Around 124,000 students began their Leaving Certificate and Junior Cycle exams this morning, with English the first subject to be examined.

An additional two days have been added to this year's Leaving Cert timetable in an effort to reduce subject clashes.

Around four million papers have been securely distributed to superintendents, who will oversee the exams in more than 5,000 centres across the country.

More than 54,000 students began their Leaving Cert exams at 9.30am with English Paper One.

This year’s themes were ‘feeding the imagination’ at Higher Level and ‘social media’ at Ordinary Level.

There has been a positive reaction from students and teachers to the paper.

Tom VIlliers, English teacher at Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal in Blarney, Co Cork, described the Higher Level theme as "lovely" and one that would give good scope to more creative students.

Aisling Duff, also an English teacher at the school, said the Ordinary Level paper was "very fair" to both stronger and weaker students, and also very topical in its theme.

This year’s papers were well received by students at the Cork school.

The Higher Level paper included a question discussing the social benefits of libraries.

Students also had the option of writing a speech on the topic of "we are a self-obsessed generation". 

An additional 2,700 students are sitting exams in the Leaving Cert Applied programme, while almost 65,000 students have begun their Junior Cycle exams.

There are a number of changes to the Leaving Cert this year, both aimed at reducing stress among some students.

The exam timetable has been extended from 13 to 15 days, in order to minimise subject clashes, and students who suffer a close bereavement will for the first time be able to defer the sitting of some exams until July.

Aspects of this year's exams data reflect wider demographic changes.

The number of Junior Cycle candidates continues to rise, reflecting wider population growth within this age group.

There is also a more than 20% increase in the number of students intending to sit Leaving Certificate examinations in the so-called 'non-curricular' European Union languages.

These exams are open to candidates who speak other EU languages as their mother tongue. These students will not have studied these languages formally in school.

This year, 1,800 students will sit exams in a range of European languages, compared to just under 1,500 last year.

The number of native speakers taking the Polish exam is up by 20% this year, from 687 to 820, while an increase of 34% is predicted among those sitting an examination in Romanian, from 267 last year to 359 this year.