English Paper 2 (H): This Wasn’t A Straightforward Paper, It Required Bravery

English Paper 2 (H) Leaving Certificate Analysis

Reaction to 2024 Leaving Certificate English Paper 2 (Higher Level) by Clodagh Havel, English teacher at The Institute of Education.


  • Some disquieting questions will have students feeling unsure about their performance. 
  • Many questions required students to make the braver choice of directly challenging or contradicting the paper. 


Students across the country will have felt an initial wave of relief as they raced to the back of the paper to see which of the long-speculated poets appeared and glanced the names Yeats, Ni Chuilleanain, Dickinson, Plath and Heaney: all of which were predicted. However, on closer scrutiny that initial euphoria will have faded for many. While the Heaney and Dickinson questions were typical of the previous examples and the Yeats question demanded a manageably high-brow approach to his work, the Plath question would have worried students. The guide quote for the question asked students to assess Plath as a “social commentator”, a direct contradiction of what most students prepared. Braver students will have challenged the claim, but in a high stress environment many won’t want to take the risk at this final high stakes hurdle. There were of course other options but this section, and this paper on the whole, will have forced students to make choices they did not want to make. 

Students would also have been disquieted by the Hamlet questions. Students who prepared the role of women in the play will have been relieved to see Gertrude appear but might be frustrated by the initial narrow scope of the question as Ophelia was omitted. Yet students willing to dig deep will have found that the questions mention of “core issues” will be an avenue to broader discussions. Nevertheless, students will have had to fight to keep their analysis on track, having their work cut out for them in order to keep those topic sentences purposeful. The second question describes the play of the notoriously melancholic prince as “surprisingly positive and hopeful”, with surprising being the operative word for all involved. In 2017 it was a “disturbing psychological thriller”, which was an approach taken by teachers everywhere. An ardent and argumentative student could make this work but likely felt it was untethered to their previous two years of study. Regardless of which question they chose, most students will have been able to fill the time with meaningful, informed discussion but few will feel truly triumphant. However, any lingering sense of being unsure is not a sign of a poor student but rather is a reasonable response to a paper that often asked students to go against the grain. 



By contrast, the centre of the paper was very manageable, if not even humourous. The unseen poem was a brilliant display of continuous metaphor with some poignant moments reminiscent of yesterday’s theme. The questions were clear and uncontentious – love it. Comparative is often an awkwardly fitting section as with 48 different texts available we often find that some questions simply don’t fit with some texts. Thankfully the presence of all three modes meant that students could navigate by their strengths. But careful reading was essential, as careless haste could cause some to misread “selfless” and drift perilously off course. 

This paper wasn’t the resounding sigh of relief everyone hopes for but had lots of opportunities to earn marks laying just beyond those first impressions. Yet those first impressions matter, and students will likely have felt many moments to be a slog across the finish line.