Alan Rice bio photo

Alan Rice

Human being. I'm a PhD student studying molecular evolution at a university in Ireland. Likes: sugar, data & science. Dislikes: peas & cats. I don't know how I made it this far either. (he/him)

Email Twitter Facebook Google+ LinkedIn Instagram Github Foursquare npm ORCID

The inferences from the statistics below are probably inaccurate and should be taken as pure speculation.

We’ve had two Leaving Cert examinations since the introduction of bonus points for those taking higher level maths designed to get more students choosing it over ordinary level. Is it working and what effect is it having? The two graphs below show that the incentive has indeed enticed students away from ordinary and to take the harder exam.

Migration of students from ordinary to higher level


It worried me though that the lure of 25 extra CAO points might cause those struggling to wrongly stay in higher level and not pass a maths paper at all. Graphing the percentage of students achieving grades for the last 5 years it seems that I needn’t have worried as failure rates have stayed mostly consistent throughout the 5 years. Interestingly in 2012, the first year of bonus points, there was a large shift in the distribution of grades with more students obtaining Bs and Cs and less obtaining As and Ds compared to previous years. The extra influx of students seem to be very much capable of the higher level maths course and tend to fall into the B-C grades. It’s a slightly different distribution in 2013, with far less Bs awarded and more Ds compared to the previous year. Perhaps it was a harder paper or maybe the higher percentage attracted from ordinary level are approaching the threshold of capability?

Distribution of higher maths grades

And with that let’s see who’s being attracted from ordinary level. There’s a very clear reduction in the percentage of As and Bs awarded at ordinary level since the introduction of bonus points so one could guess that A and B students have been lured away by the prospect of 25 bonus points. After all a D3 at higher level will give you 45+25 points while an A1 at ordinary will only give you 60.

Distribution of ordinary maths grades

Clearly the bonus point incentive is working and working well and it made me think if we can use it to encourage gender balance among secondary school subjects. I’m not normally a fan of gender quotas and the like, but a self-righting gender bonus would be interesting. Less than a quarter (23.8%) of those who sat physics this year were girls. How can we possibly have such disparity in a Leaving Cert subject where all students have studied it at Junior Cert level? It’s incredible. Can we use a bonus point system to encourage more girls to take up science? And conversely more boys to take up Home Economics? In 2012, a whopping 91.3% of higher level Home Economics students were female! With just 5 lads getting A1s compared to 197 girls.

What if subjects with an imbalance of more than 10% awarded up to 25 bonus points to the underrepresented gender, starting at 10 points and increasing one point per percent up to a maximum of 25 points? The extra points would be decided post-exams and announced on results day. Students would hopefully be encouraged to break stereotypes and study subjects were there is imbalance at least until the difference equalised enough to remove the benefit. We’ve seen it work for higher level maths.

All data can be found on the State Examinations Commission’s website.