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Is Honours Maths worth the extra points?

June 8, 2017

In 2012, in response to the decreasing number of students doing Higher Level Mathematics, a new points system was brought in which awarded 25 additional CAO points to any student who sat Higher Level paper Mathematics.


It appears this initiative worked. The percentage of students doing Higher Level Mathematics has steadily rose from 2012 onward, from 16% in 2011, up to 28% in 2016. According to this Irish Times article, the percentage of students expected to sit this year’s Higher Level Mathematics paper is 30%, nearly double the percentage of six years previous.




So, the question is, if you are student who might have done Ordinary Level Mathematics if it wasn’t for these tantalizing bonus points, is doing Higher Level worth it?


According to this very crude analysis, if you are student in this category, doing Higher Level Mathematics, is worth an extra 50 CAO points.


This analysis does not account for student ability, students past results, time spent studying, historical results of associated school or the any of the many other factors which may affect a student’s grade. It also assumes that no other changes in Mathematics have taken place which could affect a student’s grade.


So, let’s say students who sat the 2016 Higher Level Mathematics paper can be split into two groups, the group that would always have done the Higher Level paper, Group A, and the group who have chosen to do it because of the bonus points available, Group B. We are interested in what Group B scored in 2016 and what we expect they would have scored had they done the Ordinary paper instead.


To do this we will model the 2016 results based on 2011 results. So, we assume only 16% of students chose to do Higher Level and their grades are distributed as per the 2011 results. We then assign the remaining grades to Group B. Results are shown in the table below.


The average CAO points received by Group B is 83.83, which we round to 85 for interpretability. A Higher Level C3 is also the most likely result for this group, with 14% receiving this grade.




We repeated this exact process looking at the points Group B might have received if they had done Ordinary Level, again using 2011 results as a model. The average points received by these students would have been 35 points.


So, if you are a student undecided about doing Higher Level Mathematics, this is what’s on offer, an extra 50 CAO points. Now you just need to decide if this is worth the additional stress/workload!



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