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Tips and Tricks for Leaving Cert English Composition

Updated: Feb 17

Most students stress about Paper 2 – Shakespeare, poetry and a range of texts is a lot of learning in fairness! – but did you realise that the Composition section on Paper 1 is actually the most important question you will do for your Leaving Cert English? Worth 100 marks, this is 25% of your overall grade! The breakdown is simple – if you ace this section, you’ve set yourself up really well to get the grades you want.

So what is this section on the course all about? The paper 1 composition – a fancy name for what most would call an essay – and is something you write on the day of the exam and is worth half of the total marks of this paper. Both Higher and Ordinary level English will have seven titles to choose from, and these will be a mix of personal essays, short stories, discursive essays, articles, descriptive essays and speeches, to name some of the more common options, each tending to follow a certain format. The titles will cover a variety of language genres (informative, persuasive, argumentative, narrative and aesthetic) so as well as getting the topic of the essay right, you need to make sure you’re getting the tone correct too. Those are the specifications the LC marking scheme will be focusing on.

Each year has a new theme for paper 1 – it will be written on the front of the paper – and every essay ties back to a reading comprehension about that theme. Does this mean your essay has to be about the theme? Not necessarily. But it does mean if you are stuck for inspiration you have a general concept to work from which can be a great help on the day.

Length-wise, for HL you’re aiming for around 4 or 5 pages which may sound like a lot, but when you realise it’s roughly 20 marks per page, it makes sense. Plus, by the time you have a decent introduction and conclusion done, you’ll have most of a page filled. Ideally, you’ll have picked a title whose writing style suits you, and ties into your interests and knowledge, so those extra few pages should fill themselves pretty quickly!

When choosing a title, stick to your strengths – if you’re amazing at factual writing and aren’t terribly creative, then a discursive essay is for you; if you have a great imagination and know how to tell a good tale, then the short story is right up your street. Pro tip: personal essays and short stories come up at least once (if not twice!) every year so are good ones to work on when doing essay writing!

On that note, you may not think it, but English is 100% a subject where practice makes perfect. The more you get used to choosing titles, planning what you are going to write that ties back into the title you chose, then writing while keeping the correct pacing in mind (75-80 mins), the better you will get at producing decent essays in exam timing and conditions. Reviewing your vocabulary and grammar as you write are key to helping you push up your language and mechanics marks.

Are you going to be able to write an H1/O1 essay in 80 minutes the first time you try? Unlikely, but putting in the work on your essay writing between now and your exams is a solid way to help yourself get there.

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