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There are two papers in the Leaving Certificate higher-level English exam. The first paper examines your language skills by getting you to analyse texts you have never seen before and to complete some creative writing tasks. The second paper assesses your knowledge of literary texts which you will have studied in depth during your Leaving Cert years. The only text here that will be new to you is in a relatively short question on an unseen poem.
Before you sit the examination you should make sure you know exactly what questions you will have to answer on each of the examination papers. The exam structure in the panel should help you. If you are in doubt, consult your teacher.
Think of each question as a task that you must perform. Before you begin writing make sure you are as clear as you can be about the task, about exactly what you are being asked to do. Locate the key term/s of the question. Spend some time planning your answer. Where appropriate, use specific detail and textual evidence to develop your answer as fully as is required. The language you use in your answer should be appropriate to the task, and you should take care with punctuation, spelling and grammar.
So, remember that all of your answers will be assessed on the basis of your ability to do the following things:
•manage and control language to achieve clear communication;
•spell accurately and use patterns of grammar that are right for the task.
The approximate length of answers may be indicated in some of the questions. In cases where length is not specified, you should take account of such factors as the other instructions given in the question and the number of marks available for the question.
Allow adequate time for each of the questions you are required to answer on.
It is not recommended that you attempt extra questions. You would be better advised to spend time planning the questions you are required to answer and checking back over your answers.
(Source: Department of Education and Science "Assessment advice for students" )
In this section you will be given four texts on various aspects of a specific theme such as racism or relationships. Most of the texts will be extracts from books or newspapers, but you could also get a set of photographs, an advertisement or some other visual material. Bear in mind the following points.
•Make sure that you familiarise yourself quickly with each text and with the questions which follow it before you decide which questions to attempt.
•Each text is followed by a question A and a question B. You must answer question A from one text and question B from a different text. In other words, you may not answer questions A and B from the same text!
•Question A contains a number of questions relating directly to the text. You are expected here to show a good grasp of its content and to give your own response to it. Question B poses a writing task arising out of the text. You might be asked, for example, to write in the style of a newspaper article, a letter, a diary entry, or an interview script.
In the composing section you will be given seven composition options and you are expected to do one. In each case, you will have to write in one of the five language categories which you have studied - information, argument, persuasion, narration, and the aesthetic use of language. All of the options are linked in some way to the texts in the comprehension section. Remember the following points.
•Read the instructions carefully and identify the genre or language category appropriate to the composition.
•Adhere closely to the instructions given, both at the planning and at the writing stage.
•An essay written in one genre may incorporate elements of another (e.g. an argument may involve giving information).
•Use the texts from Section 1, if helpful, to stimulate or supplement your own ideas.
You have a choice of two questions on the single text you have studied. You are expected to have an in-depth knowledge of this text, as the question you answer could require you to write at some length on any of the following - theme, plot, characters and relationships, social setting, narrative style, imagery and language. Points worth remembering here include the following.
•Take care to spend some time planning and drawing up a structure for your answer.
•Avoid summarising the story. Make specific and concrete reference to the text to support the points you make.
•Make sure you deal with all elements of a question. For example, if a question makes reference to two characters, don't limit your answer to a discussion of just one of them.
The three modes of comparison at higher level are literary genre, cultural context and themes and issues. Two of these will appear on the paper. You are required to answer only one question in this section, and you are given a choice of two questions under each mode. The Department emphasises that the questions here are "mode-specific" rather than "text-specific". This means that you are not being examined here on your knowledge of each of the texts separately, but rather on your ability to compare and contrast them under the modes mentioned above. You should consider the following.
•Some of the questions may not give you much scope for developing an answer on your chosen texts, so select your question very carefully.
•As with the single text, plan well, write in a structured fashion and avoid summarising the plot.
•Identify both similarities and differences, and don't be afraid to offer personal insight; the more you can show you have engaged with the texts the better.
•Use evidence from your texts to support your answer, making particular reference to key moments.
•Be sure to answer all elements of a question. For example, if a question asks you to deal with the role of both men and women in the texts, don't neglect either one.
This section is divided into two parts - A: Unseen Poem and B: Prescribed Poetry.
The focus here is on your ability to respond to a poem you have never seen before, to grasp the main ideas and to comment on some of the issues of style (use of language, imagery, etc) in it.
It is a good idea to read through the poem a few times before attempting the questions. First, read it fairly quickly to get its overall sense. Then, perhaps, you should read the questions - in fact, the questions themselves will often provide you with some hints for interpreting the text. After that, you should go back over the poem with greater attention to detail.
Don't be intimidated by words or phrases you do not understand; remember the focus is on your general response to the poem.
Remember too that this is a 20-mark question. Make sure, then, that you don't spend too long on it and take time away from the prescribed poetry question.
Questions on four of the eight poets you have studied will appear on the paper and you must answer one of these.
Each of the questions here will relate to the main concerns and/or features of style in the work of the prescribed poet. When you're revising for the exam make sure you have both of these matters well covered.
Take some time to plan how you will structure your answer. You're writing an essay, so you have to have a clear introduction, main body (perhaps with one main point per paragraph) and conclusion.
Pick carefully the poems you are going to discuss, as some of them will be more suitable than others for answering the question you've chosen.
Use quotes to support the points you make, but avoid "over-quoting".
Make sure that you write a concluding paragraph which refers directly to the question asked and ties up your points clearly.