News at DCU
Leaving Cert Failing To Adequately Prepare Students For University

Leaving Cert Failing To Adequately Prepare Students For University

The Leaving Certificate programme is failing to adequately prepare students for university studies, according to new research published today by the Institute of Education at Dublin City University.

In a survey of over 300 first-year DCU students across a wide range of courses:

  • Less than a quarter (24%) of respondents felt that the Leaving Cert programme prepared them well to use technology to improve their learning
  • Only a quarter (25%) felt the Leaving Certificate prepared them well to interrogate and critically evaluate information or ideas
  • Only 27% felt the Leaving Certificate prepared them well to compare information from different sources
  • Only 28% felt the Leaving Certificate prepared them well to identify sources of information
  • Only 30% felt the Leaving Certificate prepared them well to explore ideas from a number of different perspectives

Independent thinking, open-mindedness and confidence in reaching decisions were among the many other areas where respondents overwhelmingly felt that the Leaving Certificate did not sufficiently prepare them for their college work.

On a positive note, the survey found that the majority of respondents believed that the Leaving Cert programme had prepared them well to persist when learning was difficult (83% agreed), be well organised (83% agreed), be self-disciplined (75% agreed), manage their time (72% agreed) and cope with the pressure of heavy workload requirements (75% agreed).

Commenting on the research findings, Professor Michael O’Leary, Director of the Centre for Assessment Research Policy and Practice (CARPE) at the Institute of Education, DCU, said:

“While there are some encouraging elements to take from this survey, the overall findings of our research reveal a worrying disconnect and, consequently, challenging transition between second and third-level education. Despite being the main pathway used for entering third-level education, the Leaving Certificate Programme is not, on this compelling new evidence, sufficiently equipping students with the necessary skills for third-level study.”

He added: “All 300+ participants in this study sat their Leaving Cert last year and were surveyed towards the end of their first year in university - so their experiences of the Leaving Cert and its relevance to their first year studies were all very much fresh in their minds. These perceptions are current, informed and require both attention and action, especially in the context of the upcoming review of Senior Cycle by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.”

In terms of what was required to address the deficiencies and concerns identified in the research, Prof. O’Leary commented:

“One practical step would be to build on the work now underway at Junior Cycle that seeks to provide students with the tools to start developing greater learner autonomy. At Senior Cycle, this might involve, for example, exposing students to a wider range of literature and teaching them how to cite others to lend support to their views while at the same time broadening assessment to include approaches that facilitate the gathering of evidence for critical, independent thinking.”

Key Findings

In a survey of over 300 first-year DCU students spanning a wide range of courses, the majority of respondents said the Leaving Cert did not prepare them well for the following tasks required of them in their first year of college:

  • Think independently (only 39% agreed the Leaving Cert prepared them well to do this) 
  • Perform well across different types of assessments (only 40% agreed) 
  • Be open-minded (only 33% agreed) 
  • Use technology to improve their learning (only 24% agreed) 
  • Identify sources of information (only 28% agreed) 
  • Use social skills for teamwork (only 43% agreed) 
  • Be intellectually curious (only 41% agreed) 
  • Interrogate/critically evaluate information or ideas (only 25% agreed) 
  • Be confident in reaching decisions (only 38% agreed) 
  • Compare information from different sources (only 27% agreed) 
  • Explore ideas from a number of different perspectives (only 30% agreed) 
  • Consider themselves as a lifelong learner (only 32% agreed) 

The study, ‘The Leaving Certification Programme as a Preparation for Third Level Education: The Views of Undergraduates at the End of their First Year in DCU’, was carried out by Prof. Michael O’Leary and Dr Darina Scully of the Centre for Assessment Research Policy and Practice in Education (CARPE), at DCU.

A total of 304 first-year DCU students from a range of business, education, engineering, computing, humanities, social sciences, science and health programmes participated in this research.

The survey of these students was conducted in April and May 2018.

Participants responded to a questionnaire containing statements about a range of cognitive and socio-emotional activities relevant to learning.

Students were first asked to indicate how frequently they were required to engage in these activities as part of their first year coursework. They were then presented with the same list of activities again, and asked to indicate – having reflected on their experiences of first year – how well they believed the Leaving Cert programme had prepared them for each.

Students were also asked an open-ended question about the extent to which their views of the Leaving Cert Programme changed as a result of their experiences in First Year. Responses received included the following:

  • "In a course where critical imperative, I found it challenging and overwhelming at first to evaluate and analyse situations, scenarios, visual and textual data
  • "Third-level requires you to apply yourself much more in terms of thinking and explaining your opinions and answers
  • "A lot of the Leaving Cert is learning has been very conceptual
  • "It doesn't provide students with the skills they need in third level such as critical analysis and essay writing
  • "In college, there are so many ways to learn" "I was unprepared with regards to researching and citing sources"