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Preparing Well for Leaving Cert. English

Preparing for your Leaving Cert. English exam involves a combination of learning from prescribed texts and practising key skills. In this series of articles from Revise.ie I will outline all areas of the English course identifying the approach you must take to achieve success in your exams. You have seven months to organise your preparation in order to guarantee a high grade from your performance in June. This series or articles and the videos online at www.revise.ie will help you to ensure an excellent result in your Leaving Cert. English exams.


It is vital to ensure that you cover all relevant areas of the course well. Your course requires you to read, analyse and learn a number of texts. There are reading and skills you must aim to perfect in order to maximise your scores in the two papers. What follows is a brief outline of the course requirements and the structure of Paper 1 and Paper 2. Read this carefully paying attention to any areas your teacher has yet to cover. Make sure there are no gaps in your knowledge by focusing on all topics and sections.

Course requirements

Your English exam will test what you have learned in a number of areas. The two key skills are:

  • Comprehending – your ability to analyse texts and express your response to questions in a clear and original way.
  • Composing – your competence at expressing your ideas and feelings across a range of writing tasks.

Paper One

Paper One Language 200 marks 170 mins
Section I
Q A. Comprehension [on one text] 50 marks 50 mins
I Lower Order Question (content) 15 marks 12 mins
2 Higher Order (opinion) 15 marks 12 mins
3 Style Question (language) 20 marks 15 mins
Q B Composing [from a different text] 50 marks 40 mins
Section II
Composition 100 marks 80 mins

In preparing for this paper it is vital to know the essential features of the five language types outlined in the English Syllabus:

  1. The language of Information
  2. The language of Persuasion
  3. The Language of Argument
  4. The language of Narration
  5. The Aesthetic Use of Language

Each of the ways of using language above are classified on the basis of the purpose of a piece of writing and how the writer uses a suitable style of language appropriate for the target audience of that writing task. In the course of this series of articles I will demonstrate how to determine the nature of the various writing tasks, the correct style to adopt and how to plan and execute an excellent answer. Additional support material will be available at our website www.revise.ie.

Paper Two

Paper Breakdown and Timing for Questions

Paper Two Literature 200 marks 200 mins
Section I The Single Text 60 marks 60 mins
Section II The Comparative Study 70 marks 70 mins
Section III Poetry 70 marks 70 mins
  Unseen Poetry 20 marks 20 mins
  Prescribed poetry 50 mins 50 mins

Section I: The Single Text

The Single Text question will test your in-depth knowledge of a novel or play from the prescribed list. Most students in the 2021 exam will write about ‘King Lear’ by William Shakespeare. Questions posed in the exam will require you to display expert knowledge of the key characters, dominant themes and distinctive story telling techniques used in your chosen text. In the course of this series of articles I will address a range of sample questions on ‘King Lear’, the key points outlined in the marking scheme and sample answers of a H1 standard. Additional video material at www.revise.ie will further explore what to learn, how to plan and practise writing H1 Single Text answers.

Section II: The Comparative Study

The Comparative Question tests your knowledge of three key modes or ways of comparing stories. The three stories you must compare are taken from a list prescribed at https://circulars.gov.ie/pdf/circular/education/2019/23.pdf. Your answers must demonstrate a knowledge of the following modes:

  1. The General Vision & Viewpoint
  2. Theme or Issue
  3. Cultural Context

The key skill is making connections between your three stories, dealing with the specific mode of comparison. It is crucial to know a number of key moments from your studied texts in order to illustrate the points of comparison with carefully chosen examples. A number of articles in this paper will outline the requirements of each mode and demonstrate how to plan and write an answer in order to achieve a high grade in your exam.

Section III: Poetry

The Poetry Section tests your ability to respond to poems using suitable language to analyse your response to the poet’s work. The same skills of analysis are tested in the Unseen and Prescribed questions. In order to guarantee that you know enough poetry to answer a question in the prescribed section you MUST study a minimum of four poets. Your teacher will cover six poems by each of four poets from the prescribed list of eight. Do not neglect to study four poets. Five of the prescribed eight will appear on the exam so it is essential to know four well in order to guarantee that you can answer this section well.

Mid-term is an excellent time to take stock of your preparation so far. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I covered all aspects of the course?
  • Which areas have I not covered in class?
  • Have I practised answering questions in all sections?
  • Which answers can I perform at a high standard? Why?
  • In which areas is my performance poor?
  • How do I need to improve in these sections?

In the course of this series of articles, all sections of the English Higher Level Leaving Cert. course will be covered twice. In addition to the articles you can access sample questions, plans and answers online at www.revise.ie