Anyone who was expecting a DH Lawrence appearance would have been disappointed, but there was a “more than fair selection of poets and questions,” was one teacher’s verdict on the Leaving Cert English Paper 2 higher level poetry section.
There is always huge interest in what prescribed poets come up on this paper and this year Ireland’s Brendan Kennelly and W.B. Yeats as well as Adrienne Rich, Emily Dickinson, and William Wordsworth all featured.
Paul McCormack of the Institute of Education, Dublin, said the wording of one or two of questions required careful thought and consideration, particular, the wording of the Yeats question, which asked students to comment on the lessons Yeats learned from History, Myth and Legend, was tough.
“However, tough questions are the nature of the exam and students had lovely choices elsewhere in the section, “ he said. But he was disappointed at the omission of a question on DH Lawrence, the only poet on the course who had not already been examined in the last three years.
Overall, he said, the paper was “designed to reward those students who have worked hard on their analytical, planning and critical thinking skills, as well as the quality of their expression and articulation”.
It offered all candidates opportunities to excel, to the best of their ability, after a ridiculously tough two years, he added.
The Covid-related changes to the exam meant that students did not have to answer all three sections but could select form any two of the three areas of study.
In the Single Text question, Mr McCormack said most students would have answered on Othello and “the two questions asked needed to be navigated carefully.”
He said each question contained particular wording that would have to be considered carefully in the planning stage before the answer was written.
“The first, which asked students to discuss the nature of the relationship between Iago and Emilia, specifically required commentary on what aspects of that relationship might be deemed ‘fascinating’ or ‘disturbing’. The second, an Othello character study, specifically focused on the character’s status as an outsider and some candidates might have found this particular element difficult to tease out into a full-length response,” he said.
Mr McCormack said the questions were designed to reward those students who worked hard to develop a detailed knowledge of the play. “However, candidates needed to be careful not to ‘narrate’ the play, and the crucial requirement for critical thinking and analysis was obvious in answering these questions,” he added.
Similarly structured questions were set for the other single texts examined, ‘All the Light We Cannot See’, ‘A Doll’s House, ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.
In the Comparative question, all three comparative modes were examined, “and all three modes contained questions which were again subtle and required careful thought,” he said.
“For example, one of the General Vision and Viewpoint questions required candidates to comment on the ‘resilience’ of characters they encountered in their texts, and one of the Cultural Context questions required commentary on characters who ‘diverge from social norms’.
However, all three modes contained questions that were framed in a way which would reward the well-prepared candidate who understood the importance of writing in the comparative spirit.”
In the Poetry: Unseen section, ‘The Voice You Hear When You Read Silently’, by Thomas Lux was “fairly straightforward for the candidate who has studied poetry, and both of the question options in this section required candidates to analyse the poet’s use of language,” he said.
Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) subject representative Nessa O’Meara, of Coláiste Eoin, Hacketstown, Co Carlow, quoted a student who described it as “a grand paper”.
She said they were “happy with all questions but the wording of some of the poetry questions was tricky and required some extra thought.”
Ms O’Meara described the questions on the ordinary level paper as “well phrased and well structured”.
Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland (ASTI) subject representative Kate Barry described the higher level paper as “very fair” with “lovely” Othello questions.
She said the question about Othello as an outsider, which was key to understanding him as a character, would probably be the more popular, but the other question, asking candidates to discuss Iago and Emilia as a married couple, was also “very nice”. It was one where a rote leaner would “pass”, but to do well, as a student would have to craft the information they had into an answer.
In the Prescribed Poetry, Ms Barry of Loreto Secondary School, Fermoy, Co Cork, said the Yeats’ question was “very good but quite challenging. It was a good discriminator, and candidates who had rote learned would have struggled to craft an answer. Students with an in-depth knowledge of Yeats could have taken the same information and written a really nice answer”.
Jamie Dockery, of Tyndall College, Co Carlow and the Studyclix exams website, said those who like to play the prediction game with the poets would be delighted with the selection, with the recently deceased and much predicted Brendan Kennelly making an appearance, alongside W.B. Yeats, William Wordsworth, Adrienne Rich and Emily Dickinson.
“The questions themselves were fair and gave a decent opportunity to do well to those students who put the work in,” he said.
He described the Single Text questions as an interesting challenge and “candidates would really have had to know their stuff, particularly those candidates that relied on answering the ‘Othello’ question.
“Some might argue that a question that concentrates on the relationship between Iago and Emilia was too narrow in its focus. The second ‘Othello’ question which asked about the titular’s character status as an outsider was also an intriguing prospect. There was certainly no room from waffle here.
Mr Dockery said the Comparative questions were “quite accessible this year which was pleasing to see as these can sometimes be awkward for the ill-prepared candidate.”