Saturday 16 December 2017

English: A guide to Paper 1 using the 2006 Leaving Cert papers as examples

TASKS AND TIMING In Paper 1 on both the Higher and Ordinary Level papers, you have 2 hours and 50 minutes to read three texts, select a Question A, a Question B and a Composition title, and jot down preliminary plans for each (all of which should take 20 minutes); then you must answer one Question A for 50 marks (35 minutes), answer one Question B for 50 marks (35 minutes) and write one Composition for 100 marks (80 minutes).


The three texts are linked by a common theme. In 2006, this was PRETENCE at Higher Level and FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN at Ordinary Level. Usually, one of the texts combines visual images with written material.

Since every text has some purpose or other, your first task is to identify the type of text in each case. But this is quite easy, really. The primary purpose of an informative text, for instance, is to provide the reader with facts. The primary purpose of an argumentative text is to express an opinion. The primary purpose of a persuasive text is to convince the reader to buy, do or think something specific. And the primary purpose of a narrative text is to describe a sequence of events. When answering Question A, it helps considerably if you're very clear about what type of text you're dealing with.

In 2006, Higher Level, TEXT 1 was narrative, TEXT 2 was informative, and TEXT 3 combined visual images with an argumentative piece on Pretence. In 2006, Ordinary Level, TEXT 1 was informative, TEXT 2 was narrative, and TEXT 3 combined visual images with a short opinion piece on the attraction of horror movies.


You are asked three specific questions on your selected text. Most are simple comprehension questions, asking you to elucidate and discuss the content. Others require an appreciation of the author’s prose style. Some may require a short imaginative passage ranging beyond, but still related to, the given extract. Regardless of what you are asked, though, the answer is always in the text. So please don’t go searching anywhere else.

QUESTION: 2006, TEXT 1, QUESTION A, (i): Do you consider the first paragraph to be an example of good descriptive writing? Explain your view.

Although it’s very short, the opening paragraph here is also very powerful.

Attempt to answer the question immediately

The writing effectively captures a scene in which there is action, movement, and human reaction, and it manages to move fluidly between the various aspects. Opening with a brief, dramatic piece of dialogue – ‘She’s going.’ – immediately creates a sense of tension and expectation.

Provide reasons for your opinion.

Offer examples to illustrate your points.

Over the next sentence, the tension is held and increased, as the slow, reluctant descent of the falling tree is captured in the evocative verbs – ‘quaking’ ‘tilted’ ‘twisted’ ‘fighting’ and ‘grabbed’ – which take us slowly through the various stages of the tree’s almost heroic resistance. The end approaches with a couple of words evoking painful sounds – ‘creaking’ suggests discomfort and ‘goodbye-sigh’ suggests regret – and then finally arrives with a triple assault on the ear, when ‘thunderous,’ ‘hurricane’ and ‘crash’ all imitate the cacophony of the tree smashing against the earth.

Use quotations by incorporating them into your own sentences.

Use the verbs ‘suggests,’ ‘evokes’ and ‘captures’ when discussing the richness of language.

As the noise subsides, the imagery moves from reverberating in the ear to touching the other senses, as the boy feels the ‘shock waves’ along the ground where he stands and catches the ‘light’ pouring through the gap created by the felling of the tree. The verb ‘flood’ is particularly effective to describe the burst of light, because it suggests the onrushing of a tidal wave in the wake of the ‘shock waves’ of the earthquake.

Always explain why a word or phrase is so effective.

Verbs, adjectives and images combine here to suggest that something truly momentous has occurred. This is reflected when we enter the boy’s mind in the next two sentences – ‘mad,’ in particular, suggesting something extreme, outlandish – but it is rather checked by the final short sentence, which captures the grin of the well-satisfied father and which somehow manages to put what has been presented throughout as the felling of a colossus – the tree is personified as a giant – into a somewhat different perspective.

Know what you’re looking for when analysing a particular type of text, in this case a narrative, which creatively uses verbs, adjectives, metaphors and visual detail to capture a sequence of events.

Summarise your points in your final paragraph.

In its variety and intensity, the descriptive writing brilliantly recreates a dramatic little scene.

Write extensively, not briefly, in response. This answer has 317 words – more than a page of handwriting in an exam answer booklet.


You are asked to write a short piece in a particular format or style for a specified (or implied) audience on some aspect of a given topic.

'Short' is a vague and relative term, but in this context, unless you are instructed otherwise, it means 200-400 words, or between 1-2 pages..

As mentioned before, every text has a purpose: to inform, to express an opinion, to persuade, to tell a story. In Question B, you are asked to give your text a purpose. So, throw yourself into it. Imagine that what you're writing really matters! At Higher Level in 2006, TEXT 1 asked for a narrative diary - Imagine that, in an attempt to control his feelings, the boy writes into his diary an account of the incident and his reactions to it. Write out his diary entry. -- TEXT 2 asked for an informative letter and is answered below, and TEXT 3 asked for an opinion piece in the form of a report - Advertising and young people -- You report to the Advertising Standards Authority. There is much discussion as to whether or not young people are being exploited by advertisers. Write a short report to the Advertising Standards Authority outlining your views on the matter.

At Ordinary Level, TEXT 1 was an informative talk - A Class Talk Imagine you were asked to give a talk to younger students about how they might deal with some common childhood fears. Write the talk you would give. -- Text 2 was a newspaper report with a strong narrative element - You Were There! -- A Newspaper Report Imagine you are a newspaper reporter on the island with Phyl and Mike. Based on some of the events in the extract, write a newspaper report. -- and TEXT 3 was a film review with a strong persuasive element -- Review Write a review for your school magazine of any film that you have enjoyed. Your review should encourage other students to go and see it.

According to the instructions issued to correctors, you are rewarded for 'a clear sense of audience,' so if an audience is specified -- a famous celebrity, for instance, or younger students - you must tailor your style to suit.

Above all, give careful thought to some aspect of a given topic. In other words, please, please, respond to the precise terms of the question -- 'in an effort to control his feelings' or 'young people exploited by advertisers' or dealing with 'common childhood fears.'

QUESTION: 2006, TEXT 2, QUESTION B: Write a letter to a famous writer or celebrity or sports personality of your choice offering your services as a ghost writer for a future book. In your letter you should outline the reasons why you believe you would make a successful ghost writer for your chosen author.

Co. Waterford

Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro
c/o Manchester United FC

06 June, 2006

Get the format right. This is a letter, so I comply with the basic conventions. I provide my own address, the address of the recipient, the date, a salutation and a valediction.

Senor Aveiro,

Following your double triumph in being selected as both the Senior and the Young Footballer of the Year in England, and in the wake of Jose Mourinho’s ungracious comments about your ‘difficult childhood, no education,’ could I suggest that now is the perfect time to consider publishing your own account of your life thus far, your autobiography. Not only have your dazzling football skills brought the attention of the world to you, but the world awaits your response to Senor Mourinho’s unkind remarks. I know that your manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has stoutly defended you in public, but what could be more interesting than your own story of your childhood and teenage years?

Get your audience set in your mind. Here I'm addressing an individual. I want something from him. So, I'm being flattering.

Try and avoid being predictable. Add a little bite to your writing by selecting unusual or controversial angles. Here, I'm looking for someone in the news, someone involved in a little controversy, someone difficult or notorious.

I am a ghost writer. I write books on behalf of my clients, whose names appear on the covers and whose life stories appear within these covers. Contractual restrictions forbid me to reveal the names of previous clients, but could I assure you that my area of experience is the English Premiership and that you are already professionally acquainted with all my previous clients. Many of these will confirm this to you, privately and in the strictest confidence, if you require testimonials.

Get the task right. I have to 'offer (my) services as a ghost writer,' so I need to explain what's involved.

Allow me to explain the process involved in creating your autobiography and to clarify your own part in it, assuring you that only the material you want to share with the public will appear in the finished work.

Get the register right. I note that I 'should outline the reasons' why I would be a success here. In other words, I've got to sell myself a little, I've got to be persuasive

For a large project such as this, I always conduct a series of interviews with the subject. These are recorded and later transcribed. Obviously, the more relaxed the interviewing is and the less it resembles an interrogation or an obligation, then the more varied and interesting and colourful the material that will emerge. Nobody wants to confide in an unsympathetic listener. This has always been my particular strength in my profession. As others will confirm, again privately and in the strictest confidence, the interviews are really informal chats, during which we get to know each other. Usually, a few hours a week for several weeks is sufficient. If I need further material, we can arrange to meet again at your convenience.

The register has to be consistent. I am persuasive again.

After that, up to the approval of the first draft of the completed manuscript, the work is entirely mine, although you always retain the final say at each stage and I may occasionally need to consult you to confirm a detail or two. My previous work, under the names of other’s, of course, has been praised as ‘full of insights,’ ‘a gripping read,’ and ‘providing the sort of intimacy every fan craves to experience.’

The register has to be consistent. I am persuasive again.

But, as I’ve said, it is neither my skills as a researcher nor my skills as a writer that will make this project even better than my previous work, but rather the colour and courage of your own life story.

I look forward to hearing from you, sir.

Yours sincerely

Jason Coodabin

Writing the composition

What type of Composition will you write? If you’re taking the Higher Level paper, the choice is between the Short Story, the Personal Essay and the Discussion Essay. If you’re taking Ordinary Level, the choice is between the Short Story and the Personal Essay.


This merely describes events and looks at characters from outside. It includes the war story, the crime story, the thriller, the basic love story, the accident story, and the disaster story.

It has a simple, straightforward structure, usually starting at point A and then moving forward until the end is reached. It’s quite a basic shape.

This approach will not gain an A or B grade at Higher Level. At Ordinary Level, however, the well-told tale will be generously rewarded.

Properly understood, the short story is an exploration of the inner life of a character. So, this treatment will reveal the thoughts, emotions, doubts, fears and failings of characters. It will use specific events to explore a character’s inner life.

It encapsulates an entire life in a single situation or incident, very often by moving fluidly between past and present in the character’s mind. This is a sophisticated story.

Capable of attaining the highest possible grades at both Higher and Ordinary Levels.

SAMPLE QUESTION: 2006, 3: “It was mad…Ridiculous.”
(TEXT 1) Write a short story suggested by the above title.


Almost everyone in the neighbourhood, apart from his girl friend and the youths whose vocabularies didn’t extend to titles that weren’t abusive, invariably called him Mister Downes. He was only thirty-four, but he dressed severely, didn’t practise or invite intimacies, hid behind a strict regime of lifeless habits, and had once studied in London, after leaving school, under a famous composer whose name no one could remember. But people also knew that he was disappointed, that he had once imagined something more accomplished than being a clerk, and so there was a certain amount of compassion in their deference. An arid compassion, like that expended on the dead, because his life simply wasn’t exciting enough to reward the curious.

It’s quite obvious from the opening that this story’s investment is in character. Using appearance, habits, the attitudes of others and the past, it offers a profile of a failure. This defining trait is what he story will explore.

It was characteristic of Downes that he should wait a full year after purchasing a piano before giving his first performance to an audience, and then that he should do so in his own home and invite only Laura Ashwell, whom he intended marrying, someday. This ridiculously small scale was the one he was most comfortable with. Nevertheless, no one performs for another without the need for acceptance and the hope of applause. It was fifteen years since Downes had last risked it, and this present occasion was a tentative return to a neglected love. For that reason, he was quite nervous about beginning.

After the opening profile, the story settles into the incident that will define this character’s being. This is where the story will remain until the end.

Notice the deliberate use of ‘ridiculously.’ The best way to write a story inspired by a quotation is to sprinkle the terms of the quotation through the narrative.

He drew his chair noisily a little closer to the piano, coughed selfconsciously a number of times, flexed the muscles in his right hand and then repeated the exercise with his left, and finally, after returning the chair to its original position, settled into the first item on his programme, Debussy’s étude Pour les sonorités opposées.

His playing was technically correct, as it always had been, even in his teens, but now, in his mid-thirties, it was almost completely devoid of emotion. No more than his name, his music retained nothing that was personal. But even then, if he had performed with less seriousness, he might not have subsequently recoiled with such finality.



This approach uses a personal story or the description of a series of related events in your life to illustrate the given topic. It works by narrating a sequence of relevant events and then, hopefully, by drawing back to reflect on their impact on your life or their significance for you. Generally, the more reflection there is during the story, then the more sophisticated the treatment

At Higher Level, the story has to be an important event in your life and your reflections have to be mature and thoughtprovoking. At Ordinary Level, a well-told personal story will perform well


This approach offers your considered reflections on the given topic and illustrates them with descriptions of your personal experiences.

The best way to organise your material is to open with a relevant personal story – an anecdote – and to develop your personal perspective on the topic from this. After that, you can explore this perspective with reference to three areas of your personal life – say, Education, Family and Sport. This provides a comprehensive, varied treatment of any topic.

To conclude, you can return to the opening anecdote and complete it.

At Higher Level, this has a better chance of an A grade than the purely narrative approach.


1: “Let’s stop all this pretence! Let’s tell each other the unvarnished truth for a change!” (TEXT 3) Write a personal essay in response to the above statement.

Although I would never admit it to the wife, I am now, and have been for some time, an unhappily married man. I accept, of course, that there is nothing particularly unique about my troubles. Millions of deluded fools have wandered into the same cul-desac long before I did. But still . . .

Notice the dominance of the first person pronoun, the ‘I.’ A Personal essay offers your take on the world and must be written from your perspective.

It doesn’t help to realise that there was a time when I might’ve ended up with a different mother-in-law. Her name was Mrs Cynthia Catterstairs, a lonely, disappointed, middle-class widow, whose only daughter, Ruth, was on the point of abandoning her studies in university in order to marry a bricklayer and devote her life to bearing his children.

This is an example of the discursive approach to the Personal Essay, and so it opens with a few light-hearted confessions and reflections on the topic, which is pretence, or not telling the truth.

‘I don’t like him,’ Mrs Catterstairs confided in me when the engagement was announced. ‘He can’t look you in the face, you know, when he’s talking to you. Unlike yourself. I don’t suppose you get on with him, either.'

This is the opening anecdote, a little story about a woman I once knew. It’s not described in any great detail.

Should I have told her the truth? Should I have told her that she was lonely and depressed after her husband’s death, that she was terrified of losing her daughter and being abandoned, that she had always considered Ruth too good for anyone less than a god, that she looked down on manual labourers, that in reality she was a snob? Don’t ask what good it would have done. Ask instead if my description of it as the ‘truth’ is at all accurate. Mrs Catterstairs was all of these things that I’ve mentioned, but she was also a resilient and independent woman, a survivor, a selfless mother, a tireless volunteer who dedicated much of her spare time to helping the underprivileged. In other words, like the rest of us, a complex mass of contradictions.

In a discursive Personal Essay, my interpretation of the incident is more important than the incident itself.

So the issue is hardly whether or not to tell the truth. Mrs Catterstairs was right. Ruth’s future husband never did look you in the eye when he was talking to you. And Mrs Catterstairs was wrong. I rather liked the guy. The issue, really, is the sheer impossibility of telling the truth, which is so vast, so complicated, and so fluid – changing from one moment to the next – that it simply can’t be contained by language. Telling the truth is not an option, you see. Even knowing the truth is not really an option.

The introduction, based on the anecdote, of my personal position on the topic, namely that it’s not possible to tell the truth



Written for a popular magazine or delivered to an audience of classmates, this offers your relaxed reflections on the given topic, illustrated by humorous or human interest examples. It is very close in approach to the Discursive Personal Essay, but it has to offer more wide-ranging illustrations of your point.

The organisation of the material is very similar to that suggested for the Discursive Personal Essay, but you must range outside your own experiences for illustrations to support your points.

Properly done, this approach has a good chance of gaining high grades.


Written for a serious newspaper or journal or delivered to a mature audience, this offers the writer’s informed opinions and reflections on a serious topic, supported by verifiable evidence.

Please note that you must be well-informed on the given topic to successfully attempt this type of essay.

The best way to organise your material is to open with an anecdote, preferably something currently in the news, and to develop your perspective on the topic from this. The centre of your essay will consist of an in-depth exploration of your perspective on the topic, preferably by advancing three separate arguments in favour of your position. You can conclude with a news item by completing the sentence ‘Nothing illustrates my point more than …’

This is a very demanding type of Composition, but it has an excellent chance of an A if well done.

SAMPLE QUESTION: 2006, 6. ‘Imagine it’s St Valentine’s Day …’ Write an article for a popular magazine on the importance of romance in our lives.


‘Love is the answer,’ the American comic and film maker, Woody Allen, once declared passionately. And if we accept that romance is more than just candlelit dinners, boxes of chocolates and bunches of flowers, and is instead, in the words of one hopeful subscriber to an online dating site, ‘a meaningful and fulfilling relationship,’ then clearly romance is also the answer. Nobody is quite certain what the original question was, of course, but it’s reassuring to have one certainty at least in life. On this issue, there is universal agreement. Romance is not merely important, but vital. Without it we would be deprived of the Mills & Boon novels, teenage magazines containing articles with such titles as He Trod on my Ugg Boots and I Didn’t Care, several hundred movies starring Hugh Grant as a bumbling but endearingly romantic Englishman, and such poetic gems as this online effort by an American chap who seems to have lost slightly more than his heart: ‘You are the most precious thing,/in my life today./You mean more to me than anyone else/and I hope you're here to stay.’

As an opening to a discussion, a relevant quotation offers a decent alternative to an anecdote. This one is humorous, because the article is for a popular magazine.

This essay goes on to employ a very simple device – it takes two opposites, a person who has no romance in their life and someone with too much romance – but the introduction consists merely of a comic demonstration that romance seems to be important to everyone. Notice how the topic – the importance of romance – is referred to very early, to ensure relevance.

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