Almost 117,000 students began their Leaving and Junior Certificate exams this morning.

For a second year running, bonus points for Leaving Cert Maths have led to a surge in numbers opting for the higher level paper.

The exams began at 9.30am, with English the first subject to be tested.

About 57,000 Leaving Cert and Leaving Cert Applied students and 60,000 Junior Cert students are sitting the exams.

Over the next three weeks students at centres throughout the country will be tested in a total of 90 curricular subjects.

The first Leaving Cert Maths paper is on Friday. Figures from the State Examinations Commission show more than 15,000 students have applied to sit the higher level paper this year.

Combined with last year's increase, this represents a 45% rise overall.

Wishing the class of 2013 the best of luck in their exams, Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn said he was delighted with the figures.

He urged students to have faith in their abilities.

The minister said there should be a reduction in the media's coverage of the Junior and Leaving Certificate Exams.

Mr Quinn said there would be "merit" in introducing a moratorium on exam coverage in the lead up to the exams.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he criticised the media for not devoting enough energy to covering the education process outside exam time.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny wished all students sitting the State exams well.

Move away from rote learning

Meanwhile, Minister Quinn said a move away from rote learning is starting at Junior Cert level, with the first exam to take place in 2017.

English will be the first subject examined in this way and the entire process will be rolled out over three years.

It will see 60% of the marks for any subject based on a paper at the end of third year, while 40% will be based on project work supervised in the classroom.

The minister said details of how this will work are still being examined.

He said the focus will change to the education outcomes for young people, rather than their ability to remember an answer to a question.