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More points variation with new CAO scale

Posted by Francis O' Toole on October 19, 2016


What concerns my students most is the increased difficulty in trying to predict where the points cut-off will lie. While students should refrain from keeping points at the forefront of their minds, it is impossible for students and parents to avoid completely looking up where the cut-off fell last year and wondering whether it is likely to go up or down.

It was never possible to predict the minimum cut-off for a particular course with any certainty. Cut-off points are a result of supply and demand.

Points will continue be calculated in the same way as before: students add up their best six subjects for points, having added 25 points to the maths score for a minimum 40pc mark at higher-level.

Additionally, cut-off points for courses will also be determined in the same way as before, i.e. all students who apply for a particular course and meet the entry requirements are placed on a list in order of the number of points they achieve. Starting from the top of the list, places are offered until all places are filled. The cut-off is the number of points achieved by the last applicant offered a place on a given course.

What is different this year is the new grading system and the points students will be awarded for each grade. As a result, cut-off points for courses will change regardless of any change in demand.

Courses that were oversubscribed and therefore had high minimum cut-off points are likely to be oversubscribed again and require relatively high points. Similarly, less popular courses, which had lower points last year, are likely to be comparatively low again in autumn 2017.

Applicants will be able to gain a better understanding of the competition for different disciplines in the spring when the CAO releases application figures. An increase in applications in any area suggests courses may see a rise in points.

Another effect of this new system is the greater range of points students may achieve. Previously, points were awarded in multiples of five for different grades, for example 55, 60, 65 points.

Under the new system, the difference in the points awarded for each grade will vary with, for example, 100 for a H1, 88 (H2), 77 (H3), 66 (H4), 56 (H5) etc. So it is no longer a standard difference of five points, but 12, 11, 10, nine or eight and such differences between what is awarded for each grade means that the variety of total points score students can achieve will vary much more.

Hopefully, this will result in fewer students missing out on places as a result of random selection. Random selection means that while places were offered to applicants who achieved cut-off points, not all applicants with these points were offered a place.

The placing of an asterisk alongside the cut-off points indicates that random selection has occurred. It is very difficult to miss out on a college place knowing that other applicants who achieved the same results received an offer. This change is likely to be welcomed by both students and parents. It is certainly welcomed by guidance counsellors and may result in less disappointment and feelings of injustice come offers season.

Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin


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