Reaction to Leaving Certificate English Paper 2 (Higher Level) by Clodagh Havel, English teacher at The Institute of Education
- An accessible paper that required a calm head to master it.
- Much anticipated Bishop did not appear but those that did appear were well heralded.
- Students were invited to share more personal responses and reactions to the studied authors.
At its heart, this paper was accessible and provided ample opportunities for students to apply prepared material and their own perspectives on the texts. However, phrasing meant that those rushing to quickly scan the questions will find them tricky and feel a twinge of panic. A pause, a breath, and a mind map were vital in order to get to grips with what was really being asked.
Section 1: Single Text
Section 1’s Macbeth question seemed weighty in its demands for “ambiguities and complexities” in his “tragic identity”, but ultimately this was just an opportunity to explore his fall from grace. Those who inevitably planned to discuss his hamartia will find a great opportunity to shine, so long as they don’t let rhyme and reason evaporate in the cauldron of the exam hall. The second question brought in the hotly tipped Lady Macbeth but with the innovative twist of how she and the Witches “heighten the dramatic impact” of the play. Students could thus write from the perspective of an audience reacting to the text, using their own sense of the text as part of the answer. This was a general trend across the paper, letting the students’ experiences be part of the equation.
For some the Comparative is the most dreaded, the most challenging part of the paper but thankfully they were greeted by a welcoming General Vision and Viewpoint question. It was straightforward and accessible with no verbose or obtuse demands. The phrasing of the Theme or Issue question did likely cause a moment for pause though, forcing a little bit of reflection. Discussions of human nature and morality connect this section with yesterday’s Paper 1 and, while startling some, will reward those who think of the themes as fundamentally human concerns – who we are and how we treat each other. The Literary Genre was accessible but had a more specific twist than previous years as students needed to keep the texts’ climaxes as a focal point of the question. Those without a plan or careful underlining in the question will likely find themselves wandering off topic. This exam really rewarded those with a method to approaching the exam itself, not just the material.
The unseen poem was simply beautiful, filled with subtlety and nuance as well as a wealth of technical material. Some students worry about the unseen, viewing it as a step into the dark unknown, but there was something for everyone here. The H1 student could tease out the delicate contradictions in the 20 mark, while those seeking a clearer path through it will have been guided by clear short questions.
The absence of Bishop will be the big talking point for many, but as long as you did not put all your hopes on that one poet you will have really fabulous alternatives. The appearance Meehan, Mahon, Kavanagh, Donne and Rich means that there were two women and two Anglo-Irish poets, categories that students often use when determining where to focus their energies. Every question followed the same form: a claim about the language (lyrical, forceful, evocative etc.) and a claim about concerns (anxiety, realism, oppressive forces etc.). This really allows students to balance their discussions and the format of agreeing or disagreeing with statements giving them a chance to make their responses more unique to themselves.
This is a paper that students should be happy with, once they gave themselves the chance to pause and compose their approaches. Scope for misreading questions will mean that an over-hasty appraisal will likely miss a key aspect of a question, or miss just how accessible it really was.