Junior Certificate: The Complete Overview

junior cert complete overview

The Junior Certificate (Irish: Teastas Sóisearach) is an award administered by the State Examinations Commission of the Department of Education and Skills in Ireland. It is compulsory for every child to complete the Junior Cert. 

In this article, we’ll talk about everything you need to know about the Junior Cert, along with some bonus tips to help your child ace the Junior Cert!

Junior Cycle

The Junior Cycle consists of the first three years of secondary school. A student must be 12-14 years old on 1 January of their respective school year of admission to begin secondary school. And after 3 years of secondary-level education, at the age of 14-16, they sit for the Junior Certificate Examination. Students outside that state may also sit for the exams by paying appropriate fees.

Junior Cycle Framework

Since its launch, the Junior Cycle has been reformed and changed a couple of times to ensure the utmost benefit of the students. Hence, in 2014 the new Junior Cycle Framework was established and is expected to be completed by 2022. 

The new junior cycle features revised subjects and short courses, a focus on literacy, numeracy and key skills, and new approaches of assessment and reporting. Schools have more freedom to design junior cycle programmes that meet the learning needs of all students. For students, the junior cycle is e a mix of subjects and short courses as well as other learning experiences.

Junior Cert for Students with Special Needs

The Junior Cycle is designed to ensure equal opportunity, participation, and outcome for every child. For instance, Students with disadvantages such as ADHD, Dyslexia, Autism, etc., will not be penalised for spelling mistakes in exams like English and Irish. They will be marked easier on all topics. 

For students with special educational needs, priority learning units (PLUs) are provided. Through these, the statements of learning and skills become a reality for these students. 

We also believe that every child has the same right to education. That’s why Breakthrough Maths also provides online maths grinds to children with special needs. For the record, one of our students had Autism, and he achieved 480 points! His story is an inspiration to us!

Changes to 2022 Junior Cycle Exams

Due to the pandemic, the Junior Cert exams were cancelled for two years. But they’ll be back in 2022. Some new adjustments are made to the upcoming Junior Cert exams to cover up the losses. 

According to the Assessment Arrangement document provided by the gov.ie website, students participating in the Junior Cert 2022 must complete at least one classroom-based assessment (CBA) in each subject and short course. For subjects like Visual Art, Applied Technology, Engineering, Graphics, and Wood Technology, the students must complete CBA2.

CBAs do not count towards your child’s Junior Cycle grades, but they will appear on their Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA).

In contrast to the previous years, the written exam will make up 100% of the Junior Cycle grades, whereas previously, it used to be 90%. Apart from that, the written exam structure will be the same as the sample paper and previous years’ question papers. 

Also, note that the Assessment Task (AT) will not occur this year. The grades for the relevant subjects will entirely depend on the written exams.

For the convenience of the students, the latest date of completion of CBAs for most subjects has been extended to the new school year. You’ll find the latest dates of CBA submission here.

Junior Cycle Subjects

The Junior Cycle Programme offers an extensive range of subjects, but all of them are not available in every school. Here’s a list of the subjects available for the Junior Cycle:

SubjectLevel
IrishHigher, Ordinary and Foundation
EnglishHigher and Ordinary
MathematicsHigher, Ordinary and Foundation
HistoryHigher and Ordinary
GeographyHigher and Ordinary
FrenchHigher and Ordinary
GermanHigher and Ordinary
SpanishHigher and Ordinary
ItalianHigher and Ordinary
Art, Craft & DesignHigher and Ordinary
MusicHigher and Ordinary
Science (Revised Syllabus)Higher and Ordinary
Home EconomicsHigher and Ordinary
Materials Technology (Wood)Higher and Ordinary
MetalworkHigher and Ordinary
Technical GraphicsHigher and Ordinary
Business StudiesHigher and Ordinary
Environmental and Social Studies (ESS)Higher and Ordinary
TechnologyHigher and Ordinary
Ancient GreekHigher and Ordinary
Classical StudiesHigher and Ordinary
Jewish StudiesHigher and Ordinary
Religious EducationHigher and Ordinary
Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE)Common
Junior Cycle Subjects

Mandatory Subjects

The following subjects are made mandatory for Junior Certificate:

SubjectLevel
Irish/ GaeligeHigher or Ordinary
EnglishHigher or Ordinary
MathematicsHigher or Ordinary
WellbeingCommon Level
HistorySpecial Core Status
Mandatory Junior Cert Subjects

At Junior Certificate, the subjects can be studied in any of the four levels discussed below:

  • Higher Level (Irish: Ardleibhéal): This level is also called ‘Honours’. The higher level is available in all subjects except CSPE, Science and Business Studies, Modern Foreign languages. 
  • Ordinary Level (Irish: Gnáthleibhéal): The ordinary level, also called ‘Pass’, is an easier course than Higher Level. It is available in all subjects except CSPE, Science and Business Studies, Modern Foreign languages.
  • Foundation Level (Irish: Bonnleibhéal): The foundation level is an even easier course than the Ordinary Level. However, it is available only in Irish and Mathematics.
  • Common Level (Irish: Leibhéal Comónta): The common level is available only in CSPE, Science and Business Studies, Modern Foreign languages.

What Do The Levels Actually Mean?

The level of the subject a student chooses will significantly impact their grades in their Leaving Cert exams. So, how does that work? 

Well, a student who studies a subject at an ordinary level in the Junior Cert will find it almost impossible to take the subject at a higher level in the Leaving Cert.  Thus, if a student has chosen an ordinary level for a subject in Junior Certificate, they really won’t have the understanding to complete the subject a higher level for that subject in Leaving Certificate. 

Thi has an impact on a student’s points potential. Now, for the Leaving Cert, at a higher level, the highest possible grade is H1 (90-100%). So, if a student chooses a higher level for a particular subject, he will obtain 100 points at max. But for the ordinary level, the highest attainable point is 56.

Typically, for the Junior Cycle, English, Irish and Maths are studied at either ordinary or higher level, and all new subject specifications are at a common level. The classroom-based assessments (CBA) in the second and third years are also set at a common level.

The Junior Cert Examination

Junior Certificate examination takes place after 3 years of secondary level education, that is, the Junior Cycle. Students appearing for Junior Cert are usually 14-15 years old

The Junior Cert exams begin around the second week in June. Students on average sit 9- 10 subjects. The exams usually last for two and a half weeks, starting with English, then the other core subjects and gradually ending with the subjects with the least number of candidates

The duration of the exams varies from 2 to 2:30 hours according to the subject. Most of the subjects have one paper only. However, some core subjects can require two papers where each exam lasts 2:30 hours.

The exams take place in the form of written papers, aural exams, practical exams, and marks from coursework assignments. The aural exams are done at the beginning of the written paper. The practical and oral exams take place in the 3rd year of the Junior Cycle, whereas the written exams take place later in June. 

Is Junior Certificate Equivalent to GCSE?

Junior Certificate is the closest Irish award to the UK’s General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). Both of them have similar pathways and can be achieved after successfully completing compulsory education. 

Is the Junior Cert Hard?

Well, yes. The Junior Cert could be pretty hard, depending on your preparation. If you are well prepared for the exams, you are pretty sure to earn good grades. In that case, it is advised that students start taking preparation from the beginning of the second year of the Junior Cycle. 

You’ll find all the previous year question papers of Junior Cert here. Bonus to that, we’ve got some really helpful maths video resources.

Junior Cert Assessment & Reporting

The Junior Cycle is assessed through classroom-based assessments (CBAs), short courses and the state examination and reported through the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement. 

Here are some things you should know about CBAs, short courses, assessment tasks, and the JCPA: 

Classroom-Based Assessments (CBAs)

CBAs happen during normal class times on regular learning outcomes. They are assessed at a common level. The motive of CBAs is to capture the knowledge and skills that cannot be easily assessed in a typical written examination.

There will be two CBAs for each subject, one in the 2nd year and another in the 3rd year. 

Subject Learning and Assessment Review meetings (SLARs)

SLAR Meetings occur after each completed CBAs. In this meeting, the teachers discuss the students’ work and give them feedback. Each meeting lasts for about two hours. In Junior Cycle, SLAR meetings play an important role in the students’ learning process. 

Assessment Task (AT)

Assessment tasks are written tasks that evaluate what the students have learned, their skills, and their experience from the second CBA. Assessment Tasks are marked by the State of Examinations Commission (SEC). 

Short Courses

Short courses are designed to fulfil the motto of the 24 statements of learning. They require around 100 hours of student engagement. Students can take up to 4 short courses and substitute these for non-mandatory courses. 

The list of the short courses provided by the NCCA is as below:

  • Coding
  • Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE)
  • Physical Education (PE)
  • Digital Media Literacy (DML)
  • A Personal Project: Caring for Animals (Level 2)
  • Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
  • Artistic Performance
  • CSI: Exploring Forensic Science (Level 2)
  • Chinese Language and Culture
  • Philosophy

Apart from these short courses, schools will have the flexibility to create their own short courses that fit the framework for Junior Cycle. 

Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA)

 JCPA is awarded to students after successfully completing Junior Cycle. It was first introduced in 2017. The school prints out the JCPA for each student. 

JCPA records a student’s performance in the CBAs, short courses, the state examination, and other assessments taken over the 3 years of the Junior Cycle. It will also record a student’s achievement in Level 1 Learning Programmes (L1LPs), Level 2 Learning Programmes (L2LPs), where relevant. 

Note that from 2022, JCPA will include achievements according to the new changes made to the Junior Cycle. 

Junior Cert Grading System

Here’s the new grading system for Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA):

Percentage RangeGrade
90 or OverDistinction
75 to less than 90Higher Merit
55 to less than 75Merit
40 to less than 55Achieved
20 to less than 40Partially Achieved
Less than 20No Grade/ NG
Junior Cert Grading System

The new JCPA grading system will apply to all subjects from 2022. These grades only apply to the written exams as CBAs have a different grading system. 

The distinction is the highest possible grade in Junior Cert. And to get a distinction in maths, you can undoubtedly trust Ireland’s #1 Online Maths Grinds Breakthrough Maths!

Transition Year

The Transition Year is a one-year programme that acts as a bridge between Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate. The Transition Year is optional in most schools. Currently, 75% of Irish schools offer this programme. 

Appealing Grades

Students who are not satisfied with their grades may appeal the State Examination Commission’s (SEC) decision. In order to do so, they have to apply through their schools. The appeal fee is €32 per subject, which will be refunded if their grades are upgraded

Junior Cert Fees

The examination fee for the Junior Certificate in 2019 was €109. 

You can find the information regarding the examination fees of the 2022 Junior Certificate here.

Students who are to sit for the Junior Certificate Examination must pay the required examination fees. In early February of the exam year, parents are given a form. The parents have to make the payment through a bank, and the bank must stamp on the form. After that, the form is returned to the school. 

However, students whose parents hold a current medical card do not have to pay the fees. In that case, they have to put the medical card details on the form and send it back to the school.

Bonus: How To Ace The Junior Cert!

In Ireland, the school year begins on the first week of September and, for the post-primary level, ends in early June. As mentioned earlier, Maths, Irish, and English are usually studied at a higher or ordinary level. So to say, they are the hardest ones to tackle. 

Here are some tips and tricks to help you through Junior Certs through ease:

  • It is important that you start studying from the beginning of the second year of Junior Cycle. But whatever you do, make a plan first. Jot down what you want to study tomorrow and complete these goals. 
  • We encourage a system of 20 minutes of studying followed by a break. If you picked 4 subjects to study, plan a topic and spend 20 minutes on each subject, breaking in between.
  • You must solve the past exam papers if you want to get a good grade. For the exams in 2022, there’s a good chance of getting similar questions from 2017, 2018, and 2019.
  • You can try using flashcards and write notes or important information on them. They are very good for practising or if you’re having a hard time memorising something.
  • Should you listen to music while studying? Well, that varies from person to person, but music can be pretty distracting. However, if music helps to focus better, you can listen to classical music or a Spotify study music playlist that you’d prefer.

Breakthrough Maths is the best Online Maths Grinds you’ll find in Ireland! We provide weekly notes and questions to enhance your maths skills, online classes in small groups of 6 kids or less, after grinds WhatsApp support and the best guidance to help you ace your maths exam! 

Still can’t believe it? Book a free trial grind and see for yourself!

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