade at Higher Level. It’s a small percentage, but if you consider the percentage of DN in other subjects, it’s still quite high. A massive 22.6% got the Higher Merit. So achieving these grades is very doable if you’re smart about it.

Most of the students think that just blind practice is the way to go for Maths. That’s not the case. If you’re studying other subjects with equal emphasis, you’ll have to be very smart about how you spend your precious study times.

Just read the section above titled “Think Like Your Examiner.” There’s a point there where we suggest that “comprehend the subject at hand” is a surefire way to convince the examiner to give you a DN. Here at BreakThrough Maths, we prepare you keeping that philosophy in mind. You’ll not just do maths with us, you’ll understand them, love them and find innovative solutions that other students struggle to find.

Join our Junior Cycle Maths grinds and we’ll immediately assess you, find your weak links and promptly start working on those first. With us, instead of working hard, you’ll be working smart.

Wrapping up

Understanding the new Junior Cycle grading system is crucial in laying the groundwork for your future academic endeavours and personal growth. To achieve a Distinction, it is necessary to begin planning your study time from the start of the Junior Cycle’s second year. For assistance with designing study plans, consult your professors and guidance counsellors. Of course, there is no better approach to begin studying than to begin answering questions from past years’ exams and engaging in regular practice.

If you want to keep reading, see our simplified breakdown of JC Maths syllabus.


1. How many points is a Distinction?

There is no points system in JC. The Distinction grade is awarded solely on the basis of the percentage of the marks that you obtain. If you can secure at or over 90% marks in your JC exam, you’ll get a Distinction.

2. Is 79 a Distinction?

Unfortunately, no. Scoring 79% will get you a Higher Merit but not Distinction. In fact, if you score anywhere from 75% to 89.99%, you’ll receive the HM grade. You’ll have to score 90% or above to receive a Distinction.

3. Is Distinction Higher than Merit?

Yes it is. In fact, the Merit grdae sits just in the middle of the new grading system. If you can score anywhere between 55 to 74.99, you’ll receive Merit. You will obtain the next garde, Higher Merit, if your score falls between 75% and 89.99%. Any score at or above 90% will get you Distinction.

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Come and see for yourself: Book a free Maths Grind on our website today.

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