The CAO needs an overhaul

Image Credit: Pexels: Ekrulila

The disaster that was the vast CAO point inflation this year due to accredited grades underlines how archaic and unjust the Irish Education system is. Having sat my Leaving Cert in 2019 and reapplied this year, like many other applicants, I have found myself let down by a system clearly not fit for purpose and in need of major overhaul.

I have wanted to be a doctor since I was a little girl. I studied consistently throughout 5th and 6th year so naturally I was distraught when on June 4th, the day before my first exam, I was sent to hospital with severe abdominal pain. The doctors concluded it was acute appendicitis and surgery proceeded at 1am on Wednesday, June 5th, the morning of my first exam. 

When I was in the hospital, I was more preoccupied with my forthcoming exams as opposed to my own health, due to the common ideology that the Leaving Certificate is the “be-all and end-all”. I was disconsolate when I heard my Dad on the phone to the State Examinations Commission. Despite being medically unfit to sit the exam after undergoing general anaesthetic, I was told I had two options: I could sit the exam in the morning, or I could forfeit the exam altogether. 

I sat English paper one from my hospital room, with an oxygen tube in my nose, on less than three hours sleep, despite having undergone surgery for a perforated, gangrenous appendix only hours previously. Due to a blood infection, I had to spend a further five days in hospital, meaning I sat English paper two and Maths paper one from the hospital as well. 

Despite being significantly compromised both physically and mentally, I ended up achieving 6 H1s and a H3 in Maths, totaling 602 points. Unfortunately, when CAO offers came out that year, due to an increase in points, I missed Medicine in NUIG by one point. Hope was not lost, however, I decided to accept Biomedical, Health and Life Sciences in UCD, and re-sit the HPAT the following year. 

I re-sat the HPAT in February 2020 and in June I received my results. Again, I was disappointed. I went down a point from my previous HPAT result. Medicine was off the table that year again. Despite my frustration, I decided to persevere with Biomed and reluctantly decided to have one final stab at the HPAT. 

I received my HPAT 2021 result in June. I was ecstatic. I got the 86th percentile, meaning I had enough points for every college offering Medicine the year before. I figured there would be a slight increase of points this year, but due to the increase of only a point or two in 2020 despite the accredited grading system, I was certain I had a place in Dublin. I spent the summer counting down the days until I could finally find out where I would be doing the course that I have spent so long trying to get accepted into. 

I thought there had been a mistake when I received my email from the CAO. “Unfortunately, we have not yet been authorized to offer you a place on any of your chosen courses''. I struggled to comprehend the statement – surely, I made a mistake in my application. I was heartbroken when the points were released. The inflation meant that despite achieving 737, a point above the highest cut off in 2020 which was 736 in UCD, I didn’t receive an offer. I missed out on a place in NUIG, due to random allocation. 

The vast grade inflation has caused a significant injustice against those who have sat the Leaving Cert in previous years. How can our results, disregarding the circumstances in which I sat my own Leaving Cert, be compared? In 2019, 207 applicants, or 0.4%, achieved the maximum 625 points. This year, 1,342 applicants, or 2.3%, achieved 625. I think the figures speak for themselves. It is cruel to compare 2019’s depreciated points to this year.

I can’t help but feel the SEC and CAO have failed me. I felt hard done by during the original sitting of my Leaving Cert in 2019, and now again by the CAO in 2021. The examination system is majorly flawed and antiquated. The points race evidently doesn’t work. I believe implementing interviews or personal statements would solve many issues. The education system needs to recognize that candidates are more than just their points. I think my experience proves this. 

My experience with the Irish Education system has been nothing short of heartbreaking, isolating and frustrating. It is time for change.