During the Junior Cycle stage of Secondary School, students have the opportunity to choose a number of optional subjects to study alongside the core subjects (English, Irish, Mathematics and History). One of these optional subjects is Religious Education, which had a new specification introduced in September 2019 that will be assessed for the first time in 2022 as part of the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement (JCPA).
Like other Junior Cycle subjects, there is a final examination for Religious Education at the end of students’ third year. In this guide, we discuss what students can expect from this exam and offer some revision tips to help them succeed.
The Junior Cycle Religious Education exam
The Junior Cycle Religious Education course is designed to broaden students’ understanding of the subject in three key strands: expressing beliefs; exploring questions; and living our values. The focus is on expanding students’ skills, attitudes, values and understanding of the relevance of religion in everyday life across the world. Students will be assessed in these areas in a number of ways throughout their second and third years.
There are two Classroom-Based Assessments, the first of which takes place at the end of students’ second year. This assessment is titled ‘a person of commitment’ and is an individual or group report, presented in a format of the students’ choosing, about a specific person whose religious beliefs or worldview impacted the world in a positive way.
The second assessment is also an individual or group report, titled ‘the human search for meaning’. Students conduct this assessment during the first term of their third year and are asked to explore artistic, architectural or archaeological evidence demonstrating humans’ engagement in religion and the search for the purpose of life.
Students will then undertake a formal Assessment Task which is set and marked by the State Examinations Commission (SEC). This is worth 10% of the marks used to determine their final grade and is intended to reflect on the knowledge students developed in the course of completing their two Classroom-Based Assessments.
At the end of the third year, students will take the final Religious Education examination. This is a written paper set and marked by the SEC, studied at the Common Level and worth 90% of the marks used by the SEC to determine students’ final grades. It will be two hours in duration and require students to engage with a variety of stimulus material in order to demonstrate their ability to understand and respond to this material.
What to expect in the Junior Cycle Religious Education exam
Since 2022 is the first year students will sit an exam for the new Junior Cycle Religious Education specification, there are currently only sample papers to base student expectations on. Sample questions provided by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), for example, indicate the exam will include a combination of photographs, illustrations and texts that students need to respond to through short and long-form answers.
Short questions may ask for the name of a person, place or organisation covered during the three years of study, or a single sentence describing the contents of an image. Longer questions will likely ask for a more detailed answer in relation to a complex topic such as the role of religion or spirituality in modern life.
The amount of writing space for each question included in the NCCA sample and others should give students an idea of how much detail is required for that question and therefore how many marks it is worth.
As with all exam papers, students must write their answers in blue or black ink and in the spaces provided in the paper. Failure to do so may mean that information which is important for a response goes unmarked, because all exam booklets are scanned and only work within the answer boxes is seen when presented to the examiners on screen.
How to revise for the Junior Cycle Religious Education exam
It can be helpful to focus on revising one religion at a time so that students don't confuse the customs and traditions of different faiths. Revision clocks and mind maps can help break down revision into more manageable segments. Although it may be tempting to return to familiar topics during revision, it's important to recognise any weak areas and prioritise studying these topics in a way that is most effective to the student—this may be visually through documentaries, reading lots of different texts or even listening to podcasts.
The use of diagrams and images can boost visual memory, and flashcards can help to practice information recall for the short knowledge-focused questions that might come up in the exam. It's important to practice longer, essay-length writing as well so that students are prepared for these kinds of questions in the exam. These require more complex interpretations and explanations of the stimulus materials, so practising with their own media such as printed texts or even reflecting on the imagery in the stained glass window at the local church can be very beneficial!
Students should practice with sample papers such as the NCCA example to prepare for the final exam. This provides the opportunity to get used to the different question types and length of the exam, particularly when doing so under timed exam conditions. Doing sample papers also helps students to identify any knowledge gaps and highlight topics or themes in need of some extra attention.
Edco exam papers
Edco New Junior Cycle Religious Education Exam Papers is specifically for the new 2022 exam and includes an official SEC sample paper and several Edco sample papers that have been written in line with the SEC sample. The solutions to each paper can be viewed online for students to check their work. Plus, it includes a guide to better grades to help students understand how to improve answers, a progress map for keeping track of studies, and access to an online study hub for additional support.
Other resources for revising Junior Cycle Religious Education
Revise Wise Religious Education is a revision book designed for the old Junior Certificate system, but it still serves as a valuable study aid for Junior Cycle Religious Education students. It covers a broad range of topics likely to come up in the new exam, with key concepts, words and learning objectives highlighted throughout to support information retention.
Less Stress More Success was also designed for the old Junior Certificate but remains a useful study guide. It covers various topics of the curriculum in a concise way to support efficient revision. Plus, each section includes past Junior Cert exam questions to help students test their knowledge along the way.