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Tips and Tricks for Leaving Cert English, Paper 2

Updated: Feb 17

This is the paper where you have to use all of the knowledge you have learned over the two years of your English course and answer specific questions on:

· The Single text

· Poetry

· Comparative texts

One important thing to remember is that when you hear your teacher use the word ‘text’, or it comes up in an exam, this does not just mean something you read – it refers to the novel, play, and film that you have studied.

So, what is the single text?

Every year there is a choice of texts that your class study. This question is the first one on Paper 2 and is worth 60 marks.

HL students have to study Shakespeare for Paper 2, and this is why most classes end up doing the Shakespearean text here (the 2023 option being Macbeth), but there are other texts on the list too.

You will learn about this text in detail – characters, their relationships, the plot, story themes, symbolism, language use, stage directions (if a play/film), etc. Two questions come up about each text, and while it is hard to make predictions about what the exact questions will be, one is usually a character-based question, and the second one then brings in the more general elements.

Pro tip: There has been a trend lately to focus on important secondary characters in the question, so make sure you know these as well as the main character!

The Comparative texts.

The next section on Paper 2 is the Comparative. Worth 70 marks this is the section that most students find hard to get their heads around.

In simple terms, it means that you have to look at the three texts you are studying in this section (some classes may only be covering two texts, especially at OL, but the recommendation is to study three) and then write about how they are alike, or different.

Your teacher will have picked three texts that can be compared and contrasted easily with each other; most classes will study one novel, one play, and one film in this section. If you are doing HL and haven’t done Macbeth for the single text, then a Shakespearean text has to be one of these.

You study these texts under certain headings. All three headings will come up on the papers for 2023, and you answer from one. They are:

Higher Level

(i) General Vision and Viewpoint – What view of the world/life does the writer/director give us and how do we respond to that viewpoint (positive/negative optimistic/pessimistic)

(ii) Literary Genre – How the story is told to the reader (what format etc.) / the style in which is presented.

(iii) Theme or issue – Any important theme or issue which occurs throughout your texts and can be used to connect/contrast them

Ordinary Level

(i) Relationships – What important relationships occur in the text (family, friends, or romantic), and how do they affect the overall action?

(ii) Hero, heroine, villain – The hero(ine) is the main character who we want to succeed and the villain is the character whose actions are stopping them from doing so.

(iii) Theme – Same as HL.

Last, but by no means least, Poetry.

Poetry is the last section of the paper and one that you spend a lot of time preparing for, with the question worth 50 marks (which is the least amount for all of your studied elements…) Higher Level classes study up to 6 poets (of the 8 available) and around 5 or 6 poems from each of these poets. For 2023, 5 of the 8 poets will come up on the paper, and you answer one of them.

Ordinary Level students will study a range of poems from either the list of poets common to HL, or an alternate list. Three poems from each list will come up on the paper this year (six poems total) and you choose one to answer.

Each poet/poem on the course has been chosen for specific reasons – a particular style, or topics that are quite specific to that poet – and these will generally be what the angle of the question is about. So, once you know what the poet is writing about and how they write it that is particularly interesting/unique then you’re on the right track!

The unseen poetry

This is the 20-mark question in the last section. You will not have seen this poem before, and it is a similar type of question to Paper 1 QA (read something and answer questions about it) but you will be expected to use the poetic terms you know from your studied poetry within this question too. This should be the last question you do on the day, as it is worth the least amount of marks, but it is important you do it – and do it well! – if you want to get the best marks possible!

So, there you have a quick run-down of what comes up on Paper 2. The big benefit to this paper is that you can practice, practice and practice for it, using your notes and past questions to plan answers and check your timing.

On that note, the rough guide for timing on Paper 2 is to spend the same amount of minutes as the number of marks (e.g. single text = 60 marks so spend 60 minutes on it) but this does have to include reading the question and proofreading it afterward too.

Best of Luck!

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