Students ‘beaming’ after ‘well-pitched’ English paper on Leaving Cert day one

Rhea Singhal and Eliza Neumann, Junior Cert Students from Christ King Girls Secondary School, Cork after English Paper 1. Picture: Jim Coughlan

A “well-pitched and well-varied” Leaving Cert higher level English paper left students “beaming” on the first day of their exams.

Teachers and students alike hope the positive start to the exam season will give a boost to students during the weeks ahead.

There was a generally positive reaction to both ordinary and higher level papers as students sought to get off to a good start on day one of their exams.

Teaching staff and students welcomed a broad range of questions and contemporary topics, including climate change, the impact of the selfie, and social media.

Kate Barry, ASTI English spokesperson and teacher at Loreto, Fermoy, Co Cork, said that her students were “beaming” when they left the exam. 

“They were very happy with what was a fair and balanced higher level paper,” she said.

“The comprehension pieces were well-pitched and well-varied. The essay questions were challenging and thought-provoking. 

"One of the short story questions was extremely specific, the one about the spy, but there was plenty here for the creatively minded candidate and also those who prefer more analytical, argumentative pieces.”

Some students could have been caught off guard by the appearance of the studied texts on paper 1. 

Typically, they are reserved for paper 2 but this was the second consecutive year that students were asked to refer to studied texts — the reference to Shakespearian texts.

Lorraine Tuffy, an English teacher at Jesus and Mary Secondary School in Enniscrone, Co Sligo, said that students would have been well prepared.

“The style questions proffered in this year’s exam were comfortably concise and straightforward, inviting students to explore the effectiveness of narrative, personal, argumentative, and persuasive writing features.”

She described the paper as “arrestingly topical”, exploring climate change and the threat of modernity to community life.

“Essay questions were varied and, for the most part, engaging,” said Ms Tuffy.

CUS students Aaron Tracey and James Byrne following the Leaving Cert Paper 1. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins
CUS students Aaron Tracey and James Byrne following the Leaving Cert Paper 1. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

“The personal essayist will be delighted with their task to reflect on the places in their lives that have helped to shape and define them. 

"Disarmingly, in a paper that inspired so much creativity, the short story essayist was somewhat harnessed by the nuances of the short story question. 

"They had to ensure a librarian, photograph, and a chair were central to the plot of a spy story.”

A highlight for many came in the final question, where students were asked to articulate self-awareness in a debate speech for or against the motion: “We are a self-obsessed generation”.

Students at the school were also positive about the paper. Joe O’Connor described it as “very approachable”.

“The essay options were great, and I loved the speech about how we are a self-obsessed generation; I thought it was a very thought-provoking question,” he said.

Classmate Sean Finnegan said that some of the topics were more specific than in previous years.

I normally like to do a short story and found the choice today to be really specific because they asked us to write a short story that involved a photograph, a chair, and a librarian.

"In the end, I decided to go for the question on two characters whose relationship evolved in a strange land where I wrote about two strangers who end up on an island together after their cruise ship sunk,” he said.

There was also a generally positive reaction to the ordinary level English paper. Themes, including that of social media, were balanced and gave students a challenge that they could appreciate. 

Texts included a YouTuber’s description of social media experience, reflections on the selfie, and climate blog posts from the Friends of the Earth website.

The paper was described as “thought-provoking” and “stimulating”.

Ms Barry of Loreto, Fermoy, said that the essay topics at ordinary level gave less room to manoeuvre than those at higher level but added that the students would have appreciated that.

She did criticise a lack of variety in some questions, though.

Tomorrow students will turn their attention to English paper 2 and Engineering.

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