Exams and the build up to them can be a really stressful period. Especially if you are about to sit your first major exams such as the junior certificate, you won’t always know what to expect, and this worry leads to some students panicking.
It makes sense then that the more you prepare and know about what is coming at you, the more relaxed you can be, as there won’t be any nasty surprises! The good news is, the layout of the junior cert and leaving cert English exams remains the same, so you can be fully confident of how it is going to look before you go in.
Once you learn the layouts of the questions, and their order all that is left to do is study the relevant texts, poets and themes, and our Superprof guide to preparing for English will help you do just that! Keep reading to see some really helpful tips on how to get the most out of your English studies.
Looking for specific sections? check out our article on the leaving cert fiction texts!
Check out the Past Exams Papers
As mentioned above, the layout of the English leaving cert rarely changes, the same goes for the junior certificate, but for the purpose of this article, we will focus on leaving cert English for now! As we were saying, the layout doesn’t change, which is really beneficial for those who love to prepare and hate the unknown exams can sometimes bring.
The Irish state examinations committee know how stressful exams can be, and they offer the very helpful service of letting you see all of the past English exams! Not only is this super helpful when it comes to studying past trends, and guessing what might come up, it also gives you the opportunity to do “mock” exams, and this is pretty much the best study you can do for an exam.
You can focus on specific sections of the English exams too, maybe you feel like you can improve your unseen poetry, so you go over and over the different questions, whatever the section, you have access to them all.
This also gives you the opportunity to test yourself on timing, in an exam setting. One top tip we recommend is to set a stopwatch, the exact same time you would have in the leaving cert, and try to complete the exam, the more you do this, the better your time management becomes!
We also cover the comparative question in more detail, read our tips to getting the most out of the comparative question!
Practice your Time Management
This brings us on to another top tip: time management! Running out of time is a really common problem for students sitting their English leaving cert exams! This is especially a problem for students who didn’t practice past exam papers, so they end up writing far too much for the first questions, not leaving themselves enough time to answer the other ones.
The best way to practice this is not just to give yourself the same amount of time as you would have (you might have to start with more and work your way down, but that’s ok, more practice for you) but you should also break down the individual sections.
For example, the unseen poetry question should take no more than 25 minutes, while the comparative study might take an hour! All students are different, and there is no special formula that helps everyone, but these timings exist as a general rule, and if you tweak them slightly, you can find the time management that suits you!
Do not feel disheartened if you go way overtime at the start either, you will keep cutting it down, and after you have done enough, by the time you sit your English leaving cert exam, you will have it down to a minute!
There are two papers in the English exam, to learn more about English paper one, click here!
If you would rather focus on the second paper, check out our guide to English paper two.
BONUS TIP (Practice How You Write)
This next one might seem silly, but trust us, it helps! A common problem some students have is that their hands become sore after all their writing, after all, it’s a long exam! This might lead you to take breaks that could cause you to run out of time.
So, what can you do? Well, practice writing, try to write with a lighter hand, and not push down so hard on the paper, this will speed you along and ease that writing pain! Conversely, make sure your writing is clear and legible! Even if your answer is perfect, if it isn’t clear, the examiner will not waste time trying to decipher it!
Want to learn how to write a better essay? Check out the Superprof guide to writing an English Essay!
Learn the Poets and their Poems
Poetry is an enormously important section on the English leaving cert, with two questions dedicated to it, and a huge chunk of marks, it pays to focus and prepare for this one! Each year, the list of poets that can come up will be slightly different, but many of the names will keep popping up!
You are expected to cover five poets and six poems in the English exam. On the day, 4 different questions will come up and you must answer one. It really helps to have studied and prepared a few different poets and their work, as it gives you more options on the day.
If you have prepared right, you will be able to carefully look through the 4 questions and pick the one that suits you the best.
(For more detail on the poetry section, read out guide to leaving cert poetry.)
Some students tend to take risks and look at past exams to try and guess what will come up. We would not recommend this, this is extremely risky, and while it could save you time to focus on other things when you are studying for English, this is an approach that could go very wrong on the day!
How do you prepare, well it really helps to study the context surrounding a poet, for example, when and where they were born, as well as the state of society when they wrote. Many poets have a distinct style, and this comes through with reoccurring themes that are evident in their poetry.
The English exam is meant to test your knowledge of the poet, so by having an understanding of their work, and why they said what they said, you will be able to compare and contrast in your answer, and this is what the examiner wants to see!
The key things to focus on here are Theme, setting, language used and the context of the author. Understanding all of these little pieces will help you fully grasp the poetry section on the exam!
If you are looking for a place to buy some of the books on the course, poetry or otherwise, check out the cheap books on offer at one of Ireland's best online bookstores, where you can find books for outstanding prices, helping you to save money and focus on the exam!
Essay Writing and How to Prepare
Essay writing is another very lengthy section on the exam and one that worries some students due to its unpredictable nature. You do have wiggle room with this one though, and you can either write a piece of fiction, a personal essay or a letter/speech.
Make sure you know what kind of writer you are, and choose the one that best suits you. This is an opportunity to pick up some marks while doing something you are comfortable with.
For example, if you are a lover of fiction or sci-fi, why not write your own fantasy tale! The more interested and familiar you are with the topic, the easier it will be and the faster you will be able to complete it!
If you would rather the personal essay, choose something you know very well, so you won’t have to spend any time thinking about what you are going to say, and you can focus on how you are going to say it. This is also a chance for you to show your own personal writing style, something that the examiner could appreciate!
You can also pre-prepare for this. Have a rough idea for an essay that you know how to write inside out, off by heart, but, leave some factors changeable so you can mould it to fir the question! Maybe you have characters in your head, and you can expand in them, but the setting is kept loose so you can use it to fit into a variety of questions! Remember, you can do as much prep as you need, so there will be no nasty surprises come the day of the exam!
The English exam is long and tough and broken up into two papers, but it is also one that has a clear layout that we can really study before we sit that exam. Most of the work will be done in the weeks and months leading up to that day, and the preparation is where the grades will be made!
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