English Paper One is the exam that kicks off the leaving cert for many, and it is a great opportunity to banish the nerves at the beginning and to set the tone of a great leaving cert! Paper one is often viewed as the easier of the two, as it doesn’t have the dreaded poetry section, or the comparative studies section. Both of these are the two sections you spend the most time on when you are preparing for the English exam.
There are just two sections on this paper, comprehension and composing. You will not have seen these questions or pieces before you start, unlike paper two, but there is a=still a lot you can do to prepare! You should have a clear framework of how you answer questions before you start, and then all you need to do is manipulate your answer to suit the question. With proper preparation, paper one can be a kind one.
Keep reading for helpful tips in the Superprof guide to English paper one!
Want a better idea of both papers? Check out our guide to preparing for your leaving cert English exam!
Prepare with Past Exam Papers
Past exam papers are freely available on the internet, so you should make sure you are using them! You could have taken a number of leaving cert papers before you sit your actual exam and this is really the best preparation! The more papers you have seen, the more prepared and less nervous and surprised you will be on exam day, and this leads to the best results!
The state examinations committee put up all of the exams, paper one and two, and all you have to do is download the PDF and you are good to go. If you really want to prepare for the comprehension questions, you can do all of the questions from all of the years!
The more you do, the quicker and more comfortable you become. You will also start to notice common trends, as many of these questions are very similar, and ask for the same things. Make note of what they ask and how, highlighting the words they use and the themes they discuss!
This way you will go into the exam will full confidence. At first, you can take your time, just concentrate on writing good, concise answers. After a while, however, you will need to work on your timekeeping, and this brings us on to our next tip!
Want to improve your score on the fiction question? Why not read our article giving tips on acing the fiction section.
If you want to learn more about the points system and where they can take you, have a read of the Irish times CAO guide!
Running Out of Time? Tips for Managing your Timekeeping
Timekeeping can be a problem for many students, and this is a shame, as often a student has prepared well, has brilliant answers and knowledge of the exam, but they run out of time, meaning that the examiner will never see their answers, as good as they might have been!
Each question should have an approximate set time to do, and you should be aware of these times before you start. These times are different for every student and you can consult with your teacher or tutor here to play to your strengths!
When it comes to exam day, if you have experience doing paper one and timing yourself, you will feel more confident and this will put you at ease! Make sure you are wearing a watch (don’t bring your phone in) as this will keep you on track.
Beside every question, write down how long it should take you, and keep an eye on your watch as you write to keep you on the right track.
Remember, you can start slow, the time leading up to the exam is where you can go slower and overtime, but try to gradually bring it down by the time you sit the paper. Ideally, you should be able to do it a few times on time before you sit down to take the exam!
Try not to take too many breaks from writing, if you can avoid it (although you will have some time to pause and gather your thoughts and rest your hand)
Want to unlock your inner poet? We have you covered, over on our extensive guide to the English poetry question.
What Questions Should I Do First?
This is another one of our top tips. Do your strongest question first. This is something some students avoid, as they think they need to put things in the correct order, or else the examiner will mark harshly or get confused. This is not the case! As long as they are clearly written and labelled in the answer book, no problem!
Ideally, you want to get as much as you know out onto the paper, so if there is a question you really like, and you have a clear idea of where your answer is going to go, do it first! Read all of the questions and then decide your order, all while being mindful of the time, don’t spend too much time on it! Although this may be your best question, you don’t want to spend so much time on it making it great, and then neglect the others. You will just lose marks!
Don’t Pad your Answers
This is relevant to the above tip also, and it is something to keep in mind. Do not pad your answers for the sake of it. Keep it simple. You don’t have much time, or room to work with, so every sentence and every paragraph is important.
If something is there, but isn’t needed, take it out! As a general rule, if it is not adding something to the answer take it out. As a simple example, you don’t always need to say “he was very happy” you can also just say “he was happy”
Less is often more, especially when you have to keep your answers short and sweet. This doesn’t mean that you have to keep your sentences super short and basic, you still have to vary your sentence structure to show you are a good writer, and avoid repeating the same words over and over, but it doesn’t mean you need to use lots of complex words to describe what you are saying. If when you read back your answer and you stumble a bit, change things and simplify!
Worried about the comparative question? While some of these tips help with that also, we also have a standalone guide to the leaving cert comparative question, that gives you priceless tips and tricks!
Also, its not just paper one that we cover, you can also read all about English paper two, and how to prepare for it!
Comprehension Task-Read the Questions First
You should read the questions before you read the texts. Make notes as you go, and highlight the questions keywords, focusing on the specifics. This way, when you come around to read the text itself, you will know exactly what you are looking for, and you will be able to focus in on specifics. This will save time and tighten up your answer!
With answers like this, it is important to keep it concise and relevant. Try to make one clear point per paragraph.
Highlight Useful Words and Use them Later
This is a tip we would really recommend, as it can give you some direction, and it will save you time. Throughout the test, you will come across lots of nice words, some you know some you don’t. Take some of the ones you do know, and highlight them.
You can be hyper focused sometimes when you are writing that your mind can become blank, and sometimes prompts are helpful. This will come in handy for the essay section of this paper. You will have a list of words you have highlighted, and you may be able to use some in your essay. This will keep your answer varied and interesting. While you want to vary the words you use, don’t use big, superfluous (sorry) words just for the sake of it. This will stick out like a sore thumb, and the examiner will pick up on this.
Practice Writing Essays
The composition section is the other main section on paper one, and while you don’t know what questions will come up, you know what kind of type of question, and you can still prepare for it.
We have an extensive English essay writing article here on Superprof, that will really help with this question, if you feel you need to improve!
Before you undertake this question, you should know what kind of composition suits you. This could be a sci-fi essay, a diary entry or a letter. The more you do the more familiar you will become with the genres, and you’ll be able to decide your best one!
Practice writing essays over and over again, you can decide on your own topic, or better still, you can look at the titles on past exam papers! Tighten up your paragraphs and remember to keep on time. You need to have a solid beginning, middle and ending, with all of these sections being the same length roughly.
Don’t rush the ending either! We know time can be an issue, but again, the more you practice essays, the better you become and wrapping it up. The introduction is where you grab the attention of the examiner, make it intriguing, short and snappy. If the persona correcting the essay enjoys the story and narrative, this will reflect positively on how they mark it!
While you can’t know the question and may have to tailor your preferred answer a bit, you will still be able to manipulate your answer to suit your style. The characters, narrator and story points may change, but the way you tell the story, and the structure can stay the same. Again, the more you practice your style and method, the quicker you will be able to write, and the tighter your muscle memory will be!
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