“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
Asking a writer about writing is like asking a gamer about gaming! It's hard to know where to begin because it's all so exciting... But before we get into all that, let's talk about your Leaving Cert, English exam.
The comprehension impressions can be found on paper one of the Leaving Cert exam. If you can find out different topics that were given over the years by looking at past exam papers. Going over previous exam papers is 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 does the Composition Part of the Exam Consist of?
This section of the English Exam (paper 1) gives you several options to choose from. Usually, the themes/imagery are drawn from the texts you read for the comprehension section. You must choose one of the options given and answer in an essay/short story style.
This section is worth 100 marks, which is the same amount as the comprehension section. However, unlike the Comprehension part of exam paper 1, you do not get 5 separate questions to make up the marks in the Composition section all marks are earned for your personal writing.
How to Choose Which Topic to Write About
There is really only one way to choose which question is for you, do you prefer being imaginative or do you prefer to write what you know?
If you love being creative and imaginative, you should choose a topic that allows you to utilise your imagination. The following are examples of those kinds of questions that appeared in past exam papers:
- Write a short story about a character whose determination to be the centre of attention has unexpected consequences.
- Write a short story in which one character deceives another.
- Imagine you are a robot teacher. Write at least three diary entries in which you record your impressions of humans in general, write specifically about your work as a teacher and give your views on the behaviour of the students that you teach. Your diary entries may be humorous or serious or both.
- Write a short story that involves a race against time to prevent a disaster.
- "‘Ignoring the Restricted Area sign I just kept walking …’ - Write a short story inspired by the above phrase.
As you can see these types of questions are perfect for the imaginative/creative, they provide just enough guidance that you can easily assemble a plot and yet allow enough freedom that the creative possibilities are endless.
The "short story" option is perfect for budding fiction authors, as it enables you to use your creative streak to gain valuable marks towards your overall English grade.
The other type of topic you can be asked to write about in this part of your exam is more formal and structured. This type of topic is perfect for anyone who prefers to write what they know, rather than trying to create something new on the spot. Below are examples of the more formal topics that appeared in past exam papers:
- Imagine you are a representative of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA). Write a speech, to be delivered in schools, in which you explain the practicalities and responsibilities involved in keeping a pet and encourage the students in your audience to treat animals with respect.
- Write a personal essay giving your views on the importance of praise and encouragement as we go through life.
- Write an article, to be published in a popular magazine, on the value of volunteering with at least one sporting or charitable organisation. The article should discuss the possible benefits for the people who volunteer their time and energy, and for the organisation(s) involved.
- Write a speech, to be delivered to your year group, in which you express your views on the importance of Irish cultural pursuits such as music, sport, drama etc.
- Write a talk about a person/people whose achievements you admire.
As you can see these questions/topics are less about your imaginative/creative abilities and more about your ability to communicate in a clear, concise manner, while also holding the reader's attention.
Advice for Creating the Composition Question of your Leaving Cert English Exam
No matter which type of topic you decide to write for you should use your not note page to create a plan. There are so many reasons why this is helpful and we are going to take a look at them below.
- Brainstorm and Plotting - By creating a brainstorm bubble graph or a bullet-pointed plot, not only are you creating something which will help you stay on track and remember what you wanted to write next, but you are also creating a safety measure. What I mean by safety measure is, if you are running out of time but you have your plan laid out somewhere for the examiner to see, you will ensure you get some more points than if you had just abandoned the piece unfinished.
- Thinking Time - By using the notes/blank page to plot your text, you are giving yourself time to come up with a format for your story/article that you are confident and happy with.
- Key Words and Concepts - Every writer, whether it's someone who writes books or blogs, knows the importance of key concepts and keywords. These are the things you want your readers to focus on. By identifying them before you start writing, you can familiarise yourself with what you wish to draw attention to and ensure you use them throughout the text.
- Character Profiles - If you choose to go with a short story question, you might want to take a few moments to create your main characters, the who, what, where, when and why's of them and their story.
- Self-confidence - By writing down your plot, you can see your ideas on paper. Sometimes when in a situation like an exam, you can panic and think none of your ideas is good enough but when you write them down and read them back, it can give you that boost you need to go ahead with a piece because everything is clearer on paper.
Apart from prep notes, a second important piece of advice I would suggest is, you should pick the topic you feel you can write the most about. It is no coincidence that this section of the English exam is worth so many points, it requires the most work from you and it gives you the least to work off compared to the other sections.
How much should you write? There is no specific answer all I can do is give you the guidance I would have given my younger self.
If you choose a short story style question:
- Make sure your story has a definitive beginning and end.
- 4-6 pages of text.
- Don't tangent, (convey a singular story).
- Don't copy something you have read (that's plagiarism)
- Nothing is "too much" (if you can imagine it in your story, write it)
If you choose the more structured style question:
- Familiarise yourself and the reader with the main message
- Speeches/talks should be about 5mins worth of reading, on average 1000-1200 words, meaning 3-5 written pages.
- If you feel passionate about the topic, let it show in your writing, speeches should empower people.
- If you think of a funny anecdote, include it, the examiner will welcome the humour.
- The introduction and the closing statements should be at least a paragraph each, thank your audience in both.
Remember like all the other parts of the English exam, practice makes perfect. The best way to get comfortable writing is to write, and the best way to study writing is to read.
Where can I get Help Revising for Leaving Cert English?
Superprof has many tutors offering grinds in English online.
Superprof grinds are flexible to suit each individual's academic needs. At Superprof you can choose your tutor from a large selection, you can select times that suit you and take as many or as few revision/preparation classes as you need. Superprof, tuition is affordable, grinds start from just €10 and because they are flexible they are super convenient!
For more information on how to answer questions for ordinary level English, click any of the links below to see the related articles: