The Junior Cycle (Age 12-15) is a three-year program leading to the Junior Certificate exam. This is a State exam where the student is tested on all subjects studied during this period (generally about 10 subjects). The exam starts in the first week of June and lasts about three weeks depending on which subjects have been studied.
Transition Year (Age 15-16), sometimes called Fourth Year, may be mandatory, optional or unavailable depending on the school. It is a one-year school program that can be taken in the year after Junior Certificate. It is designed to make the senior cycle a three-year program which covers Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate.
This year provides a bridge between the Junior and Senior cycles and is designed to give students life skills. It includes a work experience program and many trips for students, (foreign and local), designed to make learning more practical. There is a mandatory 'retreat' for team building and developing interpersonal skills. The goal is to help students mature and connect with their peers. The mission statement of TY is:
"To promote the personal, social, educational and professional development of students and prepare them for their role as autonomous, participatory and responsible members of society"
It is intended to be a broad educational experience that helps students to make the transition from Junior to Senior Cycle by fostering creativity, maturity and responsibility for oneself. It can also help students to decide on which subjects to study at senior level. Approximately 75% of second level schools offer the program. Schools generally establish admission criteria and design their TY program according to local needs and in accordance with department guidelines.
There is no examination at the end of TY, but rather an evaluation. Transition year students are assessed at the end of the year based on their overall participation and attendance and on a project (usually a creative portfolio of their activities and experiences) that they have completed during the year. There are three grades,'Distinction' is the highest, then 'merit'; and finally a 'pass'.
The Senior Cycle (Age 16-17) is a two-year program to prepare students for the Leaving Certificate exam. These State exams mark the end of secondary level education and will determine a student's access to university/third level study. These exams usually begin on the first Monday in June and can last up to three weeks depending on the subjects that the student has chosen to study, (usually 7-8). Some private schools also offer their students the option to enrol for the International Baccalaureate.