Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Paper 1

Study tips and Paper 1 pointers – Jamie Tuohy

These tips really are last minute – I’ve been working all day so I didn’t get the chance to post them as early as I had hoped. Here are some Paper 1 pointers to get you through tomorrow’s exam.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the infamous Leaving Certificate – the bane of every student’s existence and the culmination of five and sometimes six years of secondary school. Parents will undoubtedly have told you to get a good night’s sleep before each exam, but if we’re being completely honest, this rarely happens. Stress sets in, panic commences and late night study sessions will be more ubiquitous on the night before the Leaving Cert than the endless amount of tireless children who shuffle in sleepy expectation for their toys on Christmas Eve. Personally, my most productive study was done at 1 or 2 in the morning, surrounded by copious amounts of caffeine and innumerable batches of notes. I’ve always been a night owl, so I was able to stay up late and study into the early hours and still have a relatively fresh mind for the exam. Admittedly, I did this for the entire Leaving Certificate, ignoring repeated protestations from my parents to ‘give your brain a rest’. The MOST IMPORTANT thing is to find what works for you. If you know you can handle late nights and still be fresh for exams, then do it – it’s only for two weeks and if you know it will work, then it’s worth it. However, if your concentration levels are going to be thwarted by a lack of sleep, then any late-night cramming session will just be futile when you begin the exam. My method is one which is undoubtedly shared by countless students around the country, but it’s also one which is prophesised to be detrimental by teachers and parents alike. I’m not telling anyone to ignore the advice of your teacher, but if something works for you – then roll with it, but never sacrifice a good night’s rest, if you know what you’re studying will be forgotten in the morning. Here are some general tips and English Paper 1 pointers that will hopefully ease the stress and help to focus that last minute study.

General Exam Advice:


  • From English to chemistry, your highlighter will be your best friend in the exam. It’s a generic tip, but it really does help to direct your attention towards answering the question with more specificity.
  • Ignore everyone! These exams are all about you! They are not about your teacher, your parents, or your friends. Don’t worry about the student who apparently ‘aced that paper’. Forget about friends who have supposedly studied more than you. You are well prepared for the exam and you’re not in competition with anybody.
  • Focus on one exam at a time. The worst thing you can do is to start thinking about the amount of study you have to do for economics, whilst you’re in the middle of studying English. Focus on the subject at hand and deal with the other ones as and when they come.
  • Likewise, once you’ve finished an exam, forget about it and move onto the next one. Don’t waste time thinking about how you could have answered something differently. It’s over and there’s nothing you can do about it. Time to concentrate on maximising your grade in the next exam.
  • Treat it is as just another test. The Leaving Cert dominates Irish academia, inducing fear into its unsuspecting victims. By removing or ignoring its ‘regality’ and treating it as a ‘commoner’, you’ll become more relaxed about the whole process and consequently more confident. You’ll have seen many of the questions before, so think of it as ‘just another class test’.

Paper 1

What Everyone Knows but Often Forget:


  • 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 infamously ignored and this is one of the main reasons for fluctuating grades. By now, you will have fine-tuned your weak points and hopefully ironed them out, but if you’re still finding tricky areas in Paper 1, I’ve got some pointers to help you before tomorrow’s exam.

The Comprehension: Question A

  • Before you read the text, highlight the questions. Then as you begin to read the text, you’ll read it from the perspective of answering a question and focus on the important parts of the passage.
  • 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.
  • The questions are usually straight forward, but there is usually one question students seem to struggle with and that is the ‘style’ question.
  • There really is no need to get bogged down in this question, as practically everything from paragraph structure and language techniques to quotes and italics can be used as style exemplars.

Here is an example of how to answer a question on ‘style’, which I’ve answered from 2008’s Paper 1: Question A: Text 1: q2. Doing a question is the best way to demonstrate how broad the ‘style’ category can be!


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 make his argument; merely 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 that it was the beginning of a new generation, in which teenagers should be treated with “sympathy, appreciation and respect”. This is a clever style technique which grabs the reader’s attention 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 stylistic features illustrate the author’s message and also make the piece interesting and informative to read.

My Top Tips for Question B:


  • Draw on the information provided by the passages of Question A. Borrow style techniques, puns or paragraph structure. By doing this, you’re immediately showing the examiner that you’re a conscientious candidate who has read the paper and has made clever use of what they’ve read. Obviously, don’t do this too heavily – originality is important.
  • Stick to the topic and mode religiously. If you’re writing a diary entry about your fears, then don’t deviate from it. Be conscious of your audience at all times and use the appropriate language.


The Composition:


Worth a whopping 100 marks, the composition is Paper 1’s most important question and if it’s an A1 you’re chasing, doing well in this question is imperative. By now, everyone will have chosen their mode, so there’s no point advising anyone on how to construct each answer, but there are tips which can help maximise your marks in whatever question you’ve decided to answer on:

  • Never hold back! If you’re writing a personal essay, then be as personal as you can be. Genuine, heartfelt honesty, which has been well written, will impress the examiner endlessly. It should be as real as possible, so don’t feel self-conscious when writing or referencing your own personal experiences.
  • Try to include the theme of the paper into the essay. I chose the short story option for my own Leaving Cert and found that employing the theme of the paper in my own story was not only a way to create inspiration for myself, but also a way of showing the examiner that you’re clever enough to incorporate different elements into your story.
  • Pay attention to your grammar and phraseology. This question is all about your craft as a writer, so you want to show the examiner that you’re a capable and intelligent candidate. Your topic or subject doesn’t have to be particularly awe inspiring, but the way in which you present it should grab the reader’s attention. When I was writing, I NEVER had too many characters or elaborate plots. Instead, I focused on language and drew on the character’s emotions, rather than sensationalising their surroundings.
  • This applies to everything from the short story to the debate. If you’re talking about something as boring as ‘canteen food’, it will be your references and appropriate statistics that will impress the examiner. Of course, WHAT you write about is important, but HOW you write about it; is the thing that really impresses the examiner.

Good Luck!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s