New Junior Cycle Grading System Explained [2022]

The Junior Cycle Programme has reformed, and so has the Junior Cycle grading system. The new grading system includes a total of 6 grade descriptors: Distinction, Higher Merit, Merit, Achieved, Partially Achieved, and Not Graded. While these are only applicable to the Junior Cycle state exams, aka the Junior Cert, Classroom-based assessments (CBAs) have a different grading system. 

The grade descriptors for CBAs are: Exceptional, Above Expectations, In Line with Expectations, Yet To Meet Expectations, and Not Reported

The changes were first made in 2017 but were only applicable to a few selected subjects. However, the new grading system will apply to all the Junior Cycle subjects from 2022. By 2022, all subjects, except for English, Irish and Maths will be examined at a common level.

This article will discuss the following contents:

  • Junior Cert Grading System
  • What Do The Junior Cert Grade Descriptors Mean?
  • Can You Fail The Junior Cert Examination?
  • Junior Cycle CBA Grading System
  • What Do The Junior Cycle CBA Grades Mean?

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Junior Cert Grading System

The new Junior Cert grades are as follows:

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 grade bands

What Do the Junior Cert Grade Descriptors Mean?

We’re all pretty much used to the previous Junior Cycle grades that were the A, B, Cs, etc. But what are the significance of the new grading system? Are they any harder to achieve? 

Well, read along to find out!

1. Distinction

Distinction is the highest grade one can achieve in the Junior Cert. To get a distinction in any subject, a student has to score between 90 to 100%, and that’s quite difficult to achieve compared to the old grading system where an A grade was achieved by getting 85% and above.

It’s difficult to achieve a distinction in any subject. For example, In 2018, amongst more than 6200 students, only 2.5% got a distinction in English.

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2. Higher Merit

Scoring 75 to less than 90 will get you a Higher Merit in the Junior Cert.

In 2019, amongst 64,300 Junior Cert examinees, 13.4% got higher merit at a higher level, and 7.1% got higher merit at an ordinary level in Maths. So, as it seems, achieving higher merit is easier to achieve.

3. Merit

The next descriptor is called Merit. Students who score 55 or more but less than 75 achieve this grade. It is the most common grade to achieve – similar to a C grade in the old system. In fact, around 55 to 75% of the students received this grade in Maths in recent years. 

4. Achieved

Students who score 40 to less than 55% secure an “Achieved” grade descriptor. It can be somewhat compared to getting a “D” according to the old grading system. 

In 2019, 22.7% of the 64,300 Junior Cert examinees received an “Achieved” grade descriptor in higher level Maths, and 17.9% got this grade in ordinary level Maths.

5. Partially Achieved

Students scoring less than 40 and up to 20 receive a “Partially Achieved” grade descriptor. Less than 7% of students received this grade in recent years. 

6. Not Graded

Getting a score under 20 will receive the “Not Graded” grade descriptor. But receiving this grade is a rare phenomenon. On average, less than 0.5% of the students received this grade in recent years.

Can You Fail the Junior Cert Examination?

No, you cannot fail Junior Cert. Receiving less than 40% is more likely to get you a “Partially Achieved” grade descriptor, and as mentioned earlier, getting “Not Graded” is rare.

Junior Cycle CBA Grading System

The motive of the classroom-based assessments (CBA) is to evaluate the understandings and skills of a student which cannot be done through formal written exams. Teachers use certain criteria to assess the CBAs.

The Junior Cycle CBA grades are as follows:

  • Exceptional
  • Above expectations
  • In line with expectations
  • Yet to meet expectations
  •  Not reported

What Do The Junior Cycle CBA Grades Mean?

1. Exceptional

This grade descriptor indicates a very high standard piece of work that doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect. 

The teacher might give feedback to address certain issues that need further attention and polishing. But overall, it refers to an outstanding approach to completing the task.

2. Above Expectations

When a piece of work meets all the criteria of quality for the CBAs, and the work completely reflects the student’s understanding and skills on the topic, the work is graded as “Above Expectations”. 

The teacher might point out minor scopes of improvement and give suggestions on how to fix them.

3. In Line with Expectations

Getting this grade will mean that the work reflects most of the features of quality that the teachers follow to assess CBAs. It reflects a good understanding of the topic and does not have any significant errors. The teacher gives feedback on improving the work and addressing the minor issues. 

4. Yet To Meet Expectations

Getting this grade will mean that the work lacks in many aspects to meet the features of quality. The work might have a few significant flaws that need to be corrected. However, that does not mean the student has not made a decent attempt to complete the task. The teacher will point out the errors and give feedback on how to fix the issues and improve the quality of the task.

5. Not Reported

This grade indicates that the student has not submitted their work. 


The Junior Cycle plays a vital role in building the foundation for your further education and also personal development.

However, to get good grades, it is essential to start studying from the beginning of the second year of the Junior Cycle in a planned manner. Talk to guidance counsellors and teachers for help around creating study plans. And of course, there is no better way to start studying than to start attempting the previous years’ question papers and practicing consistently. 

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Recommended Reading: Junior Cert Maths Syllabus

Our 2-hour crash course is enough to help you walk into exams being confident, prepared, and ready for questions! With the exams being very, very close, we’ve put our maximum effort into preparing this 2-hour maths crash course!