English Paper 1 (H): No alarms and no surprises

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

A fair and challenging paper, designed to be accessible and to reward candidates’ critical thinking and imagination.

The paper offered a rich variety of options and required candidates to think carefully before deciding which sections to answer.

This year, the Comprehension section allowed candidates to answer either a comprehension ques A or ques B task, instead of requiring them to answer a ques A and ques B. The extra time given, due to these changes, means candidates had plenty of time to make their choices.


The theme of today’s paper was ‘Reflections on Time’, and all three of the comprehension passages offered interesting and thought-provoking insights into this theme.

The comprehension A tasks were fair, with obvious differentiation between the different sections.

All three passages were accompanied by ‘style’ questions, in which candidates were offered the opportunity to show their understanding of narrative, aesthetic, or persuasive language.

The weighting of the marks for this question (50% of the section) was welcome, as it means those students who really put the time into studying and understanding the different language genres were rewarded.

Question (ii) of each comprehension A task rewarded original thinking and improvisation, and again, this was both welcome and fair.

The comprehension question B tasks required candidates to write an open letter, a feature article or make a verbal pitch. Again, all three tasks were thoughtfully constructed and featured a degree of differentiation that required those answering one of these tasks to plan carefully before answering.


This section has taken on even more importance this year, as covid-related changes mean it is worth almost 36% of the available marks (Paper 1 and Paper 2 combined.)

As usual, there were seven options, including the personal essay, speech, short story and discursive essay. The titles were both interesting and specific enough to require careful thought and consideration. For example, the speech task required the writer to take a position against stereotyping.

As has been the pattern over the last three years, there were two personal essay options, one of which was particularly delightful – it asked the writer to reflect on the significance of birthdays!

This paper contained no alarms and no surprises. It was both fair and interesting and was designed to reward critical thinking, imagination, and organisation.

A reassuring start for students who might have been understandably apprehensive given the year they have just had – now, onwards to tomorrow’s Paper 2!