Leaving Certificate: The Complete Foolproof Guide

The Leaving Cert is shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding. It’s arguably one of the biggest exams you will ever sit in your life, and has a significant impact on your life thereafter. This article will provide you with an overview of the Leaving Certificate Program.

After you’ve read through the article, check out our online Leaving cert Maths grinds provided by teachers who achieved 600+ points in their own LC and who are nowhere to help you ace your LC exam!  

What Is The Leaving Certificate?

The Leaving Cert is a 2-year programme which culminates in a set of exams in June of the second year. It is designed to provide you with, “a broad, balanced education” and it equates to a Level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications 

Most people who do the LC take between 6-8 subjects. The Leaving Cert Exams are overseen by the State Examinations Commission and are taken annually around the 2nd week of June.   

Did you know? Since 1997, only one institution outside the Republic of Ireland has offered the Leaving Certificate Exam: the International School in Tripoli, Libya. They substitute Arabic for Irish, and 66 Libyan students sat for Leaving Cert in 2021

The Leaving Cert Programmes

There are 3 distinct orientations within the Leaving Certificate Programmes, all different from each other. These are: 

1. Leaving Cert Established (LCE) – The ‘Traditional’ Leaving Cert

The Leaving Certificate Established (LCE) is the most common LC programme chosen by Irish senior students. 

Among the total 61,125 students who sat the Leaving Cert in 2021, 72.68% of them (44,425 students) took the traditional established LC in 2021.

For LCE, students take a minimum of six (but typically seven) subjects, usually including Irish, English, and Mathematics. Subjects are generally studied at either Ordinary or Higher Level but Irish and Maths can be studied at the Foundation Level as well.

Irish and mathematics can be studied at the Foundation Level as well. This Foundation Level is necessary for students who might have trouble with the Ordinary or the Higher level. 

2. Leaving Certificate Vocational Program (LCVP)

The Leaving Cert Vocational Programme (LCVP) is very similar to the LCE but focuses on the vocational career aspect. To pursue higher education in universities, students must sit either the LCE or LCVP.  

22.13% of students, or around 13,526 students, took the Leaving Certificate Vocational Program in 2021.

The vocational aspect of the LCVP is achieved by arranging Leaving Cert subjects into Vocational Subject Groupings (VSGs) and through the activity-based courses known as the Link Modules. Students must select 2 subjects from one of the VSGs, and they also have to take a recognised course in a modern European language other than Irish or English. 

So, an LCVP student must take a minimum of 5 (but typically 7) subjects, including Irish, 2 VSGs and 1 language course plus 2 Link Modules. 

LCVP students follow the same exam format as LCE students with additional assessments or the Link Modules. That is why they receive the same certificate as other LC students, but their Leaving Certificate includes an additional result of the Link Modules. 

3. Leaving Cert Applied (LCA)

The Leaving Cert Applied (LCA) is a programme specifically targeted towards those students who do NOT intend to progress directly to higher education and focus heavily on practical skills. LCA is perfect for students who want to go for apprenticeships or direct employment secondary school. 

In 2021, 5.19% of students, or 3,173 students, sat for the Leaving Cert Applied Program

LCA is divided into 4 half-year sessions. Each session is made up of 3 main categories:

  1. Vocational Preparation 
  2. Vocational Education
  3. General Education

Each category consists of several modules, and students must complete them with a final examination. Students get credited for achievements in each session.


Leaving Cert subjects get categorised differently based on what program the student is following, whether they take the LCE, LCVP or LCA.

1. LCE Subjects

There are generally 36 subjects available. Each of them is put into 5 subject groups. The only restrictions you might encounter is where your school cannot accommodate a certain combination of subjects. All of them can be studied at either Ordinary or Higher Levels. LCE students must take Irish.

1. LanguageIrish, English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Greek, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Russian, Classical Studies, Hebrew Studies
2. ScienceApplied Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Physics and Chemistry
3. Applied ScienceAgricultural Science, Construction Studies, Engineering, Home Economics, Physics and Chemistry, Design and Communication Graphics, Technology, Computer Science, Physical Education
4. Business StudiesAccounting, Business, Economics
5. Social StudiesArt, Geography, History, Home Economics, Music, Politics and Society, Religious Education
Leaving Cert Exam Subjects

Additionally, if the status of the student is seen as appropriate, the State Examination Commission (SEC) may provide examinations in a recognised modern European language. 

2. LCVP Subjects

For LCVP, students have to know about the Vocational Subject Groupings and the Link Modules. 

Vocational Subject Groupings (VSGs)

LCVP arranges LCE subjects that complement each other into two Vocational Subject Groupings (VSGs): the Specialist grouping and the Services Grouping. Students must select 2 subjects from one of the VSGs for their minimum of 5 subjects requirement.  

  • The Specialist Grouping 
  1. Construction Studies/ Engineering/ Design and Communication Graphics/ Technology – Any Two 
  2. Physics and Construction Studies/ Engineering/ Technology/ Design & Communication Graphics
  3. Agricultural Science and Construction Studies/ Engineering/ Technology/ Design & Communication Graphics
  4. Agricultural Science and Chemistry/ Physics/ Physics and Chemistry 
  5. Home Economics/ Agricultural Science/  Biology – Any Two
  6. Home Economics and Art – Design Option/ Craft Option
  7. Accounting/ Business/ Economics – Any two  
  8. Biology and Chemistry  
  9. Biology and Agricultural Science
  10. Art – Design Option/ Craft Option and Design & Communication Graphics
  • The Services Grouping 
  1. Engineering / Technology / Construction Studies / Design & Communication Graphics and Accounting / Business / Economics
  2. Home Economics and Accounting / Business / Economics
  3. Agricultural Science and Accounting / Business / Economics
  4. Art  Design / Craftwork Option and Accounting / Business / Economics
  5. Music and Accounting / Business / Economics

Link Modules

Students have to take two additional activity-based courses known as the Link Modules. Such as:

  1. Preparation for the World of Work
  2. Enterprise Education

LCVP Students also have to take a recognised course in a modern European language other than Irish or English. But they do not have to take any extra external exam, and the school decides how to assess the course. 

So, to sum up, an LCVP student will have to take a minimum of 5 subjects, including Irish, 2 VSGs and 1 continental language. They will also have to follow the Link Modules along with these 5 subjects. Students typically take 7 subjects plus the Link Modules. 

3. LCA Subjects

LCA courses are offered in three main areas: Vocational Preparation; General Education; and Vocational Education. 

Each course consists of several modules. After completing the modules, students are assessed based on practical and final examinations in each of the following areas:

  • English and Communication
  • Two Vocational Specialisms
  • Mathematical Applications
  • Language
  • Social Education

For students entering the 1st year of LCA in September 2021, 4 revised modules were provided. These are: 

  • English and Communications
  • Mathematical Applications
  • Introduction to ICT and 
  • ICT: Specialism. 

Assessment Method

The assessment methods of the Senior Cycle vary for different programs. Such as:

1. Assessment For the LCE

After 2 years of the LCE program, students take the Leaving Certificate examination. Different methods are used for LCE, including oral and aural examinations, coursework and practical examinations.

Grading System For the LCE

The Leaving Cert Examination scale has 8 grades at both Higher and Ordinary levels. The highest grade is Grade 1, and the lowest is Grade 8. 

Marks between 100% and 30% are divided into seven equal bands (Grade 1-7). Each band is counted as 10%. Any marks less than 30% is counted as Grade 8. This 8-point scale has been followed since 2017.

Percentage (%)Points at Higher LevelGrades at Higher LevelPoints at Ordinary LevelGrades at Ordinary Level
Leaving Cert Grading System

Bonus CAO Points for Higher Level Maths

For Grades H1 – H6 in Higher Level Mathematics, 25 bonus points will be awarded. 

For example, if an applicant receives an H5 grade, an additional 25 points will be added to the 56 points for his H5 grade. His Higher Level Mathematics now carries a points score of 81.

CAO Points are calculated based on the results of the six best subjects in one year’s LC sitting.

If you are still unsure how to determine the point for each course, points calculators will make the workload easier for you!

2. Assessment for the LCVP

LCVP students follow the same assessment method and grading scale for their subject examinations. 

For their Link Module assessments, they sit for a written exam that counts 40% of total marks and submit a portfolio that counts 60% of total marks. 

Grading System For the LCVP

Percentage (%)PointsLCVP Grade
Grading System For Leaving Cert Vocational Program

3. Assessment For LCA

Assessment for LCA students is continuous throughout the course. Students accumulate credits over the two years of study and take a final examination on some modules. 

There are written and oral examinations. There are also practical exams on vocational subjects. The written exams of LCA take place at the same time as LCE in June. 

After successfully completing the LCA program, students are awarded Leaving Certificates at three levels: Distinction, Merit and Pass.

New Assessment For Leaving Cert 2022

The Department of Education has published updated assessment arrangements for Junior Cycle and Leaving Cert Exams 2022.

How Hard Is The Leaving Cert?

Leaving Cert is the final exam for senior students and universities use its result for admission. So, yes, naturally Leaving Cert is pretty difficult. But how hard it will be for you?

Well, that depends solely on your preparation. If you start taking preparation early and take extra care for the subjects you find difficult, acing the leaving Cert exam will be a piece of cake for you.

For example, if you are weak at English, you can find all the previous years’ questions here and practice them. 

If you need extra help with Leaving Cert Maths, you can join our Breakthrough Maths Online Maths Grinds. We provide weekly notes and questions to enhance your maths skills. Our online classes consist of small groups of 6 kids or less to ensure that every student gets the best guidance possible. We also offer WhatsApp support for any extra queries! 

You can check our online maths video resources or book a free trial grind to start your journey!

Leaving Cert Schedule

The Leaving Certificate Exams usually take place annually on the 2nd week of June, and it typically lasts for two and a half weeks. The State Examinations Commission publishes the official exam schedule.

Leaving Cert Fees

Although there was no fee for the Leaving Certificate 2021 written exam or the accredited grades, the standard fee for a first time Leaving Certificate is €116. It’s the same for all leaving Cert Programs and the same for both school and external candidates. The fee to repeat the Leaving Cert is €326. 


No need to be scared, you’ve got this and we’ve got you too! Any help you might need for your Leaving Cert Maths preparation, get in touch with us and book a free trial grind to start your journey!  

Recommended Reading: Leaving Cert Study Plan

T.J – CEO of Breakthrough Maths

Need help in Maths? Contact the Breakthrough Maths team here.

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