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‘All plain sailing, but I tip my hat to any student who chose THAT question’

Shona O’Kelly


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Shona O'Kelly. Photo: Ray Ryan

Shona O'Kelly. Photo: Ray Ryan

Shona O'Kelly. Photo: Ray Ryan

The 2021 Leaving Cert is in full swing. English Paper 1 is finished and I truly could not be more elated. I feel liberated, in a sense, although I’m sure this is not the case for those who spent last night learning hundreds of quotes for Paper 2 today.

I woke up miserable yesterday, as expected. The rain was lashing down, perfectly reflecting my despondency. But, to be honest, the sight of the horrible weather outside actually lifted my spirits. At least everyone else would feel as downcast as I did.

That was, of course, before I naively checked the forecast and saw Ireland is predicted to have “Mediterranean-style conditions” over the coming days. I really thought we were all in this Leaving Cert hell together.

Anyway, I went into the exam feeling uncharacteristically calm. I think my body was acting like the stress was already over, although it most certainly was not.

Students had to be in their exam centres half-an-hour before the beginning of the paper. Thirty minutes of waiting, yet it felt like an eternity.

The paper itself was more of a pleasant surprise. The general consensus among students is that it was very straightforward. “Reflections on Time” was the theme.

There were a couple of things that I found to be particularly fascinating about the exam. In recent years, the State Examinations Commission has asked students to refer to their Paper 2 texts as part of Question A in Paper 1. This aspect did not appear in this year’s paper.

Furthermore, the last part of Question A generally asks the student to analyse the genre of writing and language techniques used. Interestingly, students were told exactly what language genre was used in each text, thus simplifying the question even more. This is unheard of, as far as I’m aware. Not that I’m complaining, of course.

The choice of essays for the composition portion of the exam was intriguing, to say the least. I suspect most students opted for the personal essays and steered well clear of the short stories, one of which asked students to “write a story, set in a railway station, in which a passenger off the overnight ferry from Fishguard in Wales plays an important role”. I tip my hat to any student who chose that question.

Regardless of the intricacies of the exam, the extra time certainly made for a luxurious two hours and 50 minutes. As my own English teacher said, the spare time allowed students the opportunity to show off to the examiner. Hopefully, everyone availed of this unique opportunity.

I would lastly like to pay my respects to the poor souls who chose to sit the home economics exam this year. These students faced a double exam day yesterday, although I’ve heard the paper was better than expected.

So, all plain sailing for English Higher Level Paper 1. I’m anxious to see what Paper 2 has to offer.


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


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