Study finds Leaving Cert exams place too much emphasis on rote learning

Some students unable to remember material just two months after exams

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Leaving Cert exams overemphasise rote learning at the expense of critical thinking, according to a new study.

Research by DCU academic Denise Burns assessed the intellectual skills promoted by 23 subjects from 2005 to 2010.

It found that students mainly prepared for exams by predicting questions, preparing answers and learning them off by heart.

A review of syllabi and exam papers also pointed to a "very low" expectation of analysis by candidates.

Dr Burns told that she scrutinised syllabi on the basis of both their implied and stated aims.

A software programme was used to search for keywords in the exam papers, with different values assigned to nearly 15,000 tasks.

English and art were found to require the highest level of intellectual skills, while nine subjects prioritised the two lowest skills, 'remember' and 'understand'.

There were only 10 instances (out of 14,910) of metacognitive knowledge, or the ability to understand one’s own thought process.

Thirty Leaving Cert students were also interviewed after sitting the final written exams.

In some cases, candidates reported being unable to remember material just two months later. 

Tasks intended to assess understanding were, for students, primarily seen as an assessment of their memory of textbooks and notes.

Dr Burns said the review raised concerns that the skills required for intellectual progression were "starkly absent" from exams.