Sunday 25 February 2018

Teacher's View: Both English papers were fair and accessible - but with a few twists

"Students are generally content with Higher Level English this year."

Elaine Dobbyn

Students are generally content with Higher Level English this year. Both papers were fair and accessible with some twists to keep students on their toes.

As has been the trend in recent years, questions were quite specific, designed to prompt a unique, personal answer from students. The State Examinations Commission (SEC) is clearly seeking to limit the effect of the 'learned-off essay' which is no bad thing.

Paper Two heralded much fist-pumping and muffled cheers in exam halls for its great selection of poets: an entirely predictable spread of male poets from Ireland (Montague), America (Frost) and England (Hardy) and, flying the flag for the females was the newly added Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.

The questions were all well phrased to inspire a lively discussion of the poet's work and a quick exit poll revealed Frost and Montague as the most popular choices.

Fifth years are already tipping Yeats for 2016 - will this ridiculous poetry lottery never cease?!

'Othello' presented a juicy topic in the apparent unsympathetic nature of the female characters, Desdemona and Emilia, and was significantly more popular with students than the unusual question on the influence of "values" on the outcome of the play.

Again the SEC appears to be encouraging students to think on their feet rather than regurgitate memorised essays, which is to be commended.

The Comparative Study was the trickiest section, with some students who had been rooting for Literary Genre to come up somewhat confounded by the question options. The first limited the focus to a single literary technique which proved challenging for students used to comparing four or five techniques. The phrasing of the Theme or Issue question was also somewhat complex and elicited some complaints from frazzled students.

Overall, Paper Two was exactly what you want for Higher Level students - nothing completely out of the ordinary but nothing too predictable either.

Elaine Dobbyn is a teacher at Coláiste Iognáid, Galway. She manages a blog of resources for Junior and Leaving Cert English at

Irish Independent

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