Lots of material for students to get teeth into on opening day of exams

The final weeks in school for over 55,000 Leaving Certificate students with themes about school days and childhood memories on their English papers.

Picture: Sophie Lynch, Mollie Barrett, Megan Moloney, Leah Davenport, Chloe Lynch, and Megan Nason, all Junior Certificate students from St Angela’s College, Patrick’s Hill, Cork, take a final look over study notes before the start of their first examination yesterday. Pic: Larry Cummins

One higher level student told the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) subject spokesperson Kate Barry that the exam was neither too hard nor too easy.

“There was a lot they could get their teeth into, particularly the material for their essays,” she said.

One was a speech to a youth conference about supporting democracy in today’s world. Another Ms Barry felt they could write a lot on was an article about whether scientists or artists contribute more to society. But a comprehension text about free speech in an online age was quite challenging, despite its initial simple appearance.

Liz Farrell, Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) English spokesperson, said the comprehension questions were phrased like in previous years, including parts that looked for opinions and parts about style.

The first text was about images incorporated in the work of Scottish poet Robert Montgomery, based on visuals in his poetry. A question asked them to write a school website article about poems they would choose for display and where in the school.

A question following the second text, about free speech in a connected world, asked students to write an opinion article for a national newspaper. Another required a radio text talking about childhood memories, and Ms Farrell felt students would have been prepared for all these formats.

Ms Farrell said many teachers can expect to be marking essays featuring a tattoo, a short story option was to write a narrative in which a tattoo played an important part. Much fewer examiners are likely to be reading students who picked a dramatic dialogue in which they describe to their skeptical Stone Age friends how they just invented the wheel.

This was a sign, Ms Farrell said of how Leaving Certificate papers are diversifying.

She thought the first ordinary level English paper was very fair, including a nice question in which students could write a talk about choosing senior cycle subjects for third-years.

She said a task to write a letter to a newspaper editor might have been difficult for ordinary level students. But she thought they would have liked the topic about whether they supported or opposed an imagined proposal to replace Irish school teachers with robots.

A composition choice for ordinary level students was to write three diary entries by a robot teacher, about their work, their students and humans in general.

Ms Barry reported positive student reaction about the paper’s theme about school, including “a lovely piece” by novelist Donal Ryan about his school days, and another about a Syrian refugee student in a German school.

She said an article for the school website about being more welcoming to students with disabilities was fine and a short story option about a family’s regrets at adopting a robot was a nice inclusion in the well-balanced paper.

The afternoon’s higher level Leaving Certificate home economics paper featured a question on sugar which the ASTI’s Margaret Kinsella felt might have thrown some students. She said they might not have expected a long question on another carboyhdrate after one about fibre a year ago.

There was a full question on the very topical issue of housing, its availability, the factors involved and national policies. Elsewhere, however, she felt the work involved in analysing data in a table on unemployment rates was time-consuming.

Ms Kinsella said the ordinary level question on fruit, vegetables and vitamin C was very topical in light of recent changes to the food pyramid. She was pleased that a higher level question on a specific food commodity of cheese, was matched with an ordinary level question about meat. A further topical social studies question dealt with poverty.

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