Wednesday, June 09, 2021

TOMORROW afternoon, students will sit English paper two, which is worth 200 marks and lasts for 3hrs and 20mins. Preparation is key, we have included below some essential tips when revising this evening. These can make the difference of an entire grade if your answers at present need serious shaping.

Timing: When you walk in, you will see the time on the clock telling you 2pm. You will fool yourself into a false sense of security by thinking you have all afternoon until 5.20pm. You need every single minute of that time,( DO NOT LEAVE EARLY) so follow the timing as below:

  1. Single Text (most likely King Lear): 60 minutes and no less than 4 pages of the answer booklet
  2. Comparative Study: 65-70 minutes and no less than 5 pages of the answer booklet
  3. Unseen Poetry: 15-17 minutes and around the 1 A4 page mark. (This is a total length if the two ten mark questions are chosen)
    Poetry: 50 minutes. No less than 4 pages of the answer booklet

IMPORTANT Exam changes this year have meant that you choose two questions from either the Single Text, Comparative Studies, or overall Poetry section. In previous years, all were needed. This frees up one hour of time, which must be used for proof-reading the work, reading the paper, and adding content to each question. Answer each question within the time-frame above, do not give yourself the luxury of extra time very early on as you will need it later in the exam. (For every spelling error, quote, or grammar mistake that you fix, it is one less for the examiner to see and mark you down on, so use that time.)

Single Text:

Tonight, look over the common list of questions which have appeared in previous years for King Lear. ( or exam papers) You will have a choice of two questions for your single text, you will choose only one. Traditionally, this is one character question, and one theme/broader question. You will still use the character knowledge in the theme question.

Know: The downfall of Lear (hint: he is the architect of his own downfall- Cordelia and the love test act as a catalyst for that downfall)

Know: The conflicting forces of good vs evil in the play. (hint: parallel plot of Lear’s family and Gloucester’s family. The strength of the good overcoming the bad. Focus on imagery such as Gloucester losing his sight, and the savagery involved in that scene, also focus on the symbolism associated with Gloucester’s sight and Lear’s materialism- both lose in order to truly gain)

Know: The relevance of King Lear to a modern audience. Think. Think. Think. Yes, we may all complain and feel that there are, arguably, more relevant playwrights who deserve a place on the course, but they are not being assessed so here we are. As a play, it is influenced by the cultural context in which it is set- therefore the gender roles hold less relevance. However, the symbolism of Lear losing his clothes and home holds relevance now as many have lost everything, in order to truly appreciate what was taken for granted. Do not hastily dismiss this question, it is a super way to connect with the examiner on a human level. 

Every single point you make must be supported by quotation, every paragraph you write should reiterate the question. Remember the coding from the question eg: striking imagery written in the question will receive the coding SI. This should be peppered across your page by the examiner, if you do not connect to the question, you do not receive those codes, you do not receive the desired grade. 

Never just re-write the question, that is a waste of ink. Do, state your viewpoint in terms of the question and offer insights into areas which prove or support your viewpoint. Aim for 8-10 lines, try not to dip into content which should belong in the body of the answer.

This is your final conversation with the examiner about King Lear. Make it personal, offer insightful points about things you learned and perhaps comparisons with today. Allow yourself to be disappointed in the decisions of some characters, or the vision of humanity and human behaviour which Shakespeare offers. Do this, and you can change your grade. If you do not do this and you treat the conclusion as a three-line box ticking exercise, you will suffer in marks. Aim for the same length as the introduction.


All three modes will appear on the exam paper, you are only required to answer on one. That one question will give you a clear choice between either a full 70mark question or a question broken into 30/40 marks. My own students will have used a grid for revision, if you do not have one, make one now.

Draw a timetable style grid with five lines across and four lines down.

  • In each box along the top, write the name of one comparative text, so for example: The heading of the first column is Never Let Me Go, the second is Eclipsed, the third is Brooklyn
  • For the Cultural Context, break your analysis down into four or five headings- fill these into the boxes running down the side of the page. Example: Role of men, role of women, power, values and traditions, love and marriage, religion, class/economic system
  • Find a key moment for each text under each section eg: In Brooklyn, although Eilis has already married Tony, she delays her return back to Brooklyn as tradition has a strong pull in Enniscorthy and Jim Farrell offers a safety net within that tradition, raising interesting questions of love and marriage and how closely linked they are within tradition and free-will.
  • Compare and or contrast in each box. Revise this tonight. Know your key moments, don’t overly-stress about quotes for the comparative but you must, must, must remember to use key moments for every text and when moving from one text to another, you must use language such as Similarly, On the other hand, Conversely… etc
  • Follow the introduction and conclusion as set out in the Single Text section above and be sure to hit the five-page mark.

Poetry (Studied)

  • This is where the poet offers you a very rare window into their inner-most thoughts, please allow that to be reflected in your answer. Don’t have a cold, overly factual piece of writing, show knowledge of the cultural background of the poet, and their chosen topics.
  • Engage with the examiner and with the question. Every student who chooses to answer on, for example, Heaney, will answer on the same set of poems. Give more of yourself to this question. Use ‘I’, offer suggestions for interpretations, back them up with proof, connect to the other poems- allow for fluid language with lots of movement and passion, don’t be dull.
  • Big hitters this year are Bishop, Boland, Plath. Although there are no fixed parameters for the examination board, there has never been a year when a female has not appeared on the paper. It would be crazy not to have these three prepared.
  • Also favourites to appear on the paper are Irish poets Seamus Heaney and Paul Durcan. Heaney has not appeared on the paper for many years so it would be prudent to spend time with his works this evening. There has also never been a year where an Irish poet has not appeared so use your study skills in a smart way.
  • Please know some background biographical information on each poet, have at least five poems prepared (absolutely no less.) Be able to refer to techniques used and the impact which they had on you as you read the works. Additionally, be able to link common topics or emotions across the works of an individual poet.
  • Your marking scheme for all questions will focus on 30% for purpose (did you actually answer the question), 30% for coherency and clarity(was it easy to track your points, did they flow or was it a very disjointed and separated answer), 30% for use of language( don’t start each sentence the same way, try to vary language use, it isn’t about the biggest words or the flowery-est language, it’s about variety) and finally 10% for the mechanics which is spelling, grammar, sentence length etc.

Unseen Poetry

  • You have never seen this poem before, you can only make an educated guess at the theme, the topic of discussion and the point it is making
  • You are being tested on your ability to identify techniques such as metaphor, imagery, onomatopoeia, and to be able to link their effectiveness to the theme
  • Emotional connection to the poem is important. Jam-pack this full of personal engagement.
  • Poetry is a very personal experience and you are approaching this poem with a different experience of life than someone else will- use that to your advantage.

Proof-read. Use every spare moment to proof-read because your marks should not be lost through mechanics. If you think this is likely and you think proof-reading may not change the lie of the land, so to speak,  work on raising your marks in all other areas.

Finally and most importantly

You will have adrenaline coursing through your veins tomorrow, a little of great and will fuel you, a lot is not great and is energy converted into stress. Burn it off- a swim, a run, a bounce on the trampoline, your mind and your concentration levels will thank you.

Eat. Slow-release carbohydrates are your friends around exam-time. Think porridge and blueberries for breakfast, skipping a meal is the worst thing you can do before exam time.

This sentence is the most important out of this entire article- not everyone will have a good experience in the exam hall, and not everyone will see the grades they want to see on September 3, and I am telling you, unequivocally that this is ok. This feels like this most important thing in your life right now, and up to now- it is, but going forward, you will realise that this can be attempted many many times before you are ready, and maybe the right journey for you is one away from academia, and that is ok. The road ahead is long, and filled with adventure and curveballs and the Leaving Certificate is a right of passage for many, it makes those doors open much easier, but it will never be a measure of your ability or your potential.

That is all you. Everything you have done to get you here is enough.



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