English Paper 2 (H): A paper that eliminates predictably and rote learning

Reaction to Leaving Cert 2019 English Paper 2 (Higher Level) by Jim Lusby, English teacher at The Institute of Education.

English higher level Paper 2 continues the Department’s strategy of discouraging predictability and rote learning, while encouraging and rewarding critical thinking and a real interest in literature, in what many candidates will find a tough and extremely demanding examination paper. In the process, it makes a nonsense of the practice of relying on expensive textbooks that claim to teach you what you should know for the Leaving Certificate English examination. This year‘s Paper 2 is not a test of your knowledge, but a test of your appreciation of the beauties and complexities of literature.

Predictability was finally shown the door this year by the failure of the much-anticipated question on Seamus Heaney to appear in the Prescribed Poetry section, and the failure of the much-anticipated theme Mode to appear in the Comparative Study section. These absences will have disconcerted the narrowly-prepared candidate, but they opened up more interesting opportunities for the more widely-read student.

Rote learning was neutralised by the complex vocabulary employed in all questions. Expressions such as ‘horrific but bizarre and unbelievable’ in the Macbeth question, ‘the personal integrity of the central character’ in the Comparative Study question, and ‘often analytical but rarely emotional’ in one of the poetry questions, demanded to be examined critically, explored and reflected on. Such a sophisticated vocabulary will have excited rather than fazed the widely read student, who is being rewarded by the current direction the English examination papers are taking.

Overall, an outstanding, if rigorous, test of a young person’s relationship with literature.