Joe McCormack, educational expert and author.

Joe’s Jotter: The Challenge of Choosing Subjects for 3rd & 4th Year Students

By Joe McCormack

Choosing subjects for 5th Year can be a daunting enough task. A Transition (4th) year student will have had more time to contemplate options and so sometimes make more considered choices than those coming straight from the Junior Cycle (3rd year), and this is something Parents need to be aware of. It is important to put thought into how your subject choices may influence your career options later. Students should consult with all their teachers and ask them about the level of work that’s required for success in a given subject at a specific level.

Third Level Considerations

Students: If you have a third level course or career in mind, have a quick look at its content online and see are there any minimum entry requirements to gain access to it. It is important to note that no matter what points you achieve; you will not be allowed onto a course unless you achieve its minimum entry requirement (if it has one). This may guide you to choose a particular subject. In the case of compulsory exam subjects like Maths, you will be studying these anyway so there is no choice to make there. However, if there is a requirement on your desired course to score a certain grade in a foreign language or other subject, you will need to opt for this subject when decision day arrives.

In relation to specific college requirements, it is useful to know that the NUI colleges (UCD, UCG, UCC, Maynooth etc) require a pass in a third language for many of their courses. However there are now exceptions to this: UCD has dropped this requirement for Engineering and Ag Science, and Maynooth has removed it for Business, Accounting, Finance and Law. Trinity, UL, DCU and the IT’s do not have this third language requirement, except for those studying a language course.

There are also ‘Subject requirements’ on courses. For example, to study Primary teaching, you need a H4 in Irish, Engineering courses may require honours Maths and sometimes a science subject, Medicine can require two science subjects (one being chemistry) and Nursing may also require a Science subject. The savvy student will do some research on or to get a handle on exact requirements of potential courses.

If business is something you are really interested in, for example, you could choose Business and Accounting (assuming they don’t clash on the school timetable). Similarly, if Science is your area of passion, you could opt for two from Biology, Chemistry or Physics. Applied Maths or Agricultural Science may also be other options here.

The best advice I can give about choosing subjects is to select ones that keep your options open. You can best do this by choosing one foreign language and ensuring that at least two of the other three subjects picked are ones you have some sort of interest in or flair for. Remember you will be spending a lot of time studying your chosen subjects over the next two years and the nightmare scenario would be dreading going to that class each day.

Subject Statistics

While reflecting on subject choice, I did an analysis of Leaving Certificate results (Table 1) from August 2018. From the point of view of choosing subjects, the percentage of students scoring a H4 or above (A H4 being between 60% and 70% on a higher-level paper) has thrown back a very interesting breakdown.

What I find interesting here is that the top half of the table (the first six subjects) are those that have a practical, project or oral element to them. Whereas the bottom half (the second six subjects) have solely a summative final exam. As is clear from the table, there is quite a big disparity in the results between the top and bottom half of this table, leading me to wonder is there an imbalance in the system towards subjects that are currently including some form of continuous assessment. This trend has broadly continued into 2020 and 2021. Eventually all subjects will have continuous assessment, but this is not the case as we speak.

From this table and for these subjects, it is true to say that, statistically, a student would be better off leaning towards the type of subjects where some element of assessment is performed before the final exam. Some may say that I only analysed twelve subjects: but it’s an interesting viewpoint none the less. From these statistics, I certainly think that it is yet another consideration students’ need to examine when choosing subjects, one I wouldn’t have contemplated previously.

All in all, when it comes to subject choice, students should think a little about their futures, talk to teachers, look at courses they may have an Interest in and discuss with their peers gone ahead how it all worked out for them. Take your time and choose well. It may be wiser to choose subjects you have an interest in, as oppose to ones you feel you must choose in order to get into a certain career later. It’s a balancing act.

The Eight ACE ‘Do’s’ for choosing Subjects:

• Choose subjects you will enjoy studying

• Discuss it with as many people as you can. Teachers/Parents/Friends etc

• Try and keep your options open as much as possible

• Choose subjects you have some kind of a flair for

• Research each subject’s content on

• Choose subjects linked to a possible future career you are considering

• Write down the Pro’s/Con’s on paper if you are trying to select between two

• Students should make the final decision (not friends, teachers, or parents)

Enthusiasm for any subject will foster a desire to learn more about it. Studying these subjects won’t even feel like learning. Wishing you luck with your decisions. Joe.


More details about Joe’s ACE Tuition Classes for Junior and Leaving Certificate Students (Maths and English), ACE Career Coaching, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below. Be sure to pick up your copy today!



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© Joe McCormack 2021