Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Paper 1

Paper 1:


  • Read the THEME of the paper.
  • Read all the texts carefully.
  • Look at QUESTION B FIRST and choose the one that best suits you.
  • Answer on ANOTHER text for question A.

English Paper 1 is one of those funny old papers, isn’t it? One day you can get an A1 in it and the next day, due to awkward texts or tricky essay topics, you can come out with a B3? It’s also one of the papers on the Leaving Cert that is legendarily ignored and this is one of the main reasons for fluctuating grades. Students think that they can’t study for this paper because nothing is prescribed for it and therefore it’s the lack of preparation that causes results to slip.

I’M TELLING YOU GUYS NOW, THAT THIS IS ONE OF THE PAPERS THAT YOU CAN DO SO MUCH STUDY for, that you will have the paper nailed before the exam even begins! (All sounding very technical as usual Jamie….not!).

Hopefully, my tips for ‘nailing’ (or whatever else you need to do to the paper to get an A1) Paper 1 can be of some help to you:

Choosing your essay: THE 100 MARK QUESTION:

I’m starting with this question first, simply because IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION ON THE LEAVINGCERTENGLISH PAPER! It’s worth a whopping 100 marks and if you’re chasing top marks, doing well in the question is absolutely essential.

Short Story:

  • If you love English and enjoy creative writing, then the short story is for you. However, if you feel that you’re more suited to structure, then I would suggest something like a speech or a debate.
  • You can afford to be unoriginal here – prepare 3 or 4 short stories and get them marked by your teacher and keep practicing them until you’re getting a high mark in them. DO NOT LEARN ANY OF THEM OFF BY HEART, but do learn the general outline and plot. This makes it a whole lot easier in the exam, because you have a few stories in your head and you can manipulate ANY of them to suit the question.
  • Keep your story simple.
  • I would never have any more than 3 characters in the story.
  • Sometimes, the best stories focus on a single character and follow his/her journey through something (it’s really impressive, if this ‘something’ can be related to other LC students – for my Leaving Cert Mocks, I wrote a short story about a girl who was leaving home for the very first time to go to college and described how she felt and all the memories her house held for her. It was simple, but yet it got 100/100).
  • Use credible dialogue. You don’t have to show off your extensive vocabulary to impress the examiner.  Use the language your characters would use and sometimes, spelling phonetically can work well too, i.e: if your character is working on a market on Moore Street, having him/her saying “get yer apples and oranges, two fer a eurahh” can give the examiner a laugh.
  • Remember, humour is subjective!

 Personal Essay:

  • Do not confuse this with the short story.
  • A personal essay does what it says on the tin – it’s personal, about you – heartfelt, honest and emotional.
  • The use of the personal pronoun should be employed throughout.
  • Students can lose marks here because they write it in the third person, and while this isn’t necessarily wrong, it can blur the lines between the short story and the personal essay.
  • Show rather than tell. Use description to portray how you’re feeling rather than saying something like ‘I was happy when…’


  • The most important thing when writing an article is not to be didactic. That is, don’t tell the reader (in this case, the examiner) what to believe. Present the information in a clear and concise manner and back it up with references/statistics.
  • Use the language of information.
  • Be aware of what type of article you’re writing: is it a broadsheet or a tabloid piece?



  • This is perhaps one of the best questions to do if you’re unsure as to which question will suit you best.
  • You can pick up marks by using all the tools associated with giving a speech (that you’ll have learned in Junior Cert).
  • The purpose of the speech is to persuade the audience.
  • You can do this by using personal anecdotes, statistics, relevant references etc…
  • Flatter your audience – “of course you already know this….” and “as you all undoubtedly are aware…”
  • Be aware of your audience – if you’re giving a speech to fellow classmates, and then use the appropriate language to appeal to them – DO NOT PATRONISE YOUR AUDIENCE.

My English teacher gave me a very good tip for this question and that’s to TRY AND INCORPORATE  THE THEME OF THE PAPER INTO YOUR ANSWER. It’s not necessary, but it impresses the examiner. If the theme of the paper is to “THE FUTURE” and your essay has some link to this, then it shows that you are a competent writer and aware of the task at hand!

These are just some of the main questions that come up in the composition questions, there are more of course, like the descriptive essay, which I did for my own Leaving Cert – it’s really just a short story with LOADS of lovely descriptions.

If you know how to handle one the above topics, then you’re laughing. However, I would stress the importance of choosing one form i.e. short story, personal essay BEFORE the exam! Then you will you your strongest question and you’ll have the appropriate amount of preparation done!


Question B:       

It’s really important to choose this question before you choose your question A!

The last thing you want it to do an excellent question A and then realise that the only question B you would be happy doing is on the same question.

All the question As are essentially the same, so it will be your question B that will decide which one you’ll do.

A lot of the time, this question can involve writing a speech, or a radio talk, or an article. They are much the same as the composition question, it’s just you don’t have to write as much.

A lot of the time, the question B might be related to the text, so BEFORE YOU EVENLOOKAT ANY QUESTION (A OR B), read the text. This can give you ideas for your answer. In my own Leaving Cert, I borrowed ideas and phrases from the text to use in my question B.

Stick to the topic! It seems obvious, but it’s so easy to go off on a tangent when you’re writing – CONTROL THAT PEN!


Question A: (The Comprehension)

This question is all about proving yourself to the examiner. Even though, I’ve left this until last, it doesn’t mean it’s any less important than the others. You need to show the examiner that you’re a competent writer and have no problem in tacking any questions he/she throws at you.

‘Question A’ is made up of three texts, and usually, one of these texts is a visual text, i.e. it’s made up of pictures or photographs.

To do well in this question, you have to be able to pick out the relevant information.

A good tip for doing this is to: READ THE QUESTIONS BEFORE YOU READ THE TEXT. Then, when you’re reading the text, you can highlight all the relevant pieces and you probably won’t even realise what you’ll have done, but you’ll have highlighted most of the answers.

When this is done, take a minute or twoANDREAD BACK OVER THE PIECE.

Doing this makes the question so much easier! Think about it – imagine if you read the text, then read the questions, then had to trawl back through it to find information! THIS IS AN EXAM – THERE’S NOROOMFOR AMATEUR STUFF LIKE THAT, IS THERE LADSANDLADIES??? NO!! Take control of the exam and show it whose boss!

There is usually a question on ‘style’ included and I think that this is probably the only question that can pose difficulty for students, and to make things worse, it’s usually the 20 marker! Have no fear; questions on STYLE are not half as difficult as they appear to be.

A question on style might go something like this:

“Comment on a at least four stylistic features that make this piece more enjoyable to read.” (20 marks)


  • Use of quotations/references/allusions.
  • Imagery.
  • Language techniques – alliteration, hyperbole, metaphor…. (Also, the use of language – is it lively?) You could literally answer the whole question, using language techniques!
  • Paragraph structure? Use of a ‘topic sentence’? How smoothly does one paragraph flow into another?
  • Synecdoche. (When the writer makes a general statement to mean something very specific e.g. – ‘all hands on deck).
  • Anaphora. (Where the writer uses the same word to begin successive sentences e.g. – Every man was…. Every child was…Every woman had…).
  • Personal anecdotes.
  • Contrasting points of view.
  • Use of statistics.
  • Punctuation.

And there you go! Hopefully, this is enough to help you all with Leaving Cert English Paper 1!

Now, go and take control of that exam – be so boss that you’re almost Hugo!

Good luck,




Leaving Cert English Paper 1: Tips for top marks!


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