Maths Paper 1 (H): A unique higher level maths exam

Reaction to Leaving Certificate 2021 Maths Paper 1 (Higher Level) by Aidan Roantree, senior maths teacher at The Institute of Education

This was a completely unique exam.

Because of covid changes this year, students had choice for the first time since 2012 and had to do a reduced number of questions in the same amount of time. The questions were the same length as before, which meant that they had 20 minutes to tackle a question. Students in previous years only had 12.5 mins. This gave students much surplus time to review and make changes if necessary.

A good mix of questions will help distinguish high achievers.

There were no real surprises in terms of actual content and all the questions were normal. However, a trend that started a couple of years ago, and definitely continued in this exam, is the use of slightly unusual phraseology.

Normally algebra dominates the paper, but this year calculus did.


In Section A, students had to do any 4 questions from 6. Of these, questions 2,4 and 5 would have stood out as being immediately attractive.

For their final question, most students would have chosen questions 1 and 3.

Question 6 was probably best avoided, being trickier than most.


In Section B, students had to do any 2 questions from 4.

The obvious and easiest question here was question 8, involving straightforward calculus based on the motion of a rollercoaster.

For their other question, those students comfortable with exponential functions would have gone for question 9. Exponential functions would have been widely forecast to appear in connection with the pandemic, although the question that did appear didn’t involve the pandemic.

Others students would have opted for the straightforward question on geometric sequences and series in question 7.

Question 10 was a trap. Part A of the question was extremely attractive, but part B was novel, intimidating and difficult. Few students would have tried this question on account of this and even fewer will have been rewarded for doing so successfully.