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Leaving Cert exam diary: A relief English is over – so now my calculator can do some work

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Alain Gordet, from Creagh Community College, Gorey, after the engineering Leaving Cert exam today with school principal Paul Glynn.

Alain Gordet, from Creagh Community College, Gorey, after the engineering Leaving Cert exam today with school principal Paul Glynn.

Alain Gordet, from Creagh Community College, Gorey, after the engineering Leaving Cert exam today with school principal Paul Glynn.

Students across the country can, at last, breathe a collective sigh of relief now that English Paper 2 is over.

For many, this will be the last time they ever have to use the words onomatopoeia, alliteration or pathetic fallacy again.

I would be in this cohort except, at the rate that my CAO first choice is changing, I may very well end up doing English literature in college. Who knows?

This year, students had the choice of answering two out of three options: the single text (King Lear, for most), the comparative study, and poetry.

To be quite honest, I refused to glance at the Shakespeare question and, instead, went straight to the poetry.

I could almost hear the screams of delight from students when I first saw the poetry options.

The exam went just as predicted for the majority of candidates, with Plath, Durcan, Heaney, Boland and Keats coming up.

Plath will, by far, be the favoured choice, followed by Durcan and then Heaney, who appeared on the paper for the first time since 2003.

Boland was slightly more unexpected, considering she appeared on 2020’s paper. Repeating poets is typically a no-go for the State Examinations Commission but, bearing in mind Boland’s unfortunate death last year, it made sense to pay homage to the celebrated poet.

John Keats, on the other hand, was somewhat of a curveball. Most students were expecting American poet Elizabeth Bishop to take his spot on the paper.

I was thrilled to see Keats make an appearance as he, along with Robert Frost, had been my favourite poets to study.

The Unseen Poetry section was based on a sonnet called How to Construct an Albatross by Scottish poet Louise Greig. It was certainly an eccentric choice for the paper, and I must say that my interpretation of the poem was rather inventive. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.

Next, I moved on to the comparative study.

For this section, students must have studied a novel, a play and a film.

This year, the exam changes meant students only had to know one mode: ‘Theme or Issue’, ‘Cultural Context’ or ‘General Vision and Viewpoint’. My class had concentrated on ‘Theme or Issue: Identity’. The ‘Theme or Issue’ question was focused on just one main character from each of the texts.

This was a challenging aspect and may have proved tricky if a student didn’t know their texts inside out.

Looking at the King Lear question now, I will be surprised if any student didn’t go for the first of the two options, which was nice and broad.

The second option, however, was based on the idea of removing two characters from the play: Kent and the Fool. An unconventional question indeed. The mock question was also based on Kent, so some students might have been well prepared.

Maths Paper 1 is next up for me. And after all that writing, I’ll be glad to let my calculator handle some of the work.

Shona O’Kelly is a Leaving Cert candidate at Presentation College, Athenry, Co Galway


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