Pencil, pen or both? What to use in the Leaving Cert maths exam!
This issue has been a source of some confusion, in particular since 2019 when the SEC commenced plans to digitise (scan) exam scripts in order to allow correction to be done digitally. However, it is now clear what students should do.
The simple and brief instructions on the Leaving Cert exam papers are as follows:
“Write your answers in blue or black pen. You may use pencil in graphs and diagrams only”
So we can see that Leaving Cert maths students can continue to use pencil for diagrams, graphs and constructions, but the instructions from the SEC are that students should use black or blue ink (not gel pens) for other parts of their maths exam.
Note: notwithstanding this instruction, we believe that students will not be penalised if, by mistake, they were to use pencil throughout their exam, as long as it is clearly legible using an appropriate pencil e.g. a HB, B or 2B pencil. Students should follow the instructions, but if they mistakenly use a (legible) pencil throughout, it should not be a cause for panic.
Exam superintendents have been instructed that it is not up to them to stop any candidate from writing in pencil. In the unlikely event that a superintendent should try to advise you not to use pencil for diagrams, graphs or constuctions, student should refer them to the instructions on page 3 of the exam paper, and proceed to use pencil where appropriate.
In summary, based on the latest instructions from the SEC, and the instructions on the LC maths papers, we recommend that all students should use a HB pencil (and not coloured pencils) for graphs, diagrams and constructions, and should use a black or blue pen (not gel pens) for other parts of their Leaving Cert maths exams.
Students must make sure to stay within the spaces provided for answers.
Supplementary paper will be provided if required, and should be correctly labelled with the relevant question number.
Background, history and full details of the latest recommendations are given below for information, but students do not need to concern themselves with the full history.
Changes in 2019
The State Examinations Commission (SEC) announced plans for scanning (digitising) exam scripts for Leaving Cert Maths in 2019. This led to rumours that pencil would no longer be allowed as a writing implement, and that everything would have to be written, drawn or constructed with ink pens. This would have been a big issue for drawing graphs, diagrams and constructions.
The SEC issued a circular in early May 2019 stating the following:
1. Students can continue to use pencil for drawing graphs and diagrams.
2. Blue or black ink pens (not gel pens) should be used for other parts of your answers.
3. Students should write answers only in the spaces provided on the exam paper, and must stay within these areas.
4. Supplementary paper (extra paper) can be requested only when needed, and students should make sure to put the relevant question number in the right hand margin of the extra paper.
We participated in further online discussions with Irish maths teachers regarding the pen or pencil issue, and it emerged that some teachers had received updated advice via email from the SEC.
We contacted the SEC again and we received the following advice on 10th May 2019: “Candidates can use pencil for completing the Leaving Certificate Maths exams this year.” This was in line with the email advice received by other teachers. It implied pencil could be used throughout the LC exam.
However, the actual exam paper for LC maths in 2019 had the following instruction on it: “Write your answers in black or blue pen. You may use pencil for graphs and diagrams only”. This instruction also appeared on the 2020 exam paper, and we expect that it will continue to appear in susbsequent years. Moreover, the “General Instructions for Superintendents” document issued to exam superintendents in 2019 contains the following: “Our strong recommendation is that candidates use blue or black pen for writing their answers. We have said that the use of pencil (incl. coloured pencil) should be restricted to graphs and diagrams.”
On this basis, we recommend to all students to use a HB pencil for graphs, diagrams and constructions, and to use a black or blue pen (not gel pens) for other parts of their Leaving Cert maths exams. Coloured pencils can also be problematic, so we advise against using them.
Note that the “General Instructions for Superintendents” also states: “It is not up to you to stop any candidate from writing in pencil if they decide to do so”, so in the unlikely event that an exam superintendent challenges you about using a pencil in your exam, please refer them to their own instructions document, or to the instructions on page 3 of the exam paper itself.
If you have any questions about this, please get in touch with us at any time.