What Level Is Leaving Cert? And Why?

The Leaving Certificate is the final exam for secondary school students in Ireland. After completing the Junior Cycle, students transition to Senior Cycle that ends with the Leaving Certificate Examination. 

All Irish qualifications systems are divided into 10 distinct levels by the NFQ. In this article, we will explain:

What Is NFQ?

The Irish National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) is a system that describes the different levels of educational qualification and training system in Ireland. The NFQ was launched in 2003, and it is now an integral part of the Irish education system. Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) develops, promotes, and maintains this framework.

The NFQ system is user-friendly and has special awards for essential learning to the most advanced level.  It also allows international students to easily compare and contrast qualifications to plan their education, training, and career progression in Ireland.

What Are NFQ Levels?

The NFQ is a framework system consisting of 10 levels, from beginners to advanced education. Each level demonstrates the national standard of learning and is associated with 4 types of NFQ awards which describe the purpose, volume, and progression of that particular level. 

For example, the Irish Junior Certificate is at NFQ Level 3, and the Doctorate is at NFQ level 10, which quickly gives us an idea about how complex the Doctorate is compared to the Junior Certificate.

The Leaving Cert and its 3 programs are placed at the NFQ Levels of 4 and 5.
Qualifications in the Irish education and training system. Source: QQI

A fan diagram is used to describe the progression of the NFQ levels. This structure also helps to choose courses necessary for certain levels and ensure that you follow your present level qualifications. 

What Level Is The Leaving Cert?

The Leaving Certificate takes a minimum of 2 years to complete, and some students take an optional Transition Year. This means the Leaving Cert takes place 2-3 years after the Junior Cert.

The Leaving Cert has 3 distinct programs: Leaving Cert Established (LCE), Leaving Cert Vocational program (LCVP), and Leaving Cert Applied (LCE).

The Leaving Cert and its 3 programs are placed at the NFQ Levels of 4 and 5.

As it is under the NFQ Levels 4 and 5, the Leaving Cert can become quite hard depending on your preparation. So it’s best to start preparing early and begin with regularly solving past exam papers and taking help from available resources. 

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What Type Of Award Is The Leaving Cert?

The NFQ has 4 distinct categories of awards, and Major awards are the best of them. There are 16 major awards in the NFQ system, and the Leaving Cert is one of them.

Who Awards The Leaving Cert?

The State Examinations Commission awards the Leaving Cert under the Department of Education and Skills.


The Leaving Cert is one of the most critical NFQ Levels. That is why senior students should put their best foot forward for the Leaving Cert.

Need more information? Read our complete overview of the Leaving Cert for a more in-depth analysis. Make sure to go through our Leaving Cert grading system to better understand the complex common points scale. 

Good luck!

Recommended Reading: How To Study For Leaving Cert

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