Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Poetry

Achieving top marks in Leaving Cert Poetry: how to do it

Ah, Leaving Cert poetry – the bane of most Irish students’ Leaving Cert experience. The idea of having to know thirty plus poems for a 50 mark question in an exam can be enough to induce terror into the mind of even the most cool and collected class genius. So many students are tempted to cut corners, but trust me – cutting corners will undoubtedly lead to bumping into obstacles! As attractive as it may seem to rely on apparently sound and reliable predictions – a prediction, by its very nature would find it near impossible to be either ‘sound’ or ‘reliable’ – just asked the class of 2001, when nearly the very same poets came up two years in a row! Okay, maybe you can get away with learning only five of the eight prescribed poets, but if this is your chosen method, there’s a very good chance you could be left with only one poet to answer on, as you won’t have studied the other three. Teachers generally cover five to six poets in class, so it’s ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to know each one of these poets inside out! Here are a few tips to ensure you hit the nail on the head:

  • Take a poet a night for a week and write down the titles of all their poems. Under each poem, write a line or two about what is being said in the poem and how it is communicated i.e. through metaphor, personification, hyperbole etc..


Frost expresses the harsh realities of every day life – communicated through a tragic farmyard accident involving a young boy.

Techniques: Onomatopoeia, imagery……..

  • When discussing the work of a poet, try not to focus on the biography. You are being asked to write about the poem – not the life of the poet. So many students lose marks because they talk about Emily Dickison’s mental problems, or endlessly recall the hardships of Robert Frost’s life. It’s great if you know it, BUT IT IS IRRELEVANT TO THE QUESTION AND WILL PROBABLY LOSE YOU MARKS. Stick to the question  – which is about poetry, not the poet!
  • Remember that all the questions are essentially a personal response, even though few questions will explicitly state so. It is really important that YOU GIVE YOUR OPINION AS TO WHAT YOU THOUGHT OF THE POEM and how it affected YOU!
  • P.Q.E: Point, Quote, Explain. This is the basic formula that every student should be adhering to when answering a question. Make your point, find your evidence in the poem and then explain what you have written, stating your own opinion as well. It’s no good saying “this poem is a poem of sadness, written in a trochaic tetrameter” and leaving it at that. You may think it makes you sound ‘all intellectual and the like’ but the examiner is just going to write ‘so what?’ You need to back up your argument and offer some opinion as to why you think it’s a valid point for your essay.

Eg: POINT: “The Tuft of Flowers” is a beautiful poem which examines the fellowship of man. It reads like a narrative and contains a plethora of memorable line and arresting images. QUOTE: The poem opens with Frost saying “I went to turn the grass after one who had mowed it in the dew before sun”. EXPLAIN: Immediately, Frost creates that familiar sense of detachment and loneliness which pervades his poetry.

  • OPEN YOUR ESSAY WITH A QUOTE! This doesn’t just apply to poetry, but to all essays you will write! Opening with a quote not only immediately shows off your knowledge of the poem to the examiner, but it also instantly engages the reader.

My next post will be a sample essay on Robert Frost’s poetry, have fun studying!

Good Luck,



2 thoughts on “Achieving top marks in Leaving Cert Poetry: how to do it

  1. Maeve says:

    Reading this and the others post on studying English for the leaving cert has given me much more focused study!! Thank you so much, I have never really been great at English as a subject but you have helped me begin studying in an effective way 🙂 cheers

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