English paper two is one of the most talked about, and anticipated papers in the entire leaving cert course. In the weeks leading up to, and after, you will always see predictions and analysis after the fact! This can be stressful for some students, and some tend to build it up in their heads, leading to some anxiety.

There is good news, however! As it is such an important paper, there is so much research done, and info out there to guide you through it, it is possible to be super prepared for paper two. One particular advantage of this paper is that the majority of the work will be done before you even sit down for the exam!

You will have already studies your texts, and your poets, so there will be no surprises on the day. The questions will of course be new, but they will be asked in a way you have seen before. Remember, the main heavy-duty work will already be done before you sit down! You also have the added benefit of having done paper one already, so you will have an idea how long questions should take, and you will be in the swing of things! You will notice that after the first paper, you start to lose some of those nerves!

There are a few different sections in this paper, and we will go through them all here. Keep reading to see our guide to tackling the English leaving cert paper two!

We also cover paper one, and all of the sections, along with some more insight into paper two, over on our guide to preparing for your English leaving cert paper.

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Make Use of the Past Exam Papers

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Past exam papers offer insight into the leaving cert. Unsplash.com

Past exam papers, from all of the subjects and papers, are provided free of charge by the state examinations committee, and the more familiar you are with these and the more you have done will give you a great starting point, leading to better results.

The more you do these papers, the more you will notice some trends, and that while the questions themselves will be very different, they are essentially asking the same questions. Highlight keywords in the questions throughout the years and you will notice the themes will remain the same or similar throughout. They just want to see how familiar you are with the content, and if you can engage personally with it!

The exam papers also help you to refine and improve your timekeeping, which can be a problem for many students. There is nothing worse than having a well thought out answer, that you know like the back of your hand, only for you to run out of time! The examiner can’t give you marks for a question you haven’t done, even if you had a brilliant answer just waiting to come out!

A way to improve this is repetition! Do as many of the papers as you can, each time trying to get quicker and quicker. Don’t worry if at the start you go over the time allocated, this is the time to do it, and not exam day. Try to shave off minutes here and there, the more you do, the faster you become.

Ideally, in the run-up to the exam, you should know exactly how much time each section takes you! Chat to your teacher and or tutor to decide on what works for you, as students work at different paces!

Check out our local English teachers on Superprof!

Need to brush up on your fiction? Learn how on the Superprof leaving cert fiction texts guide!

Listen to Podcasts/Watch Video Essays/Movie Adaptations

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Podcasts can be a great source of information. Source: Unsplash.com

You will likely be bombarded with reading and memorizing in the run-up to English paper one. There is a lot of preparation that goes into it, from learning poets and their poems to memorizing the comparative texts and their characters. You have a lot on your plate.

While you should always read the texts, (you need to be familiar with quotes too) there is a way you can boost and add to your comprehension of these texts that takes less time and effort, while still delivering on quality and info.

We are talking about podcasts and video essays! Podcasts are everywhere these days, and there has been an influx of those that discuss books, poems, poets and movies. A quick search on Google or your favourite podcast app could lead you to a brilliant analysis of a text that you need to study for your leaving cert.

The tone of these podcasts can vary, and this is helpful, as sometimes you can get bored by the matter of fact nature of study notes! Some offer a play by play of each scene, some offer a character breakdown and some choose to focus on the overall theme of a text.

The good news about these is that you can enjoy them on the go, you don’t need to sit down at a desk for hours. You can put it on while you run errands, go for a walk, run, or even when you are lying in bed about to fall asleep!

This is really useful to those that are suffering from learning fatigue. The tone of some of these podcasts can be jovial, but still of educational value and still sharing useful info! This is more passive learning, meaning you can do it without realising. This could be a great addition to your study schedule and it's one we would really recommend.

These will expand your knowledge of the texts in terms of storyline and characters, but it could also open your mind a bit to new points of view and you might want to explore some of this in your answers! The more you know the better going into English paper 2!

Check out video essays on YouTube too, the same idea, just in video form!

Struggling with poetry? We can help! In our article explaining the English poetry question, we offer a number of helpful tips both in the build-up, and on exam day.

Or maybe you need some help with the comparative question? check out our guide to understanding the leaving cert comparative question here

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Introduce and Abbreviate

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It helps to practice each question before exam day! Source:Unsplash.com

This next tip might seem obvious to some, but not to everyone. A good, snappy and captivating intro is very important, especially in the dense paper two, where the examiner is going to have to read through an awful lot of work. Anything you can do to make their job easier and more enjoyable will help you, and one such way is to entice them in immediately with a well-written intro!

Keep it snappy, it doesn’t have to be long, but it does have to introduce your chosen texts, your authors and the essence of your response. Think of it as a thesis statement and don’t steer too far from it.

Don’t go off on tangents! Keep an eye on the intro as you go to make sure you are on the right track, you could even write it down somewhere where you can see it so you keep your eyes on the prize!

As time is crucial, you should also take this time to abbreviate the texts and refer to them as such throughout the text. Establish this early, and keep them consistent, don’t change any of them, even slightly, as it will look untidy and might confuse the one correcting it!

To those of you that need help with paper one, don't worry, we have you covered on our guide to English paper one that you can find on our blog!

Do you find yourself getting stressed in the build up to exams? Check out this list of breathing techniques to help calm you down!

Know the Cultural Context of the Texts

The cultural context is most relevant to the comparative question but is also good to bear in mind when you embark on your poetry question. Cultural context is essentially the theme and setting of the text. Where is it set? When? And what relevance does this have to the story and its characters? These are questions you should be able to answer.

Is it set in a utopia or a dystopia? The past or present? The more you know about the cultural context and its relevance the more you will be able to write, and the more flexible you will be able to be. Being able to choose from all of the questions is so useful here, as you can pick the best questions for you, and ensure you have an easier ride!

Literary Genre

Again mostly pertaining to the comparative question but relevant throughout is the literary genre. What type of text is it? How is the story told? What kind of narrative? First or third person? Told via flashbacks or in the present time? Consider all of these questions.

If it is a movie, how is the camera used to tell the story? Is it in a documentary style, or is the camera acting as a character? All of these questions need an answer and if you can answer them, you are well on your way to a great result.

For all you aspiring essay writers, looking to get to that next level? We can help you get there, with the Superprof Essay writing guide that goes into this question in more detail!

Give Personal Opinions on the Poetry

This next tip is for the poetry section. Don’t be afraid to get personal and interact with this question, as it will show the examiner you understand and have engaged with the texts. While you need to know facts and definitions of literary techniques, this is not everything, and you still need to be able to express how the use of these techniques makes you feel.

The beauty of this question is you can interpret it how you want. There are no concrete right or wrong answers. If you are able to back up your point with some examples from the poem, alongside a compelling argument, you will be fine.

If you have a strong opinion on a specific aspect, write it down, but remember to back it up with the why. Why does it make you feel that way, and how. The “how” is when you mention the literary techniques used. This will demonstrate that you understand the mechanics of writing, and that you have a firm grasp of the different ways a writer can tell their story. Examples of this include assonance, sibilance, alliteration onomatopoeia and similes!

Paper two is a long one, but one of the papers on the leaving cert that you can be most prepared for. If you cover enough bases, there will be no surprises, and if you do enough past papers, you can really rock up to this exam feeling confident. There is work to be done, however, and we hope that some of you found these tips useful! Get going and good luck!

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