The Junior Certificate examination occurs at the end of the three-year Junior Cycle in Irish second-level education. This is usually held in June and students typically sit the exam when they are 15 or 16. On a phased basis, the Junior Certificate is being replaced by the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA).

The Junior Cycle encompasses a wide array of subjects, with all pupils expected to sit three core subjects: English, Irish and Mathematics. History was also introduced as a core subject in September 2020.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of the Junior Cycle, with a particular focus on Irish and how to prepare for Irish exams.

The Junior Cycle Irish (Gaeilge) exam

Junior Cycle Irish is designed to help Secondary School pupils build on the listening, reading and writing skills they developed in Primary School. It is taken in conjunction with three other core subjects (English, Mathematics and History) though there may be additional core subjects depending on the type of school.

Like other subjects, Irish is studied at Ordinary or Higher level. It may also be studied at Foundation level—this applies to Mathematics as well. Assessment for Junior Cycle Irish comprises two classroom based assessments, a language portfolio and communication task, an assessment task and a final written exam paper.

Students taking the Higher level final written paper need to study the complete text of a novel as well as the literature set out in the curriculum for all levels (at least two short stories, one complete play and five poems or songs).

There are two Irish programmes relevant to pupils taking the Junior Cycle:

  • Irish T1 for Gaeltacht and Irish-medium schools

  • Irish T2 for English-medium schools

In English-medium schools, pupils use English as a working language and are taught Irish as a subject in the classroom. The aim of T2, therefore, is to help pupils develop spoken competency in Irish and get to grips with its application as a living language outside of the school setting.

Pupils taking T1 are likely to be native Irish speakers or learners in Irish-medium schools. As such, their Irish language skills will already be well-developed. The aim of T1 is to help pupils develop their vocabulary, learn more about their culture, differentiate between different dialects, and focus on the structure of the Irish language.

The final written examination for Junior Cycle Irish is two hours long for both Ordinary and Higher levels and is set by the State Examinations Commission (SEC). This exam is worth 90% of a student’s overall grade in Junior Cycle Irish.

What to expect in Junior Cycle Irish exam papers

Both T1 and T2 exam papers at Ordinary and Higher levels test pupils on the following:

  • Listening comprehension/listening in context

  • Reading comprehension/reading in context

  • Grammar and communicative composition

  • Writing and personal/communicative responses to literary texts

Listening comprehension tests students’ ability to differentiate between a range of dialects, understand spoken sentences at a standard speed and repeat the meaning of specific details in the Irish language.

The reading section of the paper examines students’ use of appropriate strategies for decoding the Irish language, ability to understand the main takeaways from texts and find authentic Irish texts for conducting relevant research.

Grammar and writing tasks are designed to assess pupils’ grammatical and syntactical accuracy, ability to create and respond to texts, and expression of personal opinions.

The assessment of these skills is structured slightly differently for Ordinary and Higher students.

Ordinary level Irish exam papers

The written examination at this level only has one paper that students need to complete. It consists of the following sections:

  • Roinn 1 – Cluastuiscint (Listening comprehension)

  • Roinn 2 – Léamhtuiscint (Reading comprehension)

  • Roinn 3 – Scríobh na Teangan (Writing)

Higher level Irish exam papers

The final Irish written exam at this level is split into two papers. Paper 1 consists of the following four sections:

  • Roinn 1 – Cluastuiscint (Listening comprehension)

  • Roinn 2 – Léamhtuiscint (Reading comprehension)

  • Roinn 3 – Trialacha Teanga comhthéacsúla (Grammar)

  • Roinn 4 – Ceapadóireacht (Writing)

Paper 2 only has three sections:

  • Roinn 1 – Prós (Prose)

  • Roinn 2 – Filíocht (Poetry)

  • Roinn 3 – An Litir (A letter)

How are exams weighted?

Irish exams are weighted differently, depending on whether pupils take the Higher or Ordinary paper. Receptive skills (listening and reading) make up 35% of Higher papers and 55% of Ordinary papers. Productive skills (creative composition and language awareness) make up 55% of Higher papers and 35% of Ordinary papers.

How to revise for Junior Cycle Irish exams

Pupils can adopt a range of effective revision techniques for their Junior Cycle Irish exams, including:

  • Learn vocabulary using flashcards—this will improve writing, listening and comprehension skills and memory

  • Listen to and read in Irish as often as possible—everything including the radio, printed news articles as well as broadcast, poems, subtitles and adverts

  • Read through prepared texts a number of times

  • Prioritise learning common verbs

  • Look at exam papers from previous years and prepare some answers

  • Complete sample exams and past papers under timed conditions

Edco Irish exam papers

Students hoping to achieve top marks in their Junior Cycle exams should check out Edco’s practice exam papers. The Ordinary level collection for T2 Irish includes nine sample exam papers (one SEC Final Examination and eight Edco sample papers) designed to challenge pupils and map their revision progress. It includes free audio files and an online study hub to help pupils reach their potential.

The Higher level collection for T2 Irish also includes nine sample exam papers and a range of revision essentials designed to help students push themselves.

Please note that Edco does not publish a T1 Irish version of these papers.

Other resources for revising Junior Cycle Irish

While Edco’s papers are excellent resources for students hoping to get top marks for their JCPA, there is a range of other revision guides available. To help your child boost their revision sessions and be as prepared for their Irish exam as possible, it may be worth pursuing a combination of revision resources. Options to consider include:

  • Yuri’s Irish Grammar – Part 1: These Irish Grammar cards are designed to help students preparing for their Junior Cert or Leaving Certificate get their heads around linguistic categories such as articles, pronouns, verbs and possessives. Additional topics include irregular verbs, tense, wh-questions and indirect speech. Once students have aced Part 1 of Yuri’s Irish Grammar cards, they can improve even more using Part 2.

  • Revise Wise – Junior Cycle – Irish – Higher Level: Pupils taking Higher level Irish will benefit from this comprehensive revision guide, including sample exam questions and answers, a guide to the Junior Cycle marking scheme, and a revision study plan.

  • Less Stress More Success – Junior Cert – Irish – Higher Level: This colourful book is designed to improve the revision process by condensing relevant information and offering handy tips on how to maximise exam marks.