I've been having a look over the statistics section of examinations.ie to see what there is to be seen about junior cycle science - now that three cohorts of students have sat the new Junior Cycle programme, both before and after covid.
As the raw stats below show the number taking Science has grown from 2019 to 2023 - from just under 59, 500 to just over 65,500. But the numbers of students in each year has also grown (due to the last legs of the Celtic Tiger baby boom working its way through the system) - so how is the popularity of science holding up in percentage terms?
We don't have an official figure for the total number of students doing the junior cycle exams, but I'm taking the figures for English to be a good proxy for the total. So in 2019, I am assuming 63,619 sat the JC exams. This means that 93.6% took science, which seems healthy enough.
For 2022, 94.4% took science. And in 2023, 94.0% took science. So the figure seems to be holding steady at around 94%.
How does that compare to other subjects? In 2023, 86% took geography, and 99% took history, and nothing else that could be considered optional is close to those figures. It would be nice if science was closer to 100%. Against that, though, I know that some schools make science optional and that means we lose a few students - but it also makes it easier to keep the numbers in each class at or under 24, so there is a plus side to that too.
And what about the spread of grades? The only real change over the three years is that the number of those awarded a merit has fallen significantly - from 49% to 39%. The 10% has been redistributed widely over all the other grades.
In keeping with all of the junior cycle subjects, the number getting distinctions is very small at 4% - less than half the number getting 'partially achieved'. Though that percentage has doubled from 2% since 2019.
If we compare grades with those from the old junior cert exam, the figures for 'higher merit and merit' in 2023 are not all that different to those for B and C grades in 2018: 67% against 65%. But at a glance, the figure for distinctions seems a lot less at 4% than that for A grades (9.7%).
But to make a more valid comparison we have to factor that this is a common level exam whereas the 2018 exam had higher and ordinary level. So the 9.7% getting an A at higher level in 2018 represented 7.7% of all students taking science that year, which is closer to the 4% for 2023 - (though its still clearly higher).
And what does that all mean? The last chief examiners report on science suggested that students were doing reasonably well on factual knowledge, but that they were struggling with
questions that challenged them to see linkages across strands and to carry out their own analysis. Looking at these results, I would imagine that that is still broadly the case.
And it might be interesting to revisit Richie Moynihan's excellent analysis of last summers Science paper, now that we can review it in conjunction with these results. JC Science 2023 - an overview (physicsresourcebank.com)
The stats for last summer are here: EN-ST-11853737.xlsx (live.com)