"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

Stephen Covey

Comprehension is not only something that you use in studying English. In life we strive to understand things, biologists, physicists, authors, accountants and so many other professionals, often achieve their goals because they are people who are curious and constantly seek to find answers, to understand, to comprehend. Knowing how things work or how they don't, is what enables us to make a difference in the world, comprehending the present is the key to the future.

When practising answering questions like those for the comprehension section, past exam papers can come in really useful. They are a great way to try out 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.

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What does the Reading Comprehension Section of the English Exam Consist of?

In this section, you will be given three different texts to read. Each of these texts has a question A and question B, however,  you must only answer one question A and one question B, you must also not answer both questions on the same text. For example, if you choose text number 2 to answer question A, you must choose different text to answer question B.

Usually question A is made up of 3 to 4 parts each of which is worth somewhere between 10 and 15 marks, which add up to a total of 50 marks. Whereas question B is usually the type of question you would have to write a lot for the answer, as it is a single question worth 50 marks.

english comprehension
To comprehend we must first question - Photo by Bradley Pisney on Unsplash

Instead of using a past exam paper for this example, I'm going to insert a sample piece that I have written. We will then look at some sample questions which have been asked throughout the years, and I will give you an example of how to answer one of them.

Sample Blog Article for English Comprehension  Question - Ordinary Level Leaving Cert

sample blog english comprehension
Sample comprehension text, Witch, apothecary and healer by Irish Momo Blogs on Blogger, Photo by Lisa Hobbs on Unsplash

Before social media became so popular, this section of the English exam paper used to include newspaper or magazine articles and sometimes even interviews. However now, this section is usually a blog, a social media post, or an extract from the podcast. Below is a blog I have written as a sample of what you might be given.

I'm a great believer in what is meant for you won't pass you by.
I also believe that if you're open-minded enough, you can receive healing from basically anywhere.

As someone who's been sick on and off for most of their life, I have always been intrigued by, not just medicine, science and psychology behind treating pain and illness, but also the more natural side of things.

As someone who's been through a lot but medically, physically and even mentally at some stages, it has always intrigued me how people of science, who don't necessarily believe in faith, still believe in the power of nature.

Over the years I've been prescribed and taken more than my fair share of scientific medicine. However, I have on occasion come across doctors professors and surgeons who have recommended natural remedies when scientific medicine doesn't work.
This is where being open-minded comes in. At times, men and women of medicine, have prescribed poultices, herbal teas, cures from seventh sons, from children who are born after their fathers died, hereditary cures and even just good old-fashioned and alcohol for iron deficiency. After noticing that when medicine fails doctors still turn to nature and its magic led me down the road of discovery towards one of my favourite words Apothecary.

Apothecary. The world’s first doctors and pharmacists.
The healers that were pushed out when modern science and medicine came along, the ones who were accused of being witches/warlocks and just plain old weirdos. These people and their writings and remedies are where we still turn to when all else fails. The words Witch, Apothecary and Healer led me down the path of reading and a lot of discovery.

So in the past year, I've started my own tinkering with mixtures "lotions and potions". I make balms and ointments, anything in nature that might help with discomfort, pain, irritation. So far I've had a couple of pretty good turnouts. I discovered herbs and flowers that prevent snoring simply by opening the airways while you sleep and reducing the inflammation inside sinus ducts, I've also made a rub which helps with muscle pain, simply by relaxing tension in muscles and veins, and made an oil that soothes dry cough is just there rubbing it into your throat.

Before all of this, I would never have looked at a flower and thought this looks like it might help with something, I had herbs that were used just for cooking, but now I know all of their purposes.

When someone has a complaint of itchy skin or they're tired etc... I am now able to say try some of this or that. Whatever the ailment, I now know herbs and essential oils which will help a little bit, if not make them feel completely better. Oils, herbs and medicine aside. It's the gratitude, just appreciating every breath and every smile, that it helped me so much since I started this journey.

There is something very calming about knowing that if your head is cloudy, and you light some incense and a candle and just be grateful for that silent meditative moment. You're not only doing three simple actions to focus your mind. You're also improving your mood for the entire day.

These are just a couple of the things I've discovered since learning about words such as Witch, Apothecary and Healer. Sometimes, words we are intrigued by can open us up to a whole new realm of possibilities, if we study them and the path they take us on. I guess that's why I have always liked reading, words can take you on adventures you never knew were even possible...

As you can see from the above sample, it doesn't take long to read each text. My advice is that you read each of the texts given to you twice. This way you can connect with the text a little better before reading the questions.

always re-read
Always read each text at least twice, this will not only help with your comprehension of the text but also your understanding of the questions - Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash
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Sample Question A's for English Comprehension - Ordinary Level Leaving Cert.

  • What do you learn about (writers name) from reading the above text? Support your answer with reference to the text.
  • Based on paragraphs one and two of this extract, what do you learn about (writers name)'s childhood? Support your answer with reference to the text.
  • Identify (number) aspects of (writers name)’s personality that emerges from your reading of the written text above. Support your answer with evidence from the text.
  • Based on what you have read in the above passage, what qualities and abilities does the writer possess that may have helped in their chosen career?

As you can see each of the question A's are specifically asking you to identify something. This means they are looking for a specific answer, for you to point out that you understand the specific thing asked about in this text. Your answer should be brief and to the point, while also making reference to the text. Roughly a paragraph or 5 to 6 sentences.

Let's look at the first question I gave as an example in regards to the sample text:

What do you learn about (writers name) from reading the above text? Support your answer with reference to the text.

We learn that the writer is someone who was sick a lot as a child, and this is what piqued their interest in natural or holistic healing. The writer also appears to be someone optimistic outlook on life, in the beginning, she says that 'opportunities that are meant for you will not pass you by. In the end, we find out that the writer not only likes writing and providing information to others, but also loves reading and seeking out information for herself.

Sample Question B's for English Comprehension - Ordinary Level Leaving Cert.

Question B's in the comprehension section of your text usually want you to do something in the style of what you've just read. For example, if you just read a magazine article it will ask you to write a review or an article, if you've just read a diary entry it may ask you to write a diary entry or if you've read a blog you might be asked to write a blog. As well as this, it will often tie in with the theme of what you just read. If you read something sad and it might ask you to write something inspirational, if you've just read something funny it could ask you to do a review on the last funny thing you read/watched.

These questions are worth 50 marks, meaning they are worth the same amount as all of the parts of question A combined. Therefore you should at least write one whole page as your answer.

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

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