Leaving Cert maths paper 1: ‘A challenging paper’

Higher level paper continues ‘recent trend towards asking questions which probe students’ understanding of concepts’

Higher-level maths students faced a challenging paper, but many will have been pleased with the overdue appearance of financial maths, teachers have said.

Brendan O’Sullivan, a maths teacher at Davis College in Mallow and TUI subject representative, said the paper started off with a “nice algebra question”, before more abstract or unfamiliar ideas were introduced.

Aidan Roantree, a maths teacher at the Institute of Education in Dublin 2, said that there was some “low-hanging fruit” which would allow students to accumulate significant marks.

“This paper continues a recent trend towards asking questions which probe students’ understanding of concepts,” Mr Roantree said.


“The tendency to scour the syllabus for topics which have not been asked previously continues. Students hoping to go through the motions will likely be unsettled by this paper as those setting the exam strive to be as novel as possible.

“While some questions contained pleasantly simple demands, the phrasing of the questions would have given students a cause for pause. Once overcoming the initial ‘wow’ reaction, they could really get to grips with the questions.”

Mr O’Sullivan said that students may have struggled with an integration question, but they would have liked the algebra and complex numbers tasks.

Mr Roantree said that short questions of Section A balanced the conventional and the abstract.

“Questions one, four, fix and six were accessible to most but questions two and three relied on an abstract approach,” he said.

“Students who hope to rely on recognising previous examples will be sorely disappointed as the paper emphasised command of the fundamental concepts involved.”

Mr Roantree said that section B would have posed a challenge for many, as the applications required yet more active engagement with the questions’ demands.

“Question seven had an accessible beginning, but two of the final stages are where the highest achievers will distinguish themselves.

“Question eight was the long overdue appearance of financial maths, which many students would have been seen as being as close to guaranteed as a topic can be.”

Stephen Begley, maths teacher at Dundalk Grammar School, Co Louth, said the higher level paper was a “busy, diverse and challenging exam” which tasked students across all the usual paper one topics.

“Many parts to the questions were fair, encouraging and accessible, though the lengthy and contextual long questions would have challenged some,” said Begley, a Studyclix subject expert. “As always, calculus dominated the paper with half of the short and long questions featuring it in some respect.

“With a mixed reaction from students, the consensus is that the paper was busy & diverse, and while the short questions were accessible, the long questions proved tricky in parts. There were no surprises in the topics that appeared, and no notable topics were absent from the exam. All in all, those comfortable with calculus would have had the upper hand.”

Ordinary level

Mr O’Sullivan said that there were a lot of calculations on the ordinary level.

“This would have kept them busy, and nothing was handed on a plate. The trapezoidal rule question had a few twists on it, so although candidates would be familiar with it, they had to think about it. The quadratic formula question also contained numbers that they may not have come across before,” he said.

Jean Kelly, a maths teacher at the Institute of Education, said that the ordinary level paper was fair and doable, with plenty of opportunities for marks, but some phrasing might have concerned some students.

“This paper did not follow the blueprint of the past,” Ms Kelly said.

“While lots of the usual suspects appear, the examiners really wanted to test how well the students grasp the core concepts of maths.

“In the short questions students were asked about the topical issue of mortgages – which likely caused a stir of panic – but really was just like a compound interest question; it just didn’t say ‘compound interest’ or ‘percentages’.”

Ms Kelly said that she really liked question 1(c), which was focused on technique.

“They gave you the formula and all you had to do was walkthrough the steps,” she said.

Some material from previous years reappeared.

“For the second year in a row the simpler simultaneous equations appeared. Tangents of a curve made their third appearance, clearly showing that it is now a staple question,” Ms Kelly said.

“The longer questions of part B might have panicked students who thought too rigidly about how material will be divided between the two papers.

“Overall, the majority of students should have come out of this exam relatively happy.”