The number of questions that this year's Leaving Certificate students are expected to answer in their June examination papers is to be reduced, in a further effort to lighten the load on candidates.

Schools have this evening received further details of the exam and accredited grades process. The document also advises against the holding of mock or pre-Leaving Certificate exams.

This will come as a relief to many students who were concerned that testing via mock exams might not accurately reflect their abilities.

The 27-page document states that in addition to exam paper adjustments previously introduced, further changes will now be made, aimed at reducing the load on students and in acknowledgement of the considerable disruption they have experienced this year and last.

In the majority of cases these adjustments will involve reducing the number of questions that students will be required to answer.

The Department of Education states that the duration of the examinations will remain the same as set out in the published timetable. This means students will have additional time to read the paper and answer a reduced number of questions.

Oral examinations in Irish and modern foreign languages will take place in schools during the period from 26 March to 15 April. 

Schools have been instructed to hold the examinations at times outside of normal tuition time so that students' normal tuition is not interrupted to take the examination, at weekends, during the Easter holidays or after school.

The document states that oral examinations will be conducted under examination conditions by a teacher or teachers, qualified in the relevant subject/s, appointed by the management of the school.

The teacher may be a suitably qualified member of staff of the school, a neighbouring school, or another suitably qualified teacher engaged by the school.

The oral examination will be recorded electronically and the recording will be sent to the SEC for marking.

The document states that details of altered arrangements for subjects with additional coursework will be published separately, as will revised dates for the submission of work which will be published "shortly".

It confirms that due to Covid-related restrictions it will not be possible to hold practical skills tests in Construction Studies or Engineering, or in Physical Education.

In these subjects, the proportion of marks normally allocated to these components will be reallocated to the project component.

In the case of Music, the department has told schools that planning is being advanced for revised arrangements in respect of the practical performance component of the examination which it is hoped can take place in the Easter period.

Accredited grades 

Schools have been advised that accredited grades will be arrived at like last year through a combination of teacher professional judgement and national standardisation.

The document outlines three scenarios where accredited grades will be provided; in addition to examinations, to students who are unable to sit the examinations at the scheduled time, due to illness or any requirement to restrict their movements for example, and finally, in the event that it becomes impossible to run the examinations in one or more examination centres because of Covid-19 related reasons.

Teachers have been advised to base their judgement on "an estimation of the percentage mark in each subject that each candidate is likely to have achieved if they had sat the Leaving Certificate examination in 2021," using records of each student's performance over the course of study, such as assignments, projects and practical work and key assignments and practical work in the case of Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). 

"In using this evidence account must be taken of students whose circumstances made effective engagement with remote teaching and learning particularly difficult. Teachers should exercise great care in using evidence of learning from the period of school closure in 2020, especially if the teaching and learning experiences of students were very different at that time," the document states.

Mock exams

Schools have been advised that: "Following the return to school, teachers may set a limited number of additional assessments up to 14 May, 2021. It is important in the period leading up to the determination of estimated percentage marks that over-assessment is avoided and that an appropriate balance is achieved between formative and summative assessment."

It states: "Mock examinations (i.e. examinations involving full class groups sitting written examinations under conditions that mirror those of the certificate examinations) are neither required nor recommended for use as evidence for the Accredited Grades process. The period following the return to in-school teaching and learning should be used to maximise opportunities for teaching and learning with students." 

The state examinations guide can be viewed here.