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Assessment in Upper Secondary Education


6.Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

6.6Assessment in Upper Secondary Education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Assessment in Upper Secondary Education

Pupil/Student Assessment

Assessment at senior cycle takes different forms and can be used in a variety of ways. Assessment can and should be supportive of learning.

Assessment in the Classroom

Assessment is an integral part of teaching and learning and, as such, it is used to support and improve learning by helping learners and teachers to identify next steps in their learning. In this sense, the most valuable assessment takes place at the site of learning, where learners receive support and guidance. Learning is best supported in the classroom context when clear goals are established between teacher and learner, and when images of successful learning can be shared by reference to those goals. The process of providing effective feedback to learners is supported through the statements of learning outcomes in syllabus documents.

Assessment in the State Examinations

Formal assessment in senior cycle, as used to test and certify achievement, is managed through State examinations, administered by the State Examinations Commission. A broad range of assessment methods are used across the range of Leaving Certificate subjects, including oral and aural examinations, coursework and practical examinations.

At the end of senior cycle, students who have followed the Leaving Certificate (Established) take the Leaving Certificate examination. Student achievement in this examination is directly linked to processes of selection for courses of study in further and higher education. In addition to the examinations taken by other students, students who follow the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme take an examination paper and submit a portfolio in the Link Modules. Students who follow the Leaving Certificate Applied programme take a final examination and also accumulate credits over the two years of study. Further information on the assessment of the various subjects is found in the syllabus of each subject.

The majority of candidates who sit for the examinations are recognised students in post-primary schools, are 17 or 18 years of age and have completed 5 or 6 years of post-primary education.

Transition Year

The Transition Year (TY) Programme is not formally examined as part of the state examinations system. However, the Department's Transition Year Programmes: Guidelines for Schools(pdf) document recommends that participants should be assessed on all aspects of the programme as a part of the internal evaluation procedures in place in the school. It further recommends that the modes of assessment selected should complement the various approaches used in the programme's implementation. As such, many schools employ assessment strategies including oral assessment, practical and portfolio assessment and offer both internal and external certification of various elements within their TY programmes.

Progression of Students

The circumstances in which an individual student may repeat a year at post-primary level have been set out by the Department in Cirular M02/95. This circular also contains the detailed arrangements for assessing, deciding, recording and reporting individual cases.


The Leaving Certificate examination taken at the end of Senior Cycle leads to state-recognised certification and, like the Junior Certificate examination, is managed and administered by the State Examinations Commission (SEC). The Leaving Certificate continues to be used as a means of assessing students for entry into further and higher education as well as for entry into some forms of employment.

The examination incorporates written tests in all subjects and can be taken at different levels (Higher, Ordinary and Foundation). In addition, there are oral and aural tests in the subjects Irish, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Japanese. There are practical examinations in the subjects Engineering, Construction Studies, Art and Music. There is practical coursework in the subjects Engineering, Construction Studies, Agricultural Economics, Agricultural Science, LCVP, History, Geography, Religious Education, Design and Communication Graphics and Technology. The examination in Home Economics includes an element of assessed course work and also a textile option.

LCVP students generally sit identical examinations to those in the established Leaving Certificate, with the addition of additional assessment of their work in ‘add-on’ modules pertaining to the relevant vocational dimension.

Those who participate in the Leaving Certificate Applied programme are not solely reliant on terminal examinations but have already accumulated some credit over the two years of study. Students are awarded credits on the satisfactory completion of the modules of study. They also earn credits for the completion of their Student Tasks.

New Grading System

In 2017, a new grading system was introduced. This new system reduces the number of grades from 14 in the old system to 8 under the revised arrangements. The following table provides an explanation of the revised grading system compared to the previous grading system






Grade Descriptor


Grade Descriptor

Higher, Ordinary, Foundation

≥ 90 to 100


≥ 90 to 100


≥ 85 and < 90


≥ 80 and < 90


≥ 80 and < 85


≥ 70 and < 80


≥ 75 and < 80


≥ 60 and < 70


≥ 70 and < 75


≥ 50 and < 60


≥ 65 and < 70


≥ 40 and < 50


≥ 60 and < 65


≥ 30 and < 40


≥ 55 and < 60


≥ 0 and < 30


≥ 50 and < 55




≥ 45 and < 50




≥ 40 and < 45




≥ 25 and < 40




≥ 10 and < 25




≥ 0 and < 10



In 2016, a total of 58,465 students sat the Leaving Certificate.

Students have the right to appeal Leaving Certificate results, should they be unhappy with their grades. They do so in the knowledge that an appeal may result in a decision not to change the original grade, or a re-grade which can either raise or lower their original result. In 1998, a new, more transparent appeal process for all Leaving Certificate students was introduced. Students can now view their marked examination scripts in advance of a decision to lodge an appeal. In 2016, the overall number of Leaving Certificate examination candidates was 58,465.

The Leaving Certificate is a level 4 and 5 qualification on the National Framework of Qualifications (level 3 and 4 on the European Qualifications Framework).