STATES EXAMS: Irish poets give completists the advantage

Students who focused on John Montague and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin should have been pleased to see both feature on yesterday’s Leaving Certificate higher and ordinary level English exams.

STATES EXAMS: Irish poets give completists the advantage

The second English papers closed the second day of the State exams, and the higher level paper was considered fair by Teachers’ Union of Ireland subject spokesman Ollie Power.

He said the question on Robert Frost and Thomas Hardy were both standard types about those two poets, but the language in the Montague and Ní Chuilleanáin questions was difficult. The Montague question, for example, asked about evocative language and profound empathy, while the other Irish poet’s “formidable” style was referenced.

Mr Power thought the phrasing of some questions was more complex than necessary, and a seemingly open question about values in Othello might have tripped some students up. He was very pleased with the unseen poetry section, which he said many candidates leave until last to answer.

While he thought the comparative study section fairly predictable, he said the questions were quite difficult. An example was one about the concepts of idealistic or realistic impressions left by texts on readers, which might have caused problems for some students.

Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland English spokesman Fintan O’Mahony agreed that this was a heavier question than usual, but added that there were other good options in the section. He considered the Othello questions of a good standard, with Desdemona and Emilia coming up as named characters, but in different language to usual in the question on values.

The literary genre questions were lovely, in Mr O’Mahony’s opinion, allowing students make value judgements about which texts did things better than others. He said the unseen poem by Peter Sirr was nice and was the subject of good questions, while the Hardy questions were lovely and those on Frost were very straightforward.

The ordinary level English Paper 2 single text section asked very good questions about central characters and relationships for students, particularly about how a central character changes, said Mr O’Mahony.

In the comparative study, he thought the heroes, heroines, and villains questions were a bit harder than those on relationships. He said the unseen poem, Vivienne McKechnie’s ‘Today’, was fine and there was a good spread of poems in the prescribed poetry section. They included William Wall’s ‘Ghost Estate’, one of the most modern ever examined at Leaving Certificate level.

Mr Power said the ordinary level single text section continued the pattern of asking very similar sets of questions on each work. While this was similar to what was done with higher level poetry, he said, simpler language was used.

He said other ordinary level exam questions were quite straightforward. However, a comparative study question about the effects of social class or conflict on relationships between characters might have been a little difficult.

Around 5,500 Leaving Certificate engineering students were examined in the morning and ASTI subject spokesman Eamon Dennehy was pleased with an exam that was of a similar structure to that previous years. He complimented the graphics used and said electronics continue to feature more prominently as the exam evolves with the times.

He said a question on alloy wheels made students think by asking them to decide how to test their ability to withstand shock, and an equilibrium diagram question again showed how the paper continues to give cues to keep students on the point.

Mr Dennehy said the ordinary level paper did not require as much application of students’ knowledge, and they had a fair level of choice within the exam. He said students who took their time to decide which ones they could answer best should have done well.

Test tweets

The usual predictions and prayers about poets in Leaving Certificate English were a running theme on Twitter:

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