Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Paper 1

Question A: The Comprehension – Jamie Tuohy


I have received a few emails and tweets asking me for tips on how to tackle the ‘comprehension question’, so I decided to dedicate a blog post to the topic. The comprehension question (question A, Paper 1) is one of those questions which is very easy to master and do well in, but it also equally as easy to mess up on and lose invaluable marks. Traditionally, Paper 1 is infamously ignored by students because it’s viewed as the paper that you can’t study for. However, the key to succeeding in Paper 1 resides in the amount of practice you put into doing each of the questions and hopefully, these tips will help you to achieve the full 50 marks. If you haven’t practiced these questions before the exam, you can easily be caught out by tricky questions, specifically about style. With practice and some useful techniques, you will see that the comprehension format tends to be repetitive and easy to manipulate to your advantage.

  • This question is testing your ability to read the text in a comprehensive manner and elucidate on its content.
  • The important thing with this question is to show some evidence of ANALYSIS.
  • Don’t just answer the question by quoting from the passage and leaving it at that – tell the examiner what you think the quote represents, or possibly relate it to personal experience. It’s so important to show the examiner that you possess the ability for CRITICAL THINKING.
  • This means that you don’t just ‘read’ the text – you use it as something to provoke your thought.
  • Before read the passage, you should LOOK AT THE QUESTIONS.
  • If you do this, you’ll pay attention to things that relate to the questions throughout the passage, and you should always HIGHLIGHT THEM.
  • It’s all about timing, and if you read the text, then read the questions, you’re going to waste time going back over something you’ve probably already read twice to find suitable answers.
  • The first two questions tend to be very general and usually relate to your understanding of the piece, but there is usually one ‘awkward’ question where students tend to be caught on and lose marks.
  • This is the infamous STYLE QUESTION– no student should go into the exam without being familiar with all the different elements of style. This really shouldn’t confuse students as this question is actually quite liberal – here are just some things you can pick up on in relation to style:
    • Language techniques (alliteration, similes, onomatopoeia etc.)
    • Structure – how are the paragraphs presented? A good one for this is ‘a long paragraph followed by short one’, giving relief etc.
    • Anaphora – repeating the same word at the start of each sentence for EMPHASIS.
    • Punctuation.
    • Imagery (the creation of imagery).
    • With all of the above, it’s so important to comment on their EFFECT as well as stating what style techniques the writer uses.

As I am on summer holidays and have a bundle of free time, I decided to log onto and get some questions to answer (such a geek). I decided to answer on the 2008 PAPER – TEXT 1 – TEENAGE IDENTIY. My sample answer should shed some light on the topic and also employ the above hints and tips. Remember to read the text with the questions in mind and your highlighter is your best friend in the exam – HIGHLIGHT everything that’s relevant. Obvious, but invaluable! I have written significantly more than you would need, just to make sure everything is included and to give you more ideas on what to talk about.

  1. 1.      “Teenage culture in not a modern phenomenon”.  Give three pieces of evidence that the writer, Jon Savage, uses to support this statement.

In this extract from Jon Savage’s book “Teenage, the Creation of Youth, 1875-1945”, Savage makes a number of statements which claim that the modern teenager who is inextricably linked to commercialism in not a “modern phenomenon”, but is someone whose origins pre-date the 20th century. Throughout this passage, Savage draws on a number of different references to support his claim that teenage culture is not something which is new and radical, but rather exists as something which has evolved from the 19th century.

In the third paragraph, Savage states that the phrase “juvenile delinquent” first came into the mainstream around 1810 and it was coined in response to gangs of youths who hung around street corners, and had distinctive behavioural habits. Savage also tells us that teenage culture manifested itself in Victorian literature, as Clarence Rook’s novel The Hooligan Nights dealt with “a highly strung 17-year-old male”. It’s perceptible that the modern teenager often characterised by anti-conformity already existed in popular culture hundreds of years ago.

Savage elucidate on this point as he refers to the American social psychologist G. Stanley Hall. The author tells us that Stanley Hall was responsible for defining the word “adolescence” in 1898, terming it “a period of ten years, from twelve or fourteen to twenty-one or twenty-five”. The modern teenage characteristic of unsociability also appeared in this early definition, as Stanley Hall characterised adolescence as a period of “storm and distress”. His philosophy was almost avant-garde, as he envisaged teenagers as a “new generation” who were separated from their elders, not only through age, but through different ideals and often values.

Lastly, Savage makes reference to the publication of Seventeen magazine, which he describes as “a landmark crystallization of teenage identity”. The magazine, which was published in 1944, not only supports Savage’s statement that “teenage culture is not a modern phenomenon”, but reinforces the fact that teenagers came to be recognised a “separate consumer grouping” and even back then, companies recognised teenage culture a key market for monetary gain. Throughout the passage, Jon Savage exposes how teenage culture been present in everything from Victorian literature and intellectual study, right though to 20th century popular culture – showcasing that the commercialism and capitalist gain which often goes hand in hand with this echelon of society is certainly not a modern phenomenon.

  1. 2.      Comment on THREE features of the style of writing which contribute to making this an interesting and informative text. Refer to the text to support your answer.

This passage is an extremely well written piece which flows very cleverly to make an interesting and informative read. Jon Savage uses various style techniques to enhance not only the quality of the piece, but to make the piece accessible to the reader.

Savage follows a CHRONOLOGICAL STRUCTURE throughout the passage. He is arguing that “teenage culture is not a modern phenomenon” and he does this by charting the rise of teenage culture throughout history, from its origins in 19th century America and its appearance in Victorian literature right through to the “Roaring Twenties” and the Second World War. At each juncture, Savage comments on how teenage culture was ever present and ever evolving, stating that the twenties introduced “an international party scene” which comprised of “bright young people” and explains how this then manifested itself in popular culture in 1944’s Seventeen magazine.

Savage doesn’t merely make his argument based on his own observations. He uses HISTORICAL REFERENCES AND QUOTES EXPERTS IN THE FIELD to elucidate and exemplify his argument. He draws on the work of American social psychologist G. Stanley Hall, as he was the person who developed the term “adolescence” and stated it was the beginning of new generation, in which teenagers should be treated with “sympathy, appreciation and respect”. This is a clever style technique which grabs the reader’s attentions and expounds the author’s argument.

Finally, Savage uses DESCRIPTION to great effect in this passage, creating vivid and lively images of teenage culture. When describing the “decade of the Roaring Twenties”, he writes of the female swing fans “with their sporty outfits and dance-ready shoes, screamed en masse for Frank Sinatra and laid the groundwork for gyrating rock’n’rollers, Elvis Presley fans and “Beatlemania”.” The clear description of the hysterical young girls becomes the embodiment of the decade’s carefree nonchalance and is extremely evocative and sensual.

In this passage, Jon Savage’s clever stylist features illustrate the author’s message and also make the piece interesting and informative to read.

  1. 3.      Do you think the writer of this text is sympathetic to the modern teenager? Give reasons for your view with reference to the text.

Yes, after reading this text, I think that Jon Savage is sympathetic towards the modern teenager, albeit slightly cynical about the technological advances of their generation and the commercialism which goes hand in hand with teenage culture. At times, his position can seem thwarted or slightly ambivalent, as he is heavily influenced by historical sources and references, but overall, I feel that Savage is understanding of and ultimately sympathetic towards the modern teenager.

When referencing the American social psychologist G. Stanley Hall, Savage expresses his own opinion on Stanley Hall’s definition of “adolescence” as a time of “storm and distress”. The author impresses me as being aware of the teenage mentality and recognises that teenagers exist as a separate generation from the adult world, which he characterises as “relentless” and “industrial”. He comprehends the fact that teenage culture is built not necessarily upon ideals which are so commonly perceived to be in opposition to those of the adult world, but merely on ones that are different. He writes of youth as being “a separate class, with its own institutions and values”. He encourages adults to foster a sense of appreciation and respect towards teenagers, underlining his comprehending of and sympathy towards the modern teenager.

At times, the author’s tone can be slightly parodic – portraying teenage existence to be a hedonistic way of living, but I feel that Savage’s general perception of his subject is based upon respect and understanding and this is communicated through his references throughout the passage. He tells us about the “Woodcraft Folk” in Britain who were a group that offered young people “contact with nature and loyalty to their community” and makes references to a similar group in Germany called the “Wandervogel”. Perhaps the most effective piece of evidence to communicate the author’s outlook comes from the last paragraph, when he quotes Aristotle. Savage says that Aristotle said of young people “their lives are lived principally in hope” and by including this quote, it displays not only Jon Savage’s sympathy for the modern teenager but showcases his belief that youth is a period of prosperity and possibility.


I hope this helps you guys – I spent about 30 mins writing those 3 answers, so you could probably afford to spend another few mins on them. I wanted to give you very comprehensive answers that you could pick and choose what to take and what to leave out, so I hope that these three answers are sufficient. You could read all the tips in the world on QUESTION A, but the only way to master it is to take those tips and PRACTICE!

Good Luck,



2 thoughts on “Question A: The Comprehension – Jamie Tuohy

  1. Ron says:

    Excellent piece, very useful and thanks a million! One question, if the question asks you something like “give three examples of” or “give three instances where” is it okay to give say four or five if you can spot them?

    • Hi, thanks a million! If it says to “give three examples of”, I would give THREE, not four or five. GIVE THREE. By giving more, you’re not showing that you are really smart and can pick out more examples than the question asked, you’re showing that you didn’t read the question properly. I can’t understand why any teacher would encourage this because not only is it a waste of time, but it’s wrong, in the sense that you haven’t COMPREHENDED the COMPREHENSION question. If it says “give three or more”, then it would be obviously okay to do so, but even in this instance, I would still stick to three – for clarity and time constraints. Hope that helps! Best of luck!

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