Horrendous:Average mark in Junior Science H.L written exam is 55%

I was browsing through the Chief Examiner’s report (as one does) for the Junior Cert science exam 2006 and found buried amongst all the text and statistics the following unbelievable nugget: the average mark for the written exam was 55%.
I couldn’t find any data on 2007 or 2008, so I don’t know if things have changed in the meantime or not.


This is after three years work. In hindsight it would have been more useful if it was one percentage point lower in that we could then conclude that the average mark didn’t merit an honour and maybe drastic action could have been taken. Maybe for that matter action has been taken, but again I couldn’t find any comment or reference to this anythere.

I can see why this statistic didn’t cause a furore at the time: the overall mark turned out to be 67%, so most students would have been (relatively) happy with that. This was due to the combining of the written exam with the two other sections.
Coursework A: (recording of experiment work over the three years) is worth 10% of the overall mark and the average mark here was 98%.
Coursework B: (based on a report of two seperate investigations) is worth 25% of the overall mark and the average mark here was 85%.

But stilll.

The standard explanantion for this is that students no longer have a choice in the paper, so all questions need to be answered. This is certainly a large contributory factor, but when I looked over the papers for 2006, 2007 and 2008 there was another shock. I concentrated on Physics and found that the hardest topic – Electricity – accounted for over one fifth of all the marks on the physics sections.
Three other sections featured very strongly; Heat, Light and Energy, and all other topics were then very much hit-or-miss as regards whether they featured or not.

Some of the questions within each section were also ridiculous. I have listed some of the worst offenders in a submission to the editor of SCIENCE, the in-house journal for members of the ISTA (Irish Science Teachers Association). The full article can be accessed below: on the top-right there is the option to toggle for the full screen.

I included in the document a link to this posting so hopefully we will receive some feedback (the next edition of the journal goes out towards the end of May) .

What think you?




  1. Hi Noel,

    Just read your blog. 55% is indeed a scary average! Having glanced at the report, it is notable that the chemistry marks seem to have brought down the avarage mark.

    The chief examiners states that it is obvious that many students may not have done the expt to prepare salt. Which would seem to disagree with the marks the majority of students obtained for completion of mandatory expts. These grades would suggest that, YES, the majortiy of students have completed all the expts required (including the chemistry!)

    So, is it down to lack of understanding? rushed expts? or perhaps the marking scheme is too rigid for junior cert chemistry?

    It’s definitely something we need to think about.


  2. One of the first things which comes to mind is that, given that there is something seriously wrong here (and perhaps the consensus is that there isn’t a problem here – I just don’t know) we really need to see the stats on the last two years also.

    But you’re right – Physics was actually one of the best-answered sections!

  3. A truly staggering average score. Is it the teachers who are teaching badly, poor facilities, is it a poor syllabus or is it a poorly structured exam? Not sure myself to be honest, maybe a combination of all three, but I am very surprised.

    By the way, thanks for your link in the Blog Roll. I’ve just added yours to the Frog Blog’s. Only recently came across your blog when introduced to it by my colleague, Julian Girdham of the sccenglish blog.

    Well done on a great site.

  4. Lets be honest. How many of us actually get our kids to tick the box saying that the experiments have been done when in fact they have not due to many different reasons? The system is so easy to manipulte. I would love to leave the boxes blank and then let my principal explain to the parents that the experiemnts were not done due to lack of resources but I cant because in all the other departments other teachers are ‘helping’ their students complete project work in order to improve the grades so that when we compare our results to the national average (yes the first thing we do at the first staff meeting in August) they will look in some way respectable.

  5. Whether the experiments have actually been done or not is one thing, I imagine students have to write them up anyway in case the department ask to see them.

    But you’re right – there may be a large discrepancy between this and the number of experiments actually being ‘done’.

    And if they are done, are they still the traditional teacher-demos or are students doing them.

    And if students are doing them, how is that reflected in the
    (i) exam questions (ii) exam results?

    There is just a gaping hole where there should be dialog and information.

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