Why not give it a go?
Are you ready to play ‘Are you smarter than a Leaving Cert’?
Students around the country sat down to English Paper One this morning, scribbling through reading comprehensions and searching for divine essay inspiration.
We’ve taken some snippets from this year’s Higher Level paper so you can dust off your English skills and put yourself to the test.
Do you know what they’re on about at all in the reading comprehension? Which essay would you have gone for? Could you do it all in under three hours?
Sure as they say, “you can’t really study for Paper One anyway”. Why not give it a go?
We’ve done some of the hard work for you and decided which of the three reading comprehensions to go with. After reading the text below, you have a choice of answering question A or Question B.
This text is adapted from poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s award-winning prose debut, A Ghost in the Throat. In this edited extract the writer reflects on how the past and the present come together in her garden.
I love the garden and the garden loves me, but it isn’t mine, not really. I will always share it with the woman who began it, who arrived in a sun-dress to a newly built council house and cared for this garden all her life. I don’t know where she is now, but her bulbs are buried here. The very first morning that I walked through her garden, her daffodils’ buttery hellos were easily translated: they nodded. I nodded back.
To work this soil is to sift an archaeology of a stranger’s thought. Each time I find an old bulb or the splinters of a broken cup planted for drainage, I am thankful for her labour. With every month, more of her flowers lift their heads from the soil, waving polite hellos in pinks and yellows and blues. I don’t know their names, but I think of her in every small act of weeding and pruning, of watering and fertilising. I pat the earth with gentleness. My nails are always dirty, my palms shovel-blistered, my knees drenched, but I don’t care. I am happy here. In mapping my own additions to this small plot, I choose with care, because I hold a specific desire for this place: I want to lure the bees to me.
Plastic seed-trays soon proliferate all along our windowsills, each square of soil brimming with a velvet darkness from which tiny seedlings peek. I love the sprouting of their infant limbs, how they wear their seedcases like jaunty bonnets.
Of the many species of bumblebee in Ireland, I’ve read that one third may be extinct within a decade. The cat watches from the wall as I set to work, a clumsy gardener who digs not by trowel or spade but by dented soup spoon. Every day, I am digging and grunting and raking, heaving compost from the shed, setting plump armfuls of plants and bulbs, and patting them down. Each new plant I choose is both nectar and pollen-heavy, every clump of colour designed to bloom as a lure. Here will be sunflowers and snowdrops, I tell my husband, holding his hand tight, and over there, lavender and fuchsia. Our peripheries will hold hedges of hawthorn and hazel, I’ll lure honeysuckle along the walls, and we’ll abandon a fat ribbon of untouched wilderness beyond, in which brambles and dandelions will flourish. It will be so beautiful, I say, and press my smiling lips to his in excitement. I am determined to rewrite the air here until it sings the songs of long ago; I want it rewound and purring with bees.
We may imagine that we can imagine the past, but this is an impossibility. As a child I was so enchanted by history that I would sometimes sit by a stream and try to daydream myself back in time. To the hurry-burble of water, my mind set to work, forgiving first the distant buzz of traffic, and then, through clumsy acts of further deletion, trying to subtract all the other resonances of modernity. This, I told my ears, this soundscape, yes, but minus cars, minus tractors, minus airplanes, minus the sad cow-howl of industrial farming, minus it all, until only stream-lilt and bird-chirp remain. Now, I would tell myself, this, this must have been what the past really sounded like. I was wrong. Long ago, the air was never as quiet as I presumed. It was alive, strumming the tune of those sisters so accustomed to drudgery, the background chorus of those who always hum as they work.
As the new plants unfurled into sunlight, the bees began to arrive. I dragged a cobwebbed lawn-chair from the garage and spied on their busy rumps as they browsed the gifts I’d grown for them. I watched the bees and thought of the poet Paula Meehan. I’d heard her describe how cherished bees were in medieval Ireland, when entire tracts of our Brehon laws provided a legal framework for their behaviour. Bees flew through the law and into folklore.
They are only bees, it’s true. In the absence of the neurological embellishments that make moral beings of humans, we assume other creatures’ lives are somehow lesser by comparison with our own. However, a bee, being a bee, will accept her own death to let her sister bees live, a decision with which any human would surely struggle. The opposite of selfishness; if she stings, it is to protect others from danger, donating her life so that others may survive. How lonesome I’d be, if the bees left the sweet-shop I’ve built for them. I’ve done all I can to hearten them, I have hummed to them, I have fed and sheltered and loved them. I want to keep them here at all costs.
(i) Based on your reading of TEXT 2, explain three insights you gained into what links the past and the present in the writer’s life. Support your answer with reference to the text. (10)
(ii) In paragraph 5, Doireann Ní Ghríofa observes, “We may imagine that we can imagine the past, but this is an impossibility.” Give your personal response to this observation by the writer. (10)
(iii) Identify four features of the aesthetic use of language, evident in the above text, and discuss how effectively these features are employed by Doireann Ní Ghríofa to convey her personal experiences, hopes and dreams. Support your response with reference to the text. (20)
An assertion that other creatures’ lives are somehow lesser than human life has prompted extensive debate on social media. In order to join in this online debate, write an open letter to be shared on social media, in which you: state your position in relation to animal rights, explore some of the issues associated with our current engagement with animals and outline what you see as the major challenges we face as we share the planet with animals in the future.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on the clock – whether you chose A or B, you should give yourself about an hour to finish your answer. For Question A, that breaks down into 15 minutes each for (i) and (ii), and a half an hour for (iii).
If everything’s gone to plan, and you’ve breezed through section one, you now have just under 2 hours to write a masterpiece under one of these seven titles:
1. Write a personal essay in which you reflect on the significance of birthdays, your own and those of others, sharing your thoughts on this annual personal milestone.
2. Write a discursive essay in which you consider the meaning and importance of community.
3. Write a short story, set in a railway station, in which a passenger off the overnight ferry from Fishguard in Wales plays an important role. Your short story may be amusing or menacing in tone.
4. Write a personal essay in which you reflect on the role of humour, fun and laughter in life.
5. Write a fable or fairy-tale, set in ancient Ireland, in which a bee or bees feature prominently.
6. Write an article, for publication in a popular magazine, about the many and varied colours and sounds that punctuate and surround our daily lives and the impact they have on us.
7. You have been asked to speak, as a representative of a national youth organisation, at the launch of a major campaign against stereotyping. Write the speech you would deliver.
Now take a quick minute to look back over everything, scribble some last-minute additions in the margins, soothe your now undoubtedly cramping writing hand, and you’re done!