Leaving Cert vs A Levels

When I was younger, I used to hear people compare the Irish Leaving Certificate with A Levels.

There’s one big difference: students study seven, eight or even more subjects for Leaving Cert, but typically three or maybe four at A-Level. There are other minor differences: the Leaving Cert is state-run, so there’s one syllabus and one examining body etc. People talk about The Leaving Cert. A-Levels are run by different boards: there’s really no central body.

Anyway, I have two data points on the Leaving Cert vs A-Levels.

One, after a while in university, I found myself working as a Teaching Assistant to students, products of the British Education System. The biggest thing I learnt was that Maths at Leaving Cert seemed to prepare students considerably better than Maths at A-Level. Leaving Cert Maths seemed to be harder.

Now, I was a bit biased: I’d had several years at university to learn more, so it’s possible my view was coloured. Als0, it’s possible (although, frankly, unlikely) that in the Applied Maths dept at QUB, a selection bias exposed me to less able sutdents. (Perhaps those that only barely got A’s on Maths & Further Maths at A-Level. :-)

That’s data point one: that Leaving Cert Maths (coupled with Applied Maths) was at least comparable, possibly harder than A-Level maths.

The second data point is French: I did Leaving Cert French (I got a B, I think). Then quite a few years later (for a laugh), I did A-Level French. (I think there were AS- and A2- exams; I forget the terminology – it was a few years ago.) And the thing I remember most was that A-Level French was much, much harder than Leaving Cert French.

In fact, in terms of how deep you got, A-Level French was more like Leaving Cert Irish. At A-level you have to read several books, write essays on them, figure out all sorts of weird tenses, generally develop a reasonable grasp of the language. Leaving Cert French is a joke by comparison: I don’t think the subjunctive was even mandatory. Seriously. (This said, we had a poor teacher in final year French for Leaving Cert, and I kinda lost interest, so I might have just, y’know, missed that.) But there were no books, no opinions. In terms of degree of difficulty, A-Level French is more like Leaving Cert Irish (books, grammar in painful depth, opinions, mastery etc.)

I don’t have any points of comparison other than those two languages. Summary: Leaving Cert Maths is hard (A-Level Maths is probably easier, comparably hard at best). A-Level French is hard, Leaving Cert French is a piece of piss by comparison.


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