Significant changes have been announced to how Leaving Certificate results will be graded for students sitting the exam in 2017 and subsequent years.

The number of grades that can be awarded is to be reduced from the current 14 to just eight.

Students will no longer get A's B's and C's, but H1's H2'S and H3's at Higher Level instead, and O1's, 2's and 3's at Ordinary Level.

Officials at the Department of Education describe the changes as an important development which should improve the senior cycle experience for students. 

There is broad agreement that the current system of grading increases pressure on students.

The majority of grades are separated by just 5%, and this puts students under pressure to gain minimal percentage increases, because most grade increases equal an additional five CAO points.

The changes will be introduced for students entering into 5th year in September 2015. 

There will be just eight grade levels instead of the current 14. The new top mark will be a H1, for results above 90%, followed by a H2 for results between 80 and 90%, and on down.

It is hoped this will encourage students to do less rote learning, aimed at maximising CAO points, and to engage more roundly with subjects.

The third level sector is currently finalising a new CAO points system to accompany the new grading structure. It plans to publish this next September.

The proposed new points system will give slightly higher points to students who excel in a few subject areas compared to students who perform evenly across many. 

Points system will reward students who aim high and work hard - Department of Education

Minister for Education Jan O'Sullivan said the reforms "are intended to better serve students, to encourage them to be ambitious in their choices and reduce the high stress levels that are currently associated with the Leaving Certificate".

The proposed points system will also see students who take a higher level course receiving points for a mark between 30 and 39 on a paper.

The Department says this is designed to "encourage students to be ambitious and have confidence in taking a higher level paper. It will reward students who aim high and work hard".

Ms O'Sullivan also welcomed the commitment of the higher education institutions to reduce the number of undergraduate courses, which will build on work already underway.

She said this is a very important area of reform for students as too many entry routes into higher education programmes provide a bewildering array of choice for second level students in sixth year and many find this complexity very difficult to successfully navigate.

She said the changes will give students the chance to experience a much broader first year and allow them to defer specialisation to later in their degrees, giving more rounded graduates in the long term.

The final element of reform is the forthcoming publication by the State Examinations Commission on the issue of predictability in the Leaving Certificate.

The study found that despite the perception of many students and others, the Leaving Certificate examinations are not in-fact very predictable and that those who rely on their predictability too much, often do not perform as well as those who prepare more fully for the exams.