The leaving cert English exam is split into two papers. Paper one is the language paper and paper two is the literature paper. Both papers are designed to test your knowledge of the topics and techniques that you’ll come across during the leaving cert English course of study.
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What Are the Sections in Paper One?
Paper one is a comprehension and composition paper. There will be excerpts of texts based on a theme, and then you’ll answer one Question A, and one Question B. These questions can’t be answered on the same excerpt. You’ll also need to choose a composition topic out of the options given, and write a piece within those guidelines.
The paper will have an overall theme, and the theme for the higher level leaving cert English paper, and the ordinary leaving cert English paper are different, so different excerpts are chosen. However, the questions will be looking for you to identify which category the piece fits into, what techniques are used, and be able to produce a piece of writing that fits into a specified classification.
The actual topics, and themes aren’t what is important for this paper. It’s understanding the different classifications, and their purpose.
The Language Of Information
The language of information includes any text produced to communicate information. These texts tend to have more formal language, facts, are specific, and follow a logical presentation. Examples of these types of texts are reports, leaflet, memos, bulletins, and documentaries.
The Language Of Argument
The language of argument is a text that puts forth an argument. These texts are logical, rational, and set out the argument using facts, statistics, and reasoning. There can be some overlap with the language of information, but argumentative texts will use the information to set out a point of view, defend this point of view, and negate any counter-agruments against this point of view. Examples of these texts would be opinion pieces, letters to an editor, debate speeches, and journalistic, legal, or philosophical writing.
The Language Of Persuasion
The language of persuasion consists of texts that convince you to take a certain position, think or feel a certain way. They’re emotive, and convincing. The layout depends on what type of persuasive piece it is. Persuasive pieces include ads, inspirational speeches, sermons, and some types of online copy. Ads will have a different layout to an inspirational speech, for example. Ads will have different headings, slogans, fonts, sizes, and colours to grab your attention and convince to buy the product. Persuasive speeches and essays will follow the usual layout for essays and speeches.
The Language Of Narration
The language of narration is essentially story-telling. It’s also known as the language of description as it’s all about using words to paint a whole picture. The layout of a short short should have a beginning, a middle and an end. It should have compelling language, but the sentences shouldn’t be overloaded with descriptive imagery. The layout of a descriptive essay follows the same layout for other essays. You’ll need an introduction, well defined, detailed paragraphs and a conclusion. Examples of narrative or descriptive texts includes novels, short stories, memoirs, diary entries, personal essays, feature articles, and travel writing.
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What are the Topics Covered on Paper Two?
Paper two is the literature paper. You’ll have a single text, three further texts for comparative study, and poetry to study during the leaving cert English course.
What Texts Will be Chosen?
Your school will choose a text for study as the single text from a list given from the Department of Education. Higher level leaving cert English students must study a play by Shakespeare as the single text, or as a comparative text. A Shakepeare play isn’t mandatory for ordinary level leaving cert English students, but some schools do opt for this option.
The single text will be studied under a variety of headings such as themes, characters, setting, relationships, language, and imagery. In the leaving cert English exam, you’ll be given a choice of questions on the single text, and you will have to answer one.
What is the The Comparative Study?
Your school will choose three other texts for comparative study. Higher level leaving cert English students might study the Shakespeare play under this heading, instead of as a single text. You’ll study a novel or a memoir, a drama, and a film for comparative study. You’ll be given modes for comparison. Higher level and ordinary level are given different modes.
For higher level leaving cert English students, the modes will be out of:
- Theme or issue
- Cultural context
- General vision and viewpoint
- Literary genre
Three of these modes of comparisons are on the syllabus every year, though you will only study two of them.
For ordinary level students, the modes will be out of:
- Social setting
- Hero, heroine, villain
Again, three of these modes will be on the syllabus, and only two will be studied.
What to Expect From the Poetry Section
Higher level leaving cert English students will study eight poets. You will need to study at least six poems by each of them. There will also be one unseen poem on the exam as well.
Ordinary level leaving cert English students will have 36 poems to study. There may be a number of poems from the same poet, while other poets may only have one poem in the list of prescribed poetry. There will also be an ‘unseen’ poem on the exam, but ordinary level students will have encountered this poem during the two year leaving cert English course of study.
While language is mostly covered in paper one, aesthetic language includes poetry, plays, novels, and song lyrics. It’s any written work created for the purpose of beauty, and beauty alone.
The leaving cert English exam poetry questions will test your knowledge of poetic devices, techniques, and terminology. This means understanding the theme of the poem, which is the point the author wishes to make. The topic of the poem is the subject matter. The tone of the poem shows the attitude the poet has towards the subject matter. The mood of the poem means the feelings expressed in the poem.
You’ll also need to understand how the poet creates the mood of the poem. The words they use can enhance the setting, theme, or subject matter of the piece. If they use colours, think about what the colour represents. White, for example, could represent cleanliness, or purity. Black may represent darkness, despair, or depression.
Context is also important in poetry. Note if the adjective or verbs are positive or negative. Think about if they have other meanings.
You’ll also learn to pay attention to the imagery the poet creates. Imagery should invoke your five senses. Look for words that describe the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and textures within the poem.
There are other language tricks that poets can use to create certain effects.
Repetition can be used to create emphasis, rhythm and it helps the imagery become more memorable.
Personification means to give an inanimate object, idea or place human-like qualities. This trick helps make the ‘thing’ a character, and create a more intimate relationship between the poet and the ‘thing’.
Contrast is when the poet puts two different things beside each other. It creates a highlight of the different characteristics of the two things, and can emphasise the differences.
Symbolism gives deeper meaning to a word, or words. It means the reader needs to think deeper about the poem, or it presents an idea without naming the idea directly.
Simile in poetry is essentially another word for comparison. Similes can help create stronger imagery, and help the reader gain an understanding of what the poet is trying to say, by encouraging another link to something else.
Metaphor is when the poet says that two things are the same. Poets use this language trick as a more direct, forceful comparison. The objects, ideas, or places aren’t like each other, but instead, they are the same.
Allusion is when the poet makes a reference to a well-known person, event, or figure. They could be alluding to fictional people, or real-life ones. It gives the impression that the poet is a well educated, knowledgeable person, and make the reader more likely to take their opinion on board. It can also give the work more significance, if it alludes to a well-respected work of literary art.
Hyperbole is when poets deliberately exaggerate their descriptions. It can add humour, drama, and emphasis.
Ambiguity is when the poet uses words that can be open to interpretation. It allows the reader to relate to the poem using their own experiences and feelings.
Rhetorical questions are questions that don’t need a response. These questions often have a very obvious answer, and the implication is that anyone who disagrees with the poet is a fool, wrong, or lacks understanding of the subject matter.
Sound effects can have different effects depending on the language trick used.
- Alliteration is when a series of words all begin with the same letter. It draws our eye to the series of words, and it can create a musical effect when said aloud.
- Onomatopoeia is when the word used sounds like its meaning. Think about words like buzz, rattle, or bang. It allows the reader to hear what is being described.
- Assonance is when similar vowel sounds are repeated. It can be used to alter the speed or rhythm of the line in the poem.
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