English Paper 1 (H): A beautiful and relevant paper

Reaction to Leaving Certificate English Paper 1 (Higher Level) by Paul McCormack, English teacher at The Institute of Education

A paper designed to be relevant to the tens of thousands of young people who sat down at 9.30am this morning to begin their Leaving Certificate exams.

Overall, a beautiful paper, which offered opportunities for original, fresh writing.

The tasks were designed to reward those candidates who have worked hard to develop their insights into personal, narrative, persuasive and argumentative writing.

The theme of this year’s paper was ‘Powerful Voices’.

As usual, the paper was divided into three sections, Reading Comprehension Question A, Reading Comprehension Question B, and Composition. This year, as a result of Covid-related accommodations, students were required to answer a Composition task and either a Question A or a Question B task.

Section I – Comprehending

The three reading comprehension passages were accessible and thought-provoking.

The Question A tasks were carefully crafted, with the usual mix of a straightforward comprehension task and a question which required analysis of the writer’s style.

The part (ii) questions on all three texts, in which candidates were offered the opportunity to give their thoughts on censorship and cancel culture, the long-lasting impact of music or the importance of youthful voices in public debate, were all both challenging and designed to reward thoughtful, creative thinkers.

The Question B tasks again offered variety.

This year, the three formats were an open letter, a podcast and a newspaper editorial. The topics to be addressed included the status of poetry as a compulsory area of study for the Leaving Cert, the role of music in the writer’s life, and an imaginative response to an instance of censorship.

All three questions were carefully structured and designed to reward the candidate who is able to put forward a logical, original and informed response.

Section II – Composing

The seven composition tasks again offered fantastic choice.

This year, there were two personal essay titles, two short stories, a speech, a discursive essay and a feature article.

Titles required candidates to write on topics as diverse as the nature of fashion, who the powerful voices in modern life are, objects they regard as ‘faithful companions’ and the pleasure, satisfaction and personal growth derived from learning.

The two short story titles offered lovely stimuli for imaginative narratives, and there was an engaging speech topic, in which the candidate, who had to imagine they are running for the position of President of Ireland, had to discuss their social and cultural values as well as Ireland’s image abroad.