Monday 26 August 2019

Leaving Cert English: 'Narrowly-prepared candidates faced tough and extremely demanding exam'

Irish poet, playwright and Nobel prize winner Seamus Heaney (PA)
Irish poet, playwright and Nobel prize winner Seamus Heaney (PA)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

THERE was no sign of Seamus Heaney and his absence helped to confirm teacher Jim Lusby’s view that “"predictability was finally shown the door this year on the Leaving Cert higher level English Paper 2".

Mr Lusby noted "the failure of a much-anticipated question on Heaney in the Prescribed Poetry section, and the failure of the much-anticipated theme Mode to appear in the Comparative Study section".

"These absences will have disconcerted the narrowly-prepared candidate, but they opened up more interesting opportunities for the more widely-read student," said Mr Lusby, of Dublin’s Institute of Education.

He said the paper continued the Department of Education’s strategy of discouraging predictability and rote learning, while encouraging and rewarding critical thinking and a real interest in literature.

But in doing that it left many candidates facing a "tough and extremely demanding exam".

He added; "In the process, it makes nonsense of the practice of relying on expensive textbooks that claim to teach you what you should know for the Leaving Certificate English examination.

"This year's Paper 2 is not a test of your knowledge, but a test of your appreciation of the beauties and complexities of literature."

Mr Lusby said rote learning was neutralised by the complex vocabulary employed in all questions.

"Expressions such as 'horrific but bizarre and unbelievable' in the Macbeth question, 'the personal integrity of the central character' in the Comparative Study question, and 'often analytical but rarely emotional' in one of the poetry questions, demanded to be examined critically, explored and reflected on.

"Such a sophisticated vocabulary will have excited rather than fazed the widely read student, who is being rewarded by the current direction the English examination papers are taking."

Overall, he described it as "an outstanding, if rigorous, test of a young person’s relationship with literature".

On the other hand, he said the ordinary level Paper 2 was a "comfortable and enjoyable test of a candidate’s knowledge of the course material".

"The choices and options were as expected, and without exception the questions were pleasant and interesting, and always accessibly phrased.

"In stark, but possibly intentional contrast to the Higher Level Paper 2, it could only have been a relaxed and undemanding exercise for even the reasonably well prepared candidate," he said.

Lorraine Tuffy, a teacher with Studyclix,ie and at Jesus and Mary Secondary School, Enniscrone, Co Sligo, said while Heaney once again "failed to grace the final page of Paper 2, his absence was somewhat forgiven by the presence of both Plath and Yeats, two favourites among Leaving Cert students".

She described the questions in the Studied Poetry section as "comfortably accessible".

A Yeats’ question, addressing the intellectually stimulating and emotionally charged nature of his work would undoubtedly have inspired critical reflection in students, the Bishop question was refreshingly concise, while the nuance of the question on Brendan Kennelly’s work may have deterred some students, she said.

Ms Tuffy said there was a "fresh and innovative approach" to the Macbeth question in the Single Text section, but it may have been disconcerting for candidates, initially at least.

"Upon cursory reading, students would perhaps have felt confused and uncertain, however, a careful read would have settled any misguided apprehension.

"While lengthy, the second option offered students a real opportunity to take the reins and choose what theme or character they would like to discuss.

"The straight-forward character or theme question is a thing of the past. This year students were asked to explore how language and imagery developed their understanding of a theme or characterisation. The openness of the question is both enticing and stimulating."

According to Ms Tuffy, the Comparative Section, "arguably the most demanding question on paper 2, once again set an arduous challenge for exhausted students".

But, she said "while higher level candidates were afforded freedom to engage in a meaningful way with their studied texts, the ordinary level student was offered guided questions that would have supported them through the paper."

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News