Louisburgh Co. Mayo




What subjects are best for the Leaving Cert? How can you maximise your CAO points? Should you take higher or ordinary level? The following is an essential guide to subject choice for the Leaving Cert, by BRIAN MOONEY

How many subjects should I take in the Leaving Cert?

 Your best six grades, achieved in one sitting of the Leaving Certificate, will be used to calculate your CAO points score. Take at least seven. But if you are a very bright student you could take an eight subject. You can take an extra subject either inside or outside school. Religious education is a good option for students at higher level. A word of warning: Be careful before considering the option of adding extra subjects. There is no such thing as an “easy” higher level paper although some are tougher than others. If the additional subject is being studied outside school, you will have to factor in the time travelling to and from such a grind.

What should I do if my school does not offer all the subjects I want? 

Consider taking it outside school, provided you factor in an appropriate amount of study time to cover all your other subjects. Alternatively, you might consider changing schools now, to ensure that you get your desired subject choices.

What happens if I don’t take Irish at higher level? 

If you want to be a primary school teacher you must secure a minimum of a grade C in higher level Irish. There are 25 honours bachelor degree programmes which have Irish as a core entry requirement.

What happens if I don’t take higher level maths? 

You will be excluded from 95 honours bachelor degrees which you will be precluded from if you do not secure a minimum of a C3 in higher level maths. These include many engineering, science and technology courses, and most degrees that include maths as a core subject. A full list of these courses is available on

What happens if I do not take a language other than Irish and English? 

The NUI colleges – Maynooth, Dublin, Galway and Cork, and some others – require a pass in a third language for entry into some of their courses. See The courses for which a third language is no longer required are nursing, engineering and science at all four NUI universities. UCD and UCC have also dropped this requirement for their agricultural/food science programmes. Students applying to NCAD may present art instead of the third language. Trinity College Dublin accepts Irish as a second language. UL and DCU, plus all the institutes of technology, do not require a third language for entry purposes to most of their courses.

Are there any “easy’’ higher level subjects? 

Subjects that attract students with particular aptitudes, like music and art, tend to have a higher honours rate. And some subjects are marked more harshly than others. See the table on this page.

What’s the best mix of subjects? 

Overall, select a balanced range of subjects which will maximise your third-level and career options. Irish, English and maths are compulsory. In selecting the other four subjects, spread your final three choices across the entire spectrum of business, scientific, arts and practical subjects. You should also be mindful of the results of previous examinations, and aptitude test results, when making these choices.

Will my subject choices now influence my career? 

When you are deciding on subjects remember this decision could have consequences on your career choice. A decision to opt-out of all science subjects or Continental language will have major implications on the range of careers open to you later on. Keep your options open by taking a science and Continental language subject from among the four optional subjects.

How important is maths? 

A pass in ordinary level maths is essential for entry to the majority of third-level courses. Every year about 5,000 students fail to secure a grade D in ordinary level or fail foundation level. Whatever you do over the next two years, don’t neglect your studies in this key subject.



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Sancta Maria College, Louisburgh
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