Absence of Plath and Heaney surprises students

The non-appearance of Sylvia Plath or Seamus Heaney was the talking point for most higher level Leaving Certificate English students last night.

The second paper for Leaving Certificate students instead featured poets Thomas Kinsella, Adrienne Rich, Philip Larkin, and Patrick Kavanagh, although Heaney did turn up on the ordinary level exam.

Teachers’ Union of Ireland subject spokesperson Alan Thompson said that while students can not afford to put all their eggs in one basket, it did seem a bit punitive when, in addition, the entire paper was quite tough.

Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland English spokesperson Michael Doherty agreed, and thought the question on Kavanagh appeared contradictory, leaving students unclear on whether to write positively or negatively about his work.

Both teachers also commented on the narrow focus of questions throughout, particularly in the comparative study section, which is designed to restrict the use of learned-off answers but also makes the exam more challenging for students.

While Mr Doherty felt the narrow focus in the Hamlet question about the character’s madness made it difficult, Mr Thompson felt students would have found the alternative question about corruption in the Shakespeare play was trickier.

Both agreed that all marks picked up by higher level students will have been very well earned, but thought the ordinary level English Paper 2 was a much fairer test.

Mr Doherty referenced lovely questions about plot in How Many Miles to Babylon? and said the unseen poem was easy to understand.

Mr Thompson said the appearance of Heaney and Kinsella poems will have pleased most students and most should have had no major complaints.

For students of Junior Certificate Irish, ASTI subject spokesperson Robbie Cronin felt the higher level paper had a few confusing questions on the listening test. He said some bordered on unfair, including one asking for the title of a weather forecast announcement and another in which students felt they were asked the same thing twice about a Young Scientist Winner.

Mr Cronin said comprehension pieces about Justin Bieber and an Irish-language teen radio station were topical, although the questions were challenging and students would have benefited from a glossary to explain words used for “temporary broadcast”, “present” and “development”. He was also pleased with a number of topical and suitable essay titles, including one on the Irish soccer team and another about a disco.

TUI Irish spokesperson Bláithín Ní Liatháin said the afternoon’s higher level exam had some difficult vocabulary in the unseen poems. But, she said, there was a lot of variety and good themes in questions about prescribed poetry, and two of the three letter options — about a recent music purchase or a TV appearance — were good topics for Junior Cert students.

Mr Cronin said that Paper 2 was quite good, with a challenging prose piece followed by nice questions.

He thought the inclusion of a glossary in the poetry section underlined the unfairness of tough words that appeared in the morning exam, but said the themes and emotions examined on the poems that students had studied would not have caused surprises.

He believed the phrasing in a letter choice about being wrongly accused of stealing from a shop might have made the option too difficult.

Ms Ní Liatháin said the pictures for the listening test on the single ordinary level Irish paper were fine and most students should have fared well matching pictures to phrases on the reading section.

However, she said, the vocabulary in some ads and posters on the reading comprehension section was a bit tough for ordinary level.

While the two passages on Giovanni Trapattoni and Jedward were of interest to young people, she also felt the vocabulary was difficult in places, citing Irish phrases for athletics and for knowing someone to see as examples.

Mr Cronin said it seemed that the ordinary level paper should not have caused any trouble and that a new format for the exam was assimilated well.

Dan Keane of the TUI said yesterday morning’s two Leaving Certificate engineering papers were mostly straightforward, and both higher and ordinary level students were given clear diagrams and photographs throughout. He said the usual kind of topics were examined, and that a higher level question about a all-terrain surveillance would have been very popular given that the project completed by students earlier in the year was about a self-propelled lunar vehicle.

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