The composing section on English paper 1 is an opportunity to really boost up your grade and despite what some students think, you can really prepare for this question. With a whopping 100 marks for this question, it is really worth doing that preparation, and with this Superprof guide, you will find some key tips and tricks.
Unlike the paper two poetry question, for example, there isn’t a prescribed question here. You won’t know exactly what kind of essay question will come up, or what kind of writing prompts you will have to follow. This can make some students feel uneasy and they assume they will be going into the exam blind.
This is not the case! While the questions change every year, they tend to follow the same formula, and they are essentially asking you the same things! While we wouldn’t recommend learning off an essay in its entirety and shoehorning it into a question, you should certainly have an idea of the kind of essay you can write. What is your voice? Though the characters may change, and the narrative, you will still be able to go into the exam with a framework of an essay where the bulk of it is in your head, and you just need to tweak it slightly to fit the question!
Keep reading to learn some of the ways you can teach yourself to write a better English essay!
Worried about the exam in general? We help you get past this fear with our guide to preparing for the English papers!
How Do I Practice My Writing? Check Out Past Exam Papers
As we mentioned, it is possible to be very prepared when you go into the composing question, but how? Well, this comes with practice and repetition, and no matter the way to focus on these two key things than to practice real exam examples.
The Irish state examinations committee recognises how much of a benefit it is to students to have access to past years exams, so they provide all of these for free online. All you need to do is to download the PDF. The more of these you take, and even read, the more familiar you become with the English paper, and the less of a shock you’ll face when it comes to sitting the exam!
You will start to notice trends, too. While no question is the exact same throughout the years, certain trends, themes and topics keep coming up. You will notice certain storyline narratives are quite similar. This question is not as broad as it might appear at first! For example, the relationship between people, love, hope and current social events are usually seen popping up in this question.
Now, what do you do next? Well quite simply, once you have read all of the years, take notes of the questions, what are they asking of you, break it down and simplify, highlight keywords. The more you read the more you learn! Once you’ve done this, focus on actually answering the question, going as slow as you need to, and making sure you formulate a well-structured essay.
You can find these exam papers on the official state examinations website!
Get your teacher to read through some of them, or find yourself an English tutor on Superprof that can help you ace this question!
Would you rather get some help with the fiction and comparative section? Check out our guide to the fiction texts here!
Running Out of Time? Manage your Timekeeping
This is related to the above tip, is super important and can be applied across all of the exams you will sit, not just English. One of the most common problems students who sit this paper complain about is the lack of time. It can be tough, but certainly manageably when you break it down.
There is nothing worse than a student who has done the prep, and knows the question inside out, only for them to run out of time. They might have had an H1 answer in their brain just waiting to come out, but if the examiner can’t see it, it isn’t worth anything. Harsh, maybe, but true. This shows that how you write can be as important as what you know! You must be able to get your ideas out in time.
I mentioned above that you can start with these exam papers at your own pace, but you will eventually have to crank it up (don’t worry, you have plenty of time leading up to the exam) until you can finish a paper and question in the allotted time you will have on exam day.
Do as many questions as you can and time yourself. Maybe at first, you will need your notes, that’s ok! If you can finish it in time with notes, it’s a start! Keep working your way until you can take a question (preferably one you haven’t seen before) and write a great essay in time. Once you have done this, that’s half the battle. Repetition is key here!
Timekeeping is also very relevant to the poetry question, and we know this can be a difficult one for some students, so we have composed a guide to all things leaving cert poetry!
How to Find your Style and Writers Voice
This is connected to the above tip, as the more past exam papers you read, and the more essays you write out and plan, the more you will notice and sharpen your very own writing style!
Now don’t worry, everyone has their own writing style, no matter what level you are! If you are having trouble finding a style, keep writing! What comes naturally to you? Are you a comedic writer? Or one with a darker tone? Usually writing style reflects personality!
What kind of movies do you watch? What genre of books do you read? This will help you realize what kind of writing style or storytelling style appeals to you! It will be easier to write a 3 or 4-page essay on a topic you are familiar with and that you enjoy! It will also be quicker, as it leaves less room for second-guessing, and as we know, timing is very important!
Try out a few different styles too! Don’t pigeonhole yourself into one genre, as this will leave your hands tied when it comes to the question! Maybe a topic you really like comes up, but it’s in the style of a speech, and you have never written a speech!
Go through the past exam papers and look at all of the questions. Try to write an essay in all of the styles. Of course, there will be some you are naturally better at, and this is fine, you can hone these skills, but by being flexible, you will give yourself more options and more marks on exam day!
Is the comparative question stressing you out? Get back on top of it with the Superprof English comparative guide!
Focus on the Technical Side of Writing (Grammar, Spelling and Structure etc.)
Spelling, grammar, syntax etc. is where a lot of marks are lost each year by students. On the other hand, it is something that, if worked on, can give you a great basis to go on and obtain a good grade. Even if you struggle thematically, or with a narrative, if you get your spelling, grammar, and language use spot-on, you already have something to work with.
Double and triple check your work after you’ve finished. Never ever leave the exam without checking at least once, in fact, we would suggest at least twice! These are easy marks to pick up, and something you can correct yourself, before the examiner has to!
Here at Superprof, we try to break down all of the sections on the leaving cert paper, including an extensive guide to English paper one, as well as a play by play break down of English paper two, to make sure you have as much info going into the exam as possible.
Look at the Marking Scheme to Know What Is Asked of You
We mentioned before that you have access to past exam papers, but this is also true of the marking schemes, and this is something every student familiarises themselves with! It can be really helpful to sit on the other side of the exam to get some perspective.
By reading and studying the marking scheme, specifically for the composing question, you will begin to understand where marks are won and lost. The more familiar you become, the fewer marks you lose as you are actively aware of what to do and not to do!
For example, there is a big focus on language and mechanics. This includes what we discussed above, spelling, grammar etc., but also your use of the English language. Be mindful of paragraph length, not too short or too long. Keep the length of your sentences varied also! This is something that becomes much easier to do when you are mindful of this. Make sure you give the examiner what they want.
They also want to see if you are answering the question that is asked. Try not to go off on tangents and meander around the point, as you will lose marks. Even if you are a really verbose and skilled writer, resist the urge to pepper your essay with flowery language! Ask yourself, does this add anything? And if not, remove it! Again, the more familiar you are with the marking scheme, the less likely you are to fall victim to these common mistakes!
Remember, we cover all of the sections on the English leaving cert exam, including the composing question, where we help you construct a great answer over our English essay writing guide!
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