| 15.6°C Dublin

Maximise your mark in english with hard work and practice

THE English leaving cert is hard work, says A1 grader Zoe Lynch, but there are ways to make sure the effort you put in really counts. Leaving Cert English is a challenge.

The large volume of material being examined is overwhelming. It requires time, effort and many skills to do well in this subject. However, there are some useful guidelines I picked up along the way that will hopefully help you to maximise your marks.

A notion was born that someone must be "a natural" to achieve this grade. My peers relentlessly rolled out the same line: "You can't really study for English."

You can.

Do not be swayed by the masses of students who neglect English. With the correct attitude you can do very well in this subject. The A1 that I achieved was the result of hard work and sufficient practice.

Every question should be approached with a clear plan. Use the coming weeks to practise writing answers with an introduction, coherent paragraphs and a brief conclusion.

There should be a core point to each paragraph. You should explicitly state this central point in the opening sentence. Continue this pattern throughout your answers.


When Paper 1 Leaving Cert English lands on your desk, look at the front page and identify the general theme of the paper. This will be printed about mid-way down the page in capital letters. This gives you a slight indication of what the entire paper is about and puts your mind at ease.

>Paper 1 consists of Question A, Question B and Composition. Ensure you follow the guidelines on the front page.

Question A and Question B must be chosen from separate texts. I would advise you to base your choice on Question B preference. Make this decision before you begin to write anything.

Also, have a glance at the seven composition options. You do not need to decide which one to do yet. Go ahead and get started on Question A and B. The titles will linger in the back of your mind and stimulate your creative juices. This will help you make a wise decision.

The composition section is worth 100 marks, which is a quarter of the marks in English. It deserves particular attention.

Question A requires a specialised skill set. There are five possible languages genres that can appear on the paper -- argument, persuasion, narration, aesthetic and information. Familiarise yourself with the features of each genre now.

Pay attention to part iii) in this section. Traditionally this part concentrates on stylistic features. You are required to comment on the stylistic features present in the text. But you must also comment on their function in the text. In other words, why has the author employed these features?


I recommend you compile a stock set of phrases to express your ideas such as "the concrete detail enriches imaginative perception", "the imagery renders the abstract concrete" etc. This will avoid repetition in your answers.

Compose and study a list of alternative words to "says". Throughout Question A you are referring to what "the author says". Replace this with options such as "the author demonstrates, realises, claims, employs, concurs..."

Question B requires you to complete a short writing assignment. It should be about two pages long. The best advice I can give to you here is carry out the task as if it's real. It's all about register -- the appropriate language to the task. Authenticity will be rewarded.

Practice is essential in order to excel in this section. Take action in the coming weeks.

Ensure you are equipped with ample evocative vocabulary and phrases. Also study the layout of each task in this section such as 'Letter to the editor'.

I suggest you source all the questions you practise with from past papers. Hand this work up to your teacher for correction.

Take a look at the breakdown of marks. English is marked out of four distinct categories:

>Purpose: Answer the question asked

>Coherence: Keep your work fluid and engaging.

> Language: Rich vocabulary and phrases.

> Mechanics: Spelling and grammar.

Keep this marking scheme in mind while you study. This will encourage your mind to plan a well-suited answer.

The final task on this paper is the Composition. This section should be allocated one hour and 10 minutes. Generally this section of English daunts most students. The ambiguity of how to study for it generates fear. However, there are certain ways to minimise this phenomenon.

Decide now whether you suit a discussion essay or a narrative essay. Separate skills are required for each task.

If you prefer discussion essays use a logical structure. Evidence, description and anecdotes will keep the reader interested. Most popular discussion essays are talks, speeches and articles.

If you prefer narrative essays ensure you litter your essay with concrete detail and evocative language.

To give yourself the best shot in this section make sure you employ an appropriate register. This is the correct language for the task.

>Paper 2 consists of single text, comparative study and poetry. You should have a methodical approach to this paper.

The best way to study essays for this paper requires personal notes. Distil each essay you write into bullet points. Learn the sequence of these bullet points. This will help dodge the paralysing fear of going blank in the exam.

The trick with single-text essays, and pretty much all of paper 2, in fact, is quotation.

Your quotes are your guide. Try spending 10 minutes every night from now until the exam learning a new quote or revising ones you learnt before. Be astute here. Save yourself hassle and time by learning quotes which fit into lots of different essay titles.

Do not wander away from the essay title. The key words in the title should be embedded in every paragraph.


Your comparative study answer should display a keen understanding of each text. Remember to sustain analogies throughout your answer. If you're aiming for a top grade here ensure you include quotes from each text in most paragraphs.

Unseen poetry is worth 35 marks. Do not neglect it. Make sure you understand all basic aesthetic features of language such as alliteration, personification etc. This section of the paper does not require much learning. It examines knowledge rather than memory. This knowledge is provided from your interaction with each of the poets you are studying.

The final section is an essay on a poet you have studied. Ensure your essay has a structure to keep your mind on track. Provide ample quotation and make sure to mention stylistic features the poet adopts.