English Paper 1 (H): A Paper With Something For Everyone

LC English Paper 1 Analysis 2023

Reaction to 2023 Leaving Certificate English Paper 1 (Higher Level) by Clodagh Havel, English teacher at The Institute of Education

  • A fair paper with well-chosen and well-balanced texts that reflects the lives of today’s Leaving Cert. students.
  • A paper with something for everyone that should see all students happy.

This was a fantastic paper and a great introduction to what will be for most their first state exam. The paper was fair, current, thoughtful, and engaging. The theme of the paper was “Between Two Worlds” and brilliantly reflects where students are in their lives.

The Section A questions were all built the same way with a nice calming ‘find and retrieve’ question to start with, allowing students to get their bearings and settle into the exam. Asking for “insights” allows that students a multitude of opportunities to respond to the text and it was hard to go wrong. The second questions invited students to think deeper and reflect on the meanings, morals and themes of the texts, potentially seeing their own experiences mirrored. In particular Gurnah’s piece posed the conflict of following your heart versus following money; a struggle many will have faced while filling in CAO forms.

The clarity of the third questions allowed students to launch right into their chosen text and start analysing the types of language straight away. This saved them valuable exam time and is a nice nod to stresses and strains of the exams, and the extra nerves posed by this paper being their first.

The choice in Question B was simply phenomenal. The clear three verb prompt structure meant that the students could get right into the material without needing to decode the examiner’s expectations. Many students plan to do the Personal Essay for their composition, finding a more natural writing experience and something of a comfort zone. This paper allowed them a second chance to apply that approach through either the personal letter or delving a little deeper with the personal reflection. For those in tune with their soul, with their feelings, there was ample opportunity to put that on the page. Of course a paper so focused on a contemporary experience couldn’t shy away from AI and technology and those who prepared were rewarded with a lovely Text 3. It is wonderful when an English paper taps into what is important to those sitting it. Even those who may struggle with elements of the course will find some element of themselves reflected on this paper.

Finally, the composition posed only one minor surprise: the lack of a descriptive essay. However, there was little reason to be distraught by this as the rest of the selection was superb. This debate topic is overtly about ethics, but they are always about discussing morality and decency so a prepared student would have been thrilled to see this. The personal essays offer a lovely canvas for students to reflect and integrate their experiences into their answers. The long road to the Leaving Cert and college likely had many moments of trial and tribulation and so a question specifically on resolution has ample opportunity for some cathartic reflection. The short stories are nice, simple and clear prompts that allowed students to put their own personality into their tales.

The final question, a discursive essay, captures what would have been going on in conversations both in and out of classrooms. “The impact of influential individuals” for better or worse is something hotly debated, and this question really gave those socially minded students a chance to shine.

This paper was clearly set by someone with their finger on the pulse of these students, not only in terms of theme and text choice, but also the pressures of the exam. The wonderful clarity and wealth of opportunities meant that every student would find something that fits.