Leaving Certificate: A Complete Overview With Latest Updates

leaving cert complete overview

The Leaving Certificate is the final exam for secondary school students in Ireland. After completing the Junior Cycle, students gradually transition to Senior Cycle that ends with the Leaving Certificate Exam. The Leaving Cert has 3 distinct programmes.

This article will provide you with an overview of the Leaving Certificate Program and its latest adjustments for 2022. It’ll include:

  • The Leaving Certificate
  • Transition Year
  • Programmes 
    • Established LC
    • LC Vocational Programme
    • LC Applied
  • Subjects For LC
  • Assessment Methods For LC
  • How Hard Is The Leaving Cert?
  • Exam Schedule
  • Fees

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What Is The Leaving Certificate?

The Leaving Certificate refers to the final 2 years of the post-primary education system in Ireland. It is also frequently referred to as the Senior Cycle.

The Leaving Certificate Programme first started its journey in 1925, and till this day, it’s used as the university matriculation examination in Ireland. Students aged between 16~20 sit the LC and generally choose 6-8 subjects from approved subjects.

Students must sit for a minimum of 6 subjects for the Leaving Cert.

Since 1997, only one institution outside the Republic of Ireland has offered Leaving Certificate Exam: the International School in Tripoli, Libya. They substitute Arabic for Irish, and 66 Libyan students sat for Leaving Cert in 2021

The Leaving Cert Exam is overseen by the State Examinations Commission and is taken annually around the 2nd week of June.  

What Is Transition Year?

The Leaving Cert usually takes a minimum of 2 years to complete, but there’s an optional Transition Year (TY) offered by the majority of the Irish secondary schools. 

Essentially, Transition Year Program is a bridge between the Junior and the Senior Cycle. It allows students to smoothly transition from the more dependent environment of the Junior Cycle to the more independent environment of the Senior Cycle

Although Transition Year is generally seen as the 1st year of a collective 3-year Senior Cycle, it is NOT the 1st year of the Leaving Cert Programme, which is strictly 2 years. It also does not require the students to pass any end-of-year state examination to begin their Leaving Cert Programme. 

Hence, Transition Year is NOT compulsory for Leaving Cert, but it IS highly recommended.

The Leaving Cert Programmes

There are 3 distinct orientations within the Leaving Certificate Programme, each intended for a different outcome. These are: 

1. Leaving Cert Established (LCE) – The Traditional Leaving Cert

The Leaving Certificate Established (LCE) is the most common LC programme chosen by Irish senior students. 

Among the total 61,125 students who sat the Leaving Cert in 2021, 72.68% of them (44,425 students) took the traditional established LC in 2021.

For LCE, students take a minimum of six (but typically seven) subjects, usually including Irish, English, and Mathematics. Except for Irish and mathematics, all the subjects are generally studied at either Ordinary or Higher Level. 

Irish and mathematics can be studied at the Foundation Level as well. This Foundation Level is necessary for students who might have trouble with the Ordinary or the Higher level. 

Updates For Leaving Cert Established 2022

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, students got a state-certified accredited grade from the State Examination Commission (SEC) in 2020. 

In 2021, students could either physically sit the written LC exam in June or get an accredited grade from the SEC or do both. 

For 2022, The Department Of Education has stated that adjustments would be made to the assessment arrangements for Leaving Cert 2022. It is expected that the LC will run as normal (Only June written exams available) in 2022. The ‘Hybrid’ exam structure of 2021 and 2020 will be discontinued.

The Department also declared that there will be NO change to the length of the written examinations for Leaving Cert 2022. 

The Department intends to have an alternative set of exams for the students affected by COVID-19 illness or other familial issues regarding the pandemic. These exams will follow shortly after the primary set of examinations.

2. Leaving Certificate Vocational Program (LCVP)

The Leaving Cert Vocational Programme (LCVP) is very similar to the LCE but focuses on the vocational career aspect. To pursue higher education in universities, students must sit either the LCE or LCVP.  

22.13% of students, or around 13,526 students, took the Leaving Certificate Vocational Program in 2021.

The vocational aspect of the LCVP is achieved by arranging Leaving Cert subjects into Vocational Subject Groupings (VSGs) and through the activity-based courses known as the Link Modules. Students must select 2 subjects from one of the VSGs, and they also have to take a recognised course in a modern European language other than Irish or English. 

So, an LCVP student must take a minimum of 5 (but typically 7) subjects, including Irish, 2 VSGs and 1 language course plus 2 Link Modules. 

LCVP students follow the same exam format as LCE students with additional assessments or the Link Modules. That is why they receive the same certificate as other LC students, but their Leaving Certificate includes an additional result of the Link Modules. 

Updates For Leaving Cert Vocational Program 2022

For 2022, Leaving Certificate Vocational Program will follow a similar exam format and assessment adjustments as Leaving Cert Established 2022. 

3. Leaving Cert Applied (LCA)

The Leaving Cert Applied (LCA) is a programme specifically targeted towards those students who do NOT intend to progress directly to higher education and focus heavily on practical skills. LCA is perfect for students who want to go for apprenticeships or direct employment after high school. 

In 2021, 5.19% of students, or 3,173 students, sat for the Leaving Cert Applied Program

LCA is divided into 4 half-year sessions. Each session is made up of 3 main categories:

  1. Vocational Preparation 
  2. Vocational Education
  3. General Education

Each category consists of several modules, and students must complete them with a final examination. Students get credited for achievements in each session.

Updates For Leaving Cert Applied 2022

The Department of Education has published updated documents providing guidance and information or LCA 2021/2022. The summary of that document briefly states the new curriculum and assessment arrangement for Leaving Cert Applied 2022.

Subjects

Leaving Cert subjects get categorised differently based on what program the student is following, whether they take the LCE, LCVP or LCA.

1. LCE Subjects

There are generally 36 subjects available. Each of them is put into 5 subject groups. All of them can be studied at either Ordinary or Higher Levels. LCE students must take Irish.

GroupsSubjects
1. LanguageIrish, English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Greek, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Russian, Classical Studies, Hebrew Studies
2. ScienceApplied Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Physics and Chemistry
3. Applied ScienceAgricultural Science, Construction Studies, Engineering, Home Economics, Physics and Chemistry, Design and Communication Graphics, Technology, Computer Science, Physical Education
4. Business StudiesAccounting, Business, Economics
5. Social StudiesArt, Geography, Hist/y, Home Economics, Music, Politics and Society, Religious Education
Leaving Cert Exam Subjects

Additionally, if the status of the student is seen as appropriate, the State Examination Commission (SEC) may provide examinations in a recognised modern European language. 

2. LCVP Subjects

For LCVP, students have to know about the Vocational Subject Groupings and the Link Modules. 

Vocational Subject Groupings (VSGs)

LCVP arranges LCE subjects that complement each other into two Vocational Subject Groupings (VSGs): the Specialist grouping and the Services Grouping. Students must select 2 subjects from one of the VSGs for their minimum of 5 subjects requirement.  

  • The Specialist Grouping 
  1. Construction Studies/ Engineering/ Design and Communication Graphics/ Technology – Any Two 
  2. Physics and Construction Studies/ Engineering/ Technology/ Design & Communication Graphics
  3. Agricultural Science and Construction Studies/ Engineering/ Technology/ Design & Communication Graphics
  4. Agricultural Science and Chemistry/ Physics/ Physics and Chemistry 
  5. Home Economics/ Agricultural Science/  Biology – Any Two
  6. Home Economics and Art – Design Option/ Craft Option
  7. Accounting/ Business/ Economics – Any two  
  8. Biology and Chemistry  
  9. Biology and Agricultural Science
  10. Art – Design Option/ Craft Option and Design & Communication Graphics
  • The Services Grouping 
  1. Engineering / Technology / Construction Studies / Design & Communication Graphics and Accounting / Business / Economics
  2. Home Economics and Accounting / Business / Economics
  3. Agricultural Science and Accounting / Business / Economics
  4. Art  Design / Craftwork Option and Accounting / Business / Economics
  5. Music and Accounting / Business / Economics

Link Modules

Students have to take two additional activity-based courses known as the Link Modules. Such as:

  1. Preparation for the World of Work
  2. Enterprise Education

LCVP Students also have to take a recognised course in a modern European language other than Irish or English. But they do not have to take any extra external exam, and the school decides how to assess the course. 

So, to sum up, an LCVP student will have to take a minimum of 5 subjects, including Irish, 2 VSGs and 1 continental language. They will also have to follow the Link Modules along with these 5 subjects. Students typically take 7 subjects plus the Link Modules. 

3. LCA Subjects

LCA courses are offered in three main areas: Vocational Preparation; General Education; and Vocational Education. 

Each course consists of several modules. After completing the modules, students are assessed based on practical and final examinations in each of the following areas:

  • English and Communication
  • Two Vocational Specialisms
  • Mathematical Applications
  • Language
  • Social Education

For students entering the 1st year of LCA in September 2021, 4 revised modules were provided. These are: 

  • English and Communications
  • Mathematical Applications
  • Introduction to ICT and 
  • ICT: Specialism. 

Students taking the LCA in June 2023 will be the first to be assessed on these modules.

Assessment Method

The assessment methods of the Senior Cycle vary for different programs. Such as:

1. Assessment For the LCE

After 2 years of the LCE program, students take the Leaving Certificate examination. Different methods are used for LCE, including oral and aural examinations, coursework and practical examinations.

Grading System For the LCE

The Leaving Cert Examination scale has 8 grades at both Higher and Ordinary levels. The highest grade is Grade 1, and the lowest is Grade 8. 

Marks between 100% and 30% are divided into seven equal bands (Grade 1-7). Each band is counted as 10%. Any marks less than 30% is counted as Grade 8. This 8-point scale has been followed since 2017.

Percentage (%)Points at Higher LevelGrades at Higher LevelPoints at Ordinary LevelGrades at Ordinary Level
90-100100H156O1
80-8988H246O2
70-7977H337O3
60-6966H428O4
50-5956H520O5
40-4946H612O6
30-3937H70O7
0-290H80O8
Leaving Cert Grading System

Bonus Points for Higher Level Maths

For Grades H1 – H6 in Higher Level Mathematics, 25 bonus points will be awarded. 

For example, if an applicant receives an H5 grade, an additional 25 points will be added to the 56 points for his H5 grade. His Higher Level Mathematics now carries a points score of 81.

Points are calculated based on the results of the six best subjects in one year’s LC sitting.

If you are still unsure how to determine the point for each course, points calculators will be the best option for you. 

2. Assessment for the LCVP

LCVP students follow the same assessment method and grading scale for their subject examinations. 

For their Link Module assessments, they sit for a written exam that counts 40% of total marks and submit a portfolio that counts 60% of total marks. 

Grading System For the LCVP

Percentage (%)PointsLCVP Grade
80-100%66Distinction
65-79%46Merit
50-64%28Pass
Grading System For Leaving Cert Vocational Program

3. Assessment For LCA

Assessment for LCA students is continuous throughout the course. Students accumulate credits over the two years of study and take a final examination on some modules. 

There are written and oral examinations. There are also practical exams on vocational subjects. The written exams of LCA take place at the same time as LCE in June. 

After successfully completing the LCA program, students are awarded Leaving Certificates at three levels: Distinction, Merit and Pass.

New Assessment For Leaving Cert 2022

The Department of Education has published updated assessment arrangements for Junior Cycle and Leaving Cert Exams 2022.

How Hard Is The Leaving Cert?

Leaving Cert is the final exam for senior students and universities use its result for admission. So, yes, naturally Leaving Cert is pretty difficult. But how hard it will be for you?

Well, that depends solely on your preparation. If you start taking preparation early and take extra care for the subjects you find difficult, acing the leaving Cert exam will be a piece of cake for you.

For example, if you are weak at English, you can find all the previous years’ questions here and practice them. 

If you need extra help with Leaving Cert Maths, you can join our Breakthrough Maths Online Maths Grinds. We provide weekly notes and questions to enhance your maths skills. Our online classes consist of small groups of 6 kids or less to ensure that every student gets the best guidance possible. We also offer WhatsApp support for any extra queries! 

You can check our online maths video resources or book a free trial grind to start your journey!

Leaving Cert Schedule

The Leaving Certificate Exams usually take place annually on the 2nd week of June, and it typically lasts for two and a half weeks. The State Examinations Commission publishes the official exam schedule.

The official Leaving Cert Exam 2022 schedule has not been published yet

Leaving Cert Fees

Although there was no fee for the Leaving Certificate 2021 written exam or the accredited grades, the standard fee for a first time Leaving Certificate is €116. It’s the same for all leaving Cert Programs and the same for both school and external candidates. 

 State Examination Commissions will publish the exam fees for 2022. 

Conclusion

The senior Cycle has a particular role to play in the preparation of learners for adult life in an economic and social context. The Leaving Certificate Programs are the final step of that period, the final boundary to transition to adulthood.

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