The questions we are going to look at are from the 2018 Ordinary Level Leaving Cert English exam papers. Past exam papers are a great way to practise different answering styles for your Leaving Cert. Revise Wise books, contain multiple past exam papers and cost about €10 per subject, if you don't mind printing them yourself you can find past Leaving Cert English exam papers online at The Leaving Cert.

“What necessity is there to dwell on the Past, when the Present is so much surer–the Future so much brighter?”

Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

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The Difference Between answering a Comparative Question and a Single Text Question.

As you may have noticed in the article on how to answer questions about Plays, questions regarding single text are mainly interested in learning your knowledge of that particular text. Whereas the comparative question is more about how you feel how you proceed, what connections in themes/emotions,symbols, and motifs you have made between the texts you have studied.

In this article, I'm going to focus on the comparative question.

The comparative study part of your exam is worth a total of 70 marks. You will be given 4 options to choose from, of these you must pick 1 and compare 2 texts which you have studied (film/play/novel). You cannot use the text you have already chosen to write about for the single text section of the exam.

Novels and Texts
Knowing each of your studied texts well will really help when it comes to answering the comparative section - Photo by Vianney CAHEN on Unsplash

Sample Comparative Study Question - Ordinary Level Leaving Cert English

The following questions are the first two options given in 2018 for the comparative study section of the Ordinary Level Leaving Cert Exam.

A - HERO, HEROINE, VILLAIN

1. (a) (i) Name one of the three comparative texts you have studied and identify a hero, heroine or villain in it. Select an aspect of this character’s personality that you think contributes to making him or her a hero, heroine or villain. Referring to the text, explain why you think this aspect of the character’s personality contributes to making him or her a hero, heroine or villain.

(ii) Name another comparative text that you have studied and identify a hero, heroine or villain in it. Select an aspect of this character’s personality that you think contributes to making him or her a hero, heroine or villain. Referring to the text, explain why you think this aspect of the character’s personality contributes to making him or her a hero, heroine or villain.

(b) A hero, heroine or villain can act alone or be supported by others. Compare the extent to which one hero, heroine or villain, from each of at least two comparative texts you have studied, acts alone or is supported by others. Support your answer with reference to your chosen texts.

OR

2. (a) (i) Name one of the three comparative texts you have studied and identify a hero, heroine or villain in it. Give reasons why you think this character would or would not be a useful friend to have in a dangerous situation. Your answer should demonstrate your knowledge of the text.

(ii) Name another comparative text you have studied and identify a hero, heroine or villain in it. Give reasons why you think this character would or would not be a useful friend to have in a dangerous situation. Your answer should demonstrate your knowledge of the text.

(b) A hero, heroine or villain can act alone or be supported by others. Compare the extent to which one hero, heroine or villain, from each of at least two comparative texts you have studied, acts alone or is supported by others. Support your answer with reference to your chosen texts.

In the following section, I am going to give you sample answers for and first two parts of option 2.

comparative texts
The two texts we are going to use for this sample comparative are The Great Gatsby and Wuthering Heights -Photo by Girl with red hat on Unsplash

Leaving Cert English - Sample Answer for Comparative Question

The texts which I am going to use for sample answers are The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Remember this section is less about the actual text and more about your opinion/comprehension of it, that said, you should still reference why you formed the opinion or why you comprehend a piece of text in a certain way.

(a) (i) One of the texts which I have chosen to study is Wuthering Heights, an Emily Brontë novel. When I first read this question I thought about choosing Nelly Dean, I thought you might be a good choice as you could call her a heroine for her acts of kindness throughout the novel. However, I have decided to go with Heathcliff, for me, he is the greatest example of a villain and after all, he is the main character in the book.

It could be argued that Heathcliff is a victim of circumstance and that he did not have the opportunity to be a better person, but I think he is a pure villain. For when he has an opportunity to do the right thing he chooses to be cruel and rude and take the route of revenge.

If you were in a dangerous situation with Heathcliff as your friend I feel it would just make things so much worse. And instead of knowing when to quit and run he will just keep pushing aggravating the situation. I based this opinion and just how cruel he is it Isabella and the fact he actually seemed to enjoy watching her suffer.

(ii) Another text which I have studied is The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. For this part of the question, I am going to choose a hero, Nick Carraway.

The Great Gatsby is narrated from Nick's point of view, at the beginning of the novel Nick tells us that he is open-minded and a good listener, which is a bold statement. However, as we read on we noticed this to be true as people often tend to tell him their secrets, or at least he always seems to be around people when they're telling secrets.

Even though being an open-minded good listener are excellent qualities to have as a friend, the reason I chose Nick Carraway as my hero for this piece is his loyalty to Jay Gatsby.

If you are in a dangerous situation you need someone who is a great listener but who will also be loyal to you, someone who will help you get out of the situation and will not just run away and save themselves. The fact that Nick Carraway helped Daisy and Jay together, despite it being an extremely awkward situation for Nick to be in, just shows how loyal he really is.

Comparative novels
The best way to compare novels is to take your own notes as well as those given out in class - Photo by Seven Shooter on Unsplash

The Difference Between a Quote and a Reference

You may have noticed that when I was answering the two questions above I did not use quotation marks. The reason for this is I did not actually quote any part of either novel, instead I said things like 'at the beginning of the novel Nick tells us that he is open-minded and a good listener', no this is not the exact sentence he says but it is similar to what he says in the book. That's why this is a reference,  I wrote something similar to what he said without being the exact words. I also indicate at what section of the book it said without being specific.

In the article about how to answer single text questions where Macbeth was used as the sample text, I used quotes. Quotes are parts of the text which you have memorised exactly, you should also be able to recall who said what particular piece.

For more information on how to answer questions in the leaving cert for ordinary level English, click on any of the links below to see the related articles.

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