The poetry section of the English leaving cert is one of the most talked-about and anticipated, and one that sometimes worries students. Not to worry, however! As it is so talked about, there is no shortage of services and materials available to you to help you along your way, and we will highlight just some of them here!

The poetry section creates a buzz every year, with people analysing trends of previous papers and trying to guess which poets will come up. This is a dangerous game and not one that we would recommend, as it is a risky approach and one that could really backfire on exam day.

There are two sections to the poetry section, the prescribed poetry, and the unseen section. The prescribed section is the largest section, worth 50 marks, and the unseen is worth 20. As you can probably tell, the prescribed section is where you will spend the most time, and this requires a lot of preparation.

It is usually recommended that you study 6 poets, and then you will be given 4 different questions on 4 different poets on the paper. You will be expected to study around 6 poems by each poet. Some students and teachers may choose to study more, and if you are someone who enjoys poetry, and feels as though you can handle it, by all means, as you will be giving yourself a great chance!

Also, don’t just jump to do the question on your favourite poet straight away! You may find there is a much easier question on the paper!

We also have an extensive Superprof guide to all of the sections on the leaving cert paper, feel free to check it out!

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Why Should I Have a Thesis Statement?

english leaving cert poetry
The poetry question is one of the most anticipated. Source: Unsplash.com

Having a thesis statement is very important, across many of the questions on the paper, but especially so when it comes to poetry. It can be easy, especially in a high pressure exam situation, to go off on tangents and ramble due to nerves, but it is very important you are conscious of this so you don’t make that mistake!

A thesis statement is basically the essence of your answer and what you are trying to say. This should always be short and snappy as anything too long and complicated will make your life harder. As you are writing your response, keep taking a peek at your thesis statement to make sure you are on the right track!

Keeping within your thesis statement will make it easier to read, and this will make the examiner more likely to look favourably at your answer. If your answer, for example, is to reflect on the presence of the theme of loss in the works of a poet, make sure you don’t start shoehorning other themes. Of course, you should try and cover enough so that it is clear you know the material, but make sure not to stray too far from the theme of loss. Try to find aspects of the poems that highlight that theme, rather than mentioning too many themes!

Remember, keep it relevant to your thesis statement. Perhaps it would help to write it down somewhere you can always see, to keep you focused.

Looking for tips on fiction texts? Why not read our guide to leaving cert fiction texts.

How to Smash the Unseen Poetry Question

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Practice makes perfect with this section! Source: Unsplash.com

The unseen poetry is a bit different, as you won’t have seen the poem before, and this can be a source of worry for some students. The good news here is they are always short, and they don’t expect super long answers, unlike the prescribed poetry section.

Just because you won’t have seen the poem before, doesn’t mean you can’t prepare. You can take a look at past exam papers to see what kind of questions come up. You can have a pre-structured answer prepared, and although the topic will differ, the way you answer it doesn’t have to.

To give you an idea, you could focus on the imagery in your first paragraph, while giving examples directly from the poem of how the poet does this. You can treat this just like you would the prescribed section, stating what the poet is trying to say. And what poetic techniques they use to do this.

While you must always be conscious of the time, you will almost certainly have enough time to read it more than once, each time highlighting keywords and points. Break down the poem as much as you can, word by word line by line. If there is a sentence or word you really don’t understand, move on. Don’t force things and try to describe a line you don’t understand!

These poems are often short but are jam-packed with detail and poetic techniques. Pay special attention to things such as assonance, symbolism, metaphors, similes, alliteration, rhyming, onomatopoeia etc. at least some examples of these will all be present! Use these to discuss how they help create the imagery and theme of the poem.

To summarize, read the poem a few times, and try to have a clear framework of an answer before you start. A great way to prepare for this is to keep doing past exam papers! This takes us on to our next top tip.

(We also cover other sections, including the comparative question, why not check out our article which offers some advice!)

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Jesse
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5 (16 reviews)
Jesse
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Khobaib
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5 (11 reviews)
Khobaib
€20
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1st lesson free!
Denida
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5 (5 reviews)
Denida
€10
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Leah
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5 (8 reviews)
Leah
€15
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1st lesson free!
Rebecca
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Learn about the Poet

poets leaving cert paper
The more you know about the poet, the better! Source:Unsplash.com

Of course, you will want to know about the poems, their meanings and use of poetic techniques, but it also really helps to know some of the context and backstory of the poet themselves! The more you know about the poet and their history, the more links and context you can find in their work, giving you an in-depth understanding of the poem.

This context will allow you to find links between poems, which is especially helpful if you are answering a question on a poet and have to give examples of a few of their works. Poets writing is shaped by what they have been through, and there will almost certainly be a trace of this in their poems.

This comes through in common themes, imagery, techniques and poem structure. Knowing about this allows you to link poems and fully grasp the meaning behind their words. This will reflect favourably on you and improve your score!

It is important to remember not to lose sight of the question, however. If the question doesn’t state it, don’t go too deep into the poets past! This takes us back to your thesis statement! Keep checking in with it and keep it short and concise, all while being conscious of the time you are taking!

Do you want to try and calculate your predicted points, or find out what you need to reach in each subject to hit your points goal? Try the handy leaving cert points calculator!

This can help focus you, and narrow your goals down!

Why Should I Take Past Exam Papers?

The more familiar you are with the leaving cert exam, the better you will do, and the less nervous you will be. The best way to become familiar with the paper and its layout, specifically the poetry section, is to keep practising this section from past years.

In the exam, you will be under a time constraint, but here is your chance to take away the pressure and just focus on your process! Repetition will create good habits, and increase your writing speed. Although the questions will be different every year, you will notice similarities in how they ask the question and just what they are asking.

The poetic techniques, themes, imagery etc. will be the same across the years, so once you are well versed in these, you will be able to tackle any question. You won’t be able to do the exact question on the prescribed poetry, as you won’t have studied the poems, but you can tweak questions to suit you.

As for the unseen poetry, you will have no issues, and this will be great practice for you. The more comfortable you become, the quicker you get. After a while, we would recommend timing yourself. Start by giving yourself plenty of time, and progress until you can do the mock and past papers just as quick as you need to on the day!

Before you go into the exam, you should have a very close idea of just how long it takes you to do a question!

We have covered both papers over here on Superprof, check out our guide to paper one here,

More interested in the other paper? Click here for our tips and tricks for English paper two!

Focus on What the Poet Says (Themes) and How He Says It (Techniques)

Essentially, you will be asked to demonstrate you know what the poet was (potentially) trying to say, and what techniques they use to do this. As we mentioned the themes and techniques are pretty universal and will be featured across all of the poems and poets.

Make sure you know a number of techniques (such as the ones we already mentioned) and that you can pick out examples of them. Hone in on one or two themes or images, don’t pick too much, and then pick the relevant techniques to portray this.

Remember your thesis statements! At the start of every paragraph try to mention it again in some way, as this will keep you driven and focused. It will also be helpful to the examiner, as they will be able to follow along and see that you have understood the question!

Remember, we have covered all of the sections over here on Superprof, and if you would like to improve your English essay writing, check this article out!

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