Almost all junior cycle students take courses leading to the Junior Certificate, the State examination taken at the end of the third year of junior cycle, when students are 15 years of age. Subjects are normally studied at either Ordinary or Higher Level, although three subjects, Irish, English and Mathematics, can also be studied at Foundation Level.
While a majority of subjects are assessed as part of the Junior Certificate Examination, junior cycle also includes a number of subjects that are an important part of the curriculum, but are not formally assessed in this way. Including these subjects ensures that students get a broad, balanced education that introduces them to all the areas of experience relevant to the needs of learners at this age and stage of their development. Non-examination subjects at junior cycle include Physical Education, Social, Personal and Health Education and Computer Studies, while Religious Education is available both as an examination and non-examination subject.
To enable them to reach and undertake the Junior Certificate Examination, students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds, and those viewed as at risk of leaving school early, may follow the Junior Certificate School Programme.