Monday 24 November 2014

English: A guide to Paper 1 using the 2006 Leaving Cert papers as examples

TASKS AND TIMING In Paper 1 on both the Higher and Ordinary Level papers, you have 2 hours and 50 minutes to read three texts, select a Question A, a Question B and a Composition title, and jot down preliminary plans for each (all of which should take 20 minutes); then you must answer one Question A for 50 marks (35 minutes), answer one Question B for 50 marks (35 minutes) and write one Composition for 100 marks (80 minutes).


The three texts are linked by a common theme. In 2006, this was PRETENCE at Higher Level and FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN at Ordinary Level. Usually, one of the texts combines visual images with written material.

Since every text has some purpose or other, your first task is to identify the type of text in each case. But this is quite easy, really. The primary purpose of an informative text, for instance, is to provide the reader with facts. The primary purpose of an argumentative text is to express an opinion. The primary purpose of a persuasive text is to convince the reader to buy, do or think something specific. And the primary purpose of a narrative text is to describe a sequence of events. When answering Question A, it helps considerably if you're very clear about what type of text you're dealing with.

In 2006, Higher Level, TEXT 1 was narrative, TEXT 2 was informative, and TEXT 3 combined visual images with an argumentative piece on Pretence. In 2006, Ordinary Level, TEXT 1 was informative, TEXT 2 was narrative, and TEXT 3 combined visual images with a short opinion piece on the attraction of horror movies.


You are asked three specific questions on your selected text. Most are simple comprehension questions, asking you to elucidate and discuss the content. Others require an appreciation of the author’s prose style. Some may require a short imaginative passage ranging beyond, but still related to, the given extract. Regardless of what you are asked, though, the answer is always in the text. So please don’t go searching anywhere else.

QUESTION: 2006, TEXT 1, QUESTION A, (i): Do you consider the first paragraph to be an example of good descriptive writing? Explain your view.

Although it’s very short, the opening paragraph here is also very powerful.

Attempt to answer the question immediately

The writing effectively captures a scene in which there is action, movement, and human reaction, and it manages to move fluidly between the various aspects. Opening with a brief, dramatic piece of dialogue – ‘She’s going.’ – immediately creates a sense of tension and expectation.

Provide reasons for your opinion.

Offer examples to illustrate your points.

Over the next sentence, the tension is held and increased, as the slow, reluctant descent of the falling tree is captured in the evocative verbs – ‘quaking’ ‘tilted’ ‘twisted’ ‘fighting’ and ‘grabbed’ – which take us slowly through the various stages of the tree’s almost heroic resistance. The end approaches with a couple of words evoking painful sounds – ‘creaking’ suggests discomfort and ‘goodbye-sigh’ suggests regret – and then finally arrives with a triple assault on the ear, when ‘thunderous,’ ‘hurricane’ and ‘crash’ all imitate the cacophony of the tree smashing against the earth.

Use quotations by incorporating them into your own sentences.

Always explain why a word or phrase is so effective.

Verbs, adjectives and images combine here to suggest that something truly momentous has occurred. This is reflected when we enter the boy’s mind in the next two sentences – ‘mad,’ in particular, suggesting something extreme, outlandish – but it is rather checked by the final short sentence, which captures the grin of the well-satisfied father and which somehow manages to put what has been presented throughout as the felling of a colossus – the tree is personified as a giant – into a somewhat different perspective.

Know what you’re looking for when analysing a particular type of text, in this case a narrative, which creatively uses verbs, adjectives, metaphors and visual detail to capture a sequence of events.

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