Hi friends, hope we’re all keeping well.
For those who don’t know, I live in Dublin, Ireland. In this country, the standard final exams before we enter college is known as the Leaving Certificate, or Leaving Cert for short. They’re the equivalent to the A levels in the UK and the SAT in the US.
Now, the current plan of action is that they will be held in June and last for a duration of 20 days (with generally 2 exams a day). Naturally, we don’t need to sit every single one, as this depends on what subjects each student chooses to do. For example, some students may have chosen to study Biology for the Leaving Cert, so they’ll have to sit the Biology exam on the given date, but don’t need to sit exams for subjects they haven’t chosen.
It has come out recently that this year’s Leaving Cert plans will vary a bit, as students have now been presented with an alternative option: to receive predicted grades. This is largely due to the fact that we’ve lost a considerable amount of school time to online school, thanks to a pandemic of some sort.
The full details of the 2021 plan can be found in this article. Today though, I wanted to talk about both appraisal systems, standard exams and predicted grades, outline my view on each of them with pros and cons of both,, then finally think about which of these options I may want to take.
If we go down the route of normal Leaving Cert exams, we will simply ignore the option of being given a predicted grade and prepare ourselves for the normal exams in June. Here are my pros and cons for this option.
-As this has been the standard and normal variation of how the Leaving Cert goes since the beginning, students are aware of this process and understand fully the ins and outs of this way of examining. This eliminates uncertainty and the process will be transparent.
-Since the Department of Education has acknowledged that the pandemic has been disadvantageous to our year of students (having lost almost 5 full months of schooling to less effective online schooling), they have presented us with a greater variety of choice of questions in the exams. This reduces the risk of being unable to answer certain questions in certain exams and losing marks, since we will have alternatives to those ‘unanswerable’ questions.
-It is extremely improbable that notoriously difficult topics will appear in exams this year as, as I mentioned before, the Department of Education has publicly acknowledged our hardships this year with the pandemic and online schooling, making various changes to certain exams as well.
-One may argue that this traditional approach to exams is fairer, as it is completely possible to score high marks regardless of your family or social background, as long as you can study the material.
-This almost goes without saying, but naturally the exams will require a huge amount of time spent studying if you want to guarantee a good grade.
-Not only is this a problem with just Ireland, but these types of ‘end of year’ final exams place huge amounts of stress, pressure, and anxiety on many students.
-While the details of how these exams will be held are still murky, if they involve any sort of large gathering of students in one place then that can be a potential health hazard if the necessary precautions aren’t taken. Keep in mind new mutations of the virus are still at large all over the world.
First implemented for the 2020 group of students, this ‘predicted grades’ approach has sparked all sorts of different opinions from students, teachers and parents. This approach tries its best to calculate a grade that the student WOULD receive IF they had sat the actual Leaving Cert exam for a subject.
-The first and probably the clearest one to see is the elimination of the amount of stress students will have to endure. In traditional exams, the days leading up to the final tests can be some of the most stressful and anxious days of of students’ lives. The predicted grades process can completely eliminate all of that.
-The eliminated need to gather a large bunch of people in one place. This should further increase the safety of students and teachers during a global pandemic by avoiding them gathering all in one place.
-Past performance will be judged. This argument states students who have been working hard all year long will be recognised for their efforts, and they should get a fair result reflecting that hard work they’ve put in.
-A gazillion possible errors with the system that could occur. Don’t forget, last year the Department publicly admitted that as a result of an error in their calculated grades model, a whopping 6,500 students received an inaccurate or unfair grade. Unless they make the process of predicted grades absolutely crystal clear, uncertainty and doubt will still linger.
-Past performance will be judged. While this can be a pro for some, it can also be a con for others. Specifically, students who learn from mistakes to improve their future grades. The common saying goes ‘historical performance is not an accurate predictor for future performance’.
-Inflation of competition. It has been announced that more than 80,000 students have signed up for the 2021 Leaving Cert this year; more than any other year’s Leaving Cert on record. This implies the battle for this year’s college courses will be more competitive than ever, with the possibility of one fatal error in the predicted grade system costing you your place in college ever present.
So, what to do?
Well, dear reader, it is possible I may have lied to you.
You see, there’s actually another alternative that the Department of Education has offered: the option to both sit the exam AND receive an accredited (predicted) grade: with the better of the two results being counted towards your result for that subject.
This 3rd option is, in my opinion, the most appealing one. The fact that it we are automatically given the better of the 2 grades is game changing. This means even if we receive an extremely difficult exam paper, we should be safely covered with the predicted grade. Conversely, if we receive an inaccurate or unfair predicted grade, we have the option to prove them wrong in an actual Leaving Cert exam.
While all the full details of the processes haven’t been completely disclosed yet, I thought it would be nice to share some of my initial thoughts on our 3 options. I also really appreciate how the Department is giving our year this amount of choice for the exams.