What does it take to get a H1 in Higher Level English?
Ciara Georgina Walker & Kathy McGrath, past students from The Institute of Education who achieved a H1 in their Leaving Cert higher level English exam, share their top revision tips.
I think the single, most important thing I’ve learnt when writing is to be concise. I never seemed to write as much as everybody else in essays. While that initially worried me, I came to realise that shorter, to-the-point essays were probably much appreciated by the people marking them!
Practice all sorts of essays
I found that a good way to do this is to compile a list of essay titles from past papers and get someone to randomly choose one for you to write. Try and do this at least one a week and don’t avoid essay titles that you don’t like.
Know your text inside out and back to front!
I found that my best tool for Paper 2 was to read the set works until I knew them backwards. I started by familiarising myself with the plots and poems, then wrote notes in the margins and made links within and between works. For poetry, I learnt off the shorter poems so that I had a larger repertoire of quotes. Make sure you learn enough poets to have at least one, but preferably two on the day of the exam. When it comes to Shakespeare, I found that translating the text into modern English was a really good way of understanding it.
Read the questions carefully
In the exam, read through the paper with a highlighter in hand and pick out important words in the questions. Choose the ones which you have an opinion on. Remember that you do not have agree, especially if you are asked to discuss a statement. If you think that the author or director in question does a poor job of exploring a certain issue, you can say so as long as you can back up your argument.
Timing is crucial
Timing was always an issue for me, so I trained until I got better at it. As the year went on, I would give myself less and less time to get essays done. In the run up to the exam, I would practice under exam conditions.
Be active and write!
Have an hour to do some English study? Do a reading comprehension. Most of your study should involve actively writing – it’s the only way you’ll improve.
Feed your mind and develop ideas
In Paper 1, I would sometimes struggle to think of what to write. To help with this I collected ideas about different topics throughout the year. I read the newspaper whenever I got the chance, particularly the opinion pieces. Watching TED talks was a revelation – inspiration condensed into video format!
Know your texts
Steer clear of falling into the panicked trap of learning off pre-prepared answers. The chances of you being able to slot one of those into a question asked in the exam are slim to none. Understand your texts, know your quotes and you’ll be able to deal with anything.
Answer the question asked
Focus on key phrases in the question and structure your response in a way that answers every element of the question. You won’t get marks for waffle, no matter how eloquent it might be!
Be yourself and have opinions
Let your personality permeate what you write. Be different. Have an unorthodox opinion about a character? As long as you can back it up, include it! If you can show that you can form your own original thoughts and ideas about something, you’re on to a winner.
Reaction to 2023 English Exam Paper 2
Each year, our exceptional teachers give their take on the Leaving Certificate higher level exam papers.
See what Clodagh Havel, English teacher at The Institute of Education, had to say about the 2023 Paper 2 in this short video.
To view reactions to previous year’s English exam papers check out the videos below or visit our YouTube channel.
“If I was to give students one piece of advice before the English Leaving Cert it would be to understand the marking scheme.”
A clear understanding of the PCLM marking scheme (Purpose; Cohesiveness; Language; Mechanics) is crucial if students want to get top marks in the higher level English exam.
In this short video, Cian Hogan, English teacher at The Institute of Education explains why it is so important.
Looking for some help with Paper 2?
In these two short videos, Martin Kelly and Cian Hogan, English teachers at The Institute of Education, step through the marking scheme of Seen Poetry and Comparative and explain how to get top marks in each section.