Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012

A Message For Leaving Cert Students | Jamie Tuohy

The French called it D Day. The historic afternoon when the Allies pushed the Germans back into the beaches of Normandy. The Irish call it Leaving Cert Results day. No doubt the night before the 1944 invasion, there was meticulous planning and a few restless heads. Similarly, the night before the Leaving Certificate results are released, thousands of students around Ireland will be ferociously planning their immediate futures and instead of whole armies being pushed back, it will be the bed covers of the 55,000 sleepless students that will be shoved, tossed and quite possibly propelled into the air. It’s hard to convince a Leaving Cert student that the exam which is prophesised to be the pinnacle of their secondary school experience isn’t as important as that June 6 invasion which took place some sixty-eight years ago.

When you’re told that the Leaving Cert is the most significant exam you will ever do, that it’s imperative to do well in it and that it will define your future, it’s easy to become wrapped up in the vicious points system and consume yourself with dread and fear. Yes, today, tonight, tomorrow and possibly for the next few weeks, it probably will be the most important thing in your life, as the anxious wait for CAO offers begins, but in truth, it quickly becomes blasted into insignificance. If only I could have told myself this last year – as I spent the eve of results working myself up into frenzied and unnecessary trepidation!

Some genius will get 600+ points and there’ll be a momentary fuss, a congratulatory declaration or two, but once the hysteria dies down, no one will care anymore. This isn’t being blunt, being insensitive or knocking the student who studied for hours on end to get the maximum points possible. It’s just being truthful. When you get 600 or 300, once the Leaving Cert is over and you proceed with your chosen path, be it, employment or further education, there will be very few conversations about how many points you got. Sure, they will determine what course you will get, but once you’re in college, it’s every man for himself. Nobody cares if you got 560 in your Leaving Cert and you find it an unacceptable travesty that the lecturer gave you 40% in your first exam. The Leaving Cert isn’t a true measure of intellect. For the most part, it’s about rote learning, it impinges upon students’ creativity and ignores a number of important factors.

Undoubtedly, there will be familiar scenes tomorrow. Some students will be delighted with their results, confident in the belief that they’ll be offered their first choice on the CAO form. Others will be disappointed, knowing that they haven’t earned enough points. It’s vicious, it’s unfair and it’s demeaning. But it’s life. Success and failure have always co-existed together and even though you do your best, it’s not always that easy to fall into the category of the former. It’s easy for me to type this and tell everyone not to worry. I’m entering my second year at Trinity, doing a course I love, but it’s so true that the Leaving Cert is simply an avenue – nothing more, nothing less. Not one person in college has ever asked me what I got in my Leaving Cert. Nobody has asked me if this course was my first choice. It’s because it doesn’t matter. There are many roads to take and the Leaving Cert certainly isn’t the only vehicle to travel in.

If somebody told me this last year, providing of course, I allowed them to enter my ‘pre-Leaving Cert’ space (yes, I was a freak), I would have probably nodded in agreement, but still only half-heartedly believed them. I was obsessed with getting the results. I even said that if I didn’t get an A1 in English, I would repeat, regardless of how many points I got. Thankfully, I didn’t have to repeat, but the scary thing is that I would have – without a second thought. This is what the Leaving Cert does to students – the stress, pressure and foreboding turns students into illogical beings who speak in nonsensical utterances.

To be honest, I’m more stressed about finding accommodation for second- year than I ever was awaiting my Leaving Cert results, so you can imagine the inane vociferations, but that too will be fine, eventually. You will all have been told to stay calm, cool and collected, so I’m not going to follow suit with patronising statements of the obvious. But believe me, the Leaving Cert results are not something that you should be ‘freaking out over’. In the grand scheme of things, they matter very little. Nobody has ever asked Katie Taylor or Bertie Ahern how they did in the Leaving Cert, although in the case of the latter, it might not have been a bad idea.

Best of Luck everyone!!!

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Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Poetry

What worked for me in Leaving Cert poetry – Jamie Tuohy

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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 coolest and collected class genius. 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.
  • 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. Students lose marks because they keep talking about Sylvia Plath’s mental problems, or endlessly recall the hardships of Robert Frost’s life, rather than focusing on the poem.
  • It’s great to know about the poet’s life and you can certainly refer to certain aspects of his or her life, but the examiner wants to read about your engagement and reaction to the poetry of Seamus Heaney and not a factual article about his life, whereby you use the poems as evidence to support your facts.
  • Remember that all the questions are essentially a personal response, even though few questions will explicitly state so. It is really important to give your opinion throughout the answer. Teachers will have advised you to have a positive reaction to the poetry, which might seem like it’s defeating the purpose of an ‘opinion’, but if you’re going to criticise a poem, you will need extremely sound references and points, which are often hard to find.
  • 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. By doing this, you’re only stating a fact – follow it up with evidence and analysis or description.
  • Don’t go into the exam without knowing at least five poets. This point is self-explanatory, but it’s essential to reinforce it.
A Personal Response to the Poetry of Patrick Kavanagh:

If Patrick Kavanagh isn’t one of the poets you’ve been focusing on, then this is a good chance to brush up on him. Nobody knows who is going to come up, so if you’ve Plath and Heaney well prepared, Kavanagh is a great one to have in your back pocket in the exam.

 

  1. 1.      “Inniskeen Road: July Evening” – Imagery
  • Kavanagh manages to capture the atmosphere of that ‘July Evening’ by combining effective imagery with his own emotional feelings towards the night.
  • “The bicycles go by in twos and threes” – this gives us a sense that Inniskeen is a close knit community, as everyone is travelling to the dance together.
  • However, this camaraderie among the locals does not extend to Kavanagh, who is “king of banks and stones and every blooming thing”.
  • Is he isolated by virtue of being a poet? Does Kavanagh create an image for himself that sets him apart from society? Do you sympathise with the poet’s condition?
  1. “Canal Bank Walk” – Language Techniques
  • Kavanagh opens the poem with a neologism combined with alliteration, saying “leafy with love”.
  • Through poetry, Kavanagh is free to express himself and despite writing in the form of Shakespearean sonnet, his poetic licence gives him the liberty to remain unique.
  • His clever use of language techniques allow us to become enthralled by the words before us and the repetition of the letter ‘l’ creates an image in my mind where things are in full bloom and it is sensually evocative.

“Lines Written on a Seat in the Grand Canal” – Language Techniques

  • Where by a lock Niagarously roars” – neologism.
  • By using this neologism, I feel that Kavanagh’s reverence, joy and love for the Grand Canal are all juxtaposed in this line. He is comparing the canal – a man-made river, to the breath-taking natural beauty of Niagara Falls.
  1. “Epic” – Title and Form
  • The title is paradoxical, as one expects a lengthy poem, recanting the exploits of an ancient hero, but instead Kavanagh’s poem is somewhat of a ‘mock epic’.
  • However, the seemingly trivial dispute between these two families is elevated to the status of the Trojan War, rather than reduced to an insignificant parochial squabble.
  • In choosing the sonnet form, Kavanagh reminds himself that art and literature do not need grandiose inspiration to be successful. Indeed, the best poetry is created from the parochial, as he believed it was universal because it dealt with the fundamental aspects of society.
  1. 4.      “The Great Hunger” – Theme and Content
  • This poem communicates themes of isolation, despair, missed opportunity and filial duty.
  • Patrick Maguire is defined only by the love he holds for his land – “clay is the word and clay is the flesh”.
  • He suffers the flaw of passive acceptance and his life has been reduced to a dull pattern of farm chores and familial obligations by a series of submissions to his mother, to the land and to the Church.
  • The poem becomes a polemic in which Kavanagh criticises these aspects of rural life in Ireland in the early to mid-twentieth century.
  • The themes of the poem create an atmosphere of gloom and in the final lines; Kavanagh personifies “Imagination” because it’s the very thing that Kavanagh lived without.
  • “He lives that his little fields may stay fertile when his own body is spread in the bottom of a ditch under two coulters crossed in Christ’s Name”. It seems rather fitting, yet poignant that Maguire would be buried in the very land that held him in impoverished servitude, but tragic that his resting place is marked by the symbol of the religion that so impeded his sexual and emotional fulfillment.

What Worked For Me:

  • As I’ve already mentioned, it’s great to open essays with a quote and this is particularly effective when it comes to poetry. Try to find a quote that in some way embodies the essence of the poet’s work and still adheres to the question. For example, if there’s a question on ‘power’ in Adrienne Rich’s poetry, a good quote might be “These are thing that we have learned to do who live in troubled regions” from her poem “Storm Warnings”.
  • Something that helped me to memorise quotes was to write out the quote and leave out or substitute a word. By doing this, you’ll train your mind to remember the word that was left out and subsequently memorise the quote. For example, in Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror”, if you say “I am silver and exact. I have no judgements”, a light bulb will go off in your head, saying “NO! It’s “I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions”.
  • Make a statement of the obvious! Think of the most obvious and general thing you can about the poem and write it down. Then you can deconstruct it and analyse the sentence. For example, “Seamus Heaney’s “Bogland” is about a bog”. When you consider this statement and break it down, taking into account all the different elements of the poem from imagery to language, you’ll soon have many more ideas on how the poem expresses Heaney’s relationship to the Irish landscape and its people.
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Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

Last minute Hamlet advice – Jamie Tuohy

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Hamlet

Hamlet is renowned for being one of the greatest tragedies in English literature and is undoubtedly one of Shakespeare’s finest plays, but it is also one of his most complex pieces. Just like its titular character, Hamlet is a play that is multi-faceted and rarely straightforward, but that doesn’t mean it has to be hard to comprehend.

Here are some pointers for you to expand on in your essays:

 

The Role of Women in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

 

  • Open your essay with a quote. This grabs the reader’s attention and immediately shows your engagement with the question and knowledge of the play.
  • “Frailty thy name is woman”. These are words spoken by the titular character of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet that highlight the role of women within this tragedy.
  • Women are characterised as weak and subservient and as obedient and acquiescent.
  • Gertrude and Ophelia play a passive role in the play’s proceedings, but are crucial to exposing the play’s central themes and the titular character’s misogyny.

 

 GERTRUDE:

  • Gertrude is living in the shadow of two kings and in this sense; she is wholly dependent on men.
  • Claudius describes her as the “imperial jointress to this war like state”. However she does little to prove this.
  • She is too weak to challenge Claudius and her role as the Queen of Denmark is constantly undermined and overshadowed by his dominance.
  • Gertrude portrays the fickleness of women. There are suggestions she had a relationship with Claudius, even when Old Hamlet was still alive. According to the Ghost, Claudius “won by shameful lust, the heart of my most seeming virtuous queen”.
  • Women are characterised in a one dimensional manner – they cannot live without a man and constantly need one in their lives. Gertrude’s “o’er hasty marriage” to Claudius exemplifies this.
  • As a queen, Gertrude is ineffectual and as a mother, she is insensitive and blind to her son’s distress.
  • Gertrude cannot understand why Hamlet persists with his melancholic demeanour and agrees with Claudius when he says “tis unmanly grief”. Gertrude lets her own opinion of Hamlet’s mental state be influenced by Claudius.
  • However, Gertrude’s redeeming feature is her propensity for goodness.
  • None of Gertrude’s actions are premeditated, so it seems rather fitting that she dies drinking from the poison chalice – completely unaware of what is in it.
  • Through her death, Gertrude highlights the position of women within this tragedy – completely obedient and totally oblivious to the corruption around them.

 

OPHELIA:

  • Ophelia, like Gertrude is a woman who is led and controlled by the men in her life. She is described by her brother Laertes as “a sweet sister and a kind maid”. Ophelia’s primary role is to showcase Hamlet’s warped view of women.
  • Out of all the characters in the play, she is the one who cast in the most one dimensional manner.
  • Ophelia has the potential to be a tragic heroine, to overcome her father’s control and gain Hamlet’s love, but due to her submission and conformity, she is merely tragic.
  • Shakespeare uses Ophelia to portray the fickleness of women.
  • As Polonius’ daughter, Ophelia is extremely obedient. When he tells her not to speak to Hamlet anymore, she obliges, saying “I shall obey my lord”.
  • Ophelia resigns to the fact that Hamlet is “subject to her birth”, simply because her brother Laertes told her. She accepts these ‘truths’ because she is too weak to challenge male authority.
  • There are recurring tones of misogyny throughout the play and Ophelia’s acquiescence; combined with Hamlet’s maltreatment of her showcases this.
  • He uses guttural language when speaking to her, saying “get thee to a nunnery, why woulds’t thou be a breeder of sinners?” This is a grossly offensive remark to the “sweet and innocent Ophelia”, but she simply agrees to do as Hamlet tells her, possessing no strength of character to stand her ground.
  • It is notable that Gertrude – a woman announces Ophelia’s death, elucidating women’s ability to empathise with each other.
  • Ophelia kills herself because of the men in her life – her father is dead and her love for Hamlet is unrequited. She cannot function without a man and therefore, is driven to insanity.
  • Gertrude’s elegiacal speech on Ophelia’s death highlights the frailty of women and portrays the poignancy of her death. “Sweets for the sweet”, she says, as she places flowers on Ophelia’s coffin.
  • Ophelia’s association with nature – the flowers, the willow tree in the lake, all display “a young maiden” who was pure, virtuous and fatally innocent.

 

The Importance of the Soliloquy:

This question was one of the expected questions for last year and didn’t appear, but I wouldn’t rule it out for this year. The reason I decided to include this question as opposed to another one is because it’s all encompassing. This question lends itself to exposing the themes of deception, revenge, corruption, filial duty, loyalty and is also one that can deals with Hamlet’s and Claudius’ characters.

For this question, Hamlet and Claudius are the two best characters to write about, partly because their soliloquys are often spoken about each other and partly because they speak some of the most famous lines in English literature. I chose four soliloquys by Hamlet and two by Claudius. I never worried about logistics or ratios – this is English, not maths and Hamlet has more memorable speeches anyway!

 

HAMLET:

  • Act 1, Scene 2: “O that this too too solid flesh would melt…”
    • This is an extremely telling and revealing soliloquy, as we see a deeply depressed and saddened Hamlet, as he is grieving for the loss of his father, but also expressing his disgust towards his mother to “post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets”.
    • This speech portrays Hamlet’s love for his late father and his anger and hatred towards Claudius – even before he knows that he is the murderer of his father.
    • We see Hamlet as powerless, as he must “hold his tongue” and therefore, we sympathise with him and forgive his misogynistic generalisation of women.
    • He is ultimately motivated by filial duty.

 

  • Act 2, Scene 2: “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I?”
    • Hamlet’s self-directed harangue not only expresses his annoyance at himself for not acting sooner, but it also develops the plot and provides us with a dramatic irony.
    • These lines display Hamlet’s true inner conflict – he is on a quest to avenge his father’s death and kill Claudius, but he hesitates on carrying out this cold and callous act because he condemns himself as a “coward”, even though he has “the motive and the cue for passion”.
  • Act 3, Scene 1: “To be or not to be?”
    • Hamlet is a thinker and philosopher, rather than a man of action.
    • It is important to note that Hamlet does not directly relate this soliloquy to his own cause, but instead uses inclusive pronouns like “we” and “us” and the indefinite “who”.
    • This allows the audience to be a part of the play and even though Hamlet’s mental nadir is evident through his soliloquy – he is speaking on behalf of everyone who is torn and faces a similar dilemma.
    • He tells us that even though death may be preferable to life, we are restricted from action by fear and moral judgement. Perhaps this is the explanation for why Hamlet cannot kill Claudius?
    • This is an extremely important soliloquy, as it develops the character of Hamlet and gives us an insight into the numerous facets of his complex mind.

 

  • Act 3, Scene 3: “Now might I do it pat, now he is praying…”
    • He has evidence that Claudius is the killer, but cannot do so, because he believes that Claudius is praying and will be sent to heaven if he is killed mid-prayer.
    • In terms of dramatic function, this soliloquy allows us to delve into Hamlet’s mind and see that he is motivated by revenge, but he is also guided by his morals and his conscience.
    • It also exemplifies Hamlet’s procrastination and portrays his constant vacillation from action to inertia.

 

CLAUDIUS:

  • Act 3, Scene 3: “O! My offence is rank and smells to heaven…”
    • This speech portrays Claudius as a villain with a conscience.
    • He wants to pray for forgiveness for his “most unnatural crime”, but he is unwilling to give up the merits of his anomalous act – namely “my crown” and “my queen”.
    • This is his most important soliloquy, as it presents Claudius in a three-dimensional manner. He isn’t the cold-hearted villain we thought he was, as he knows that he will always be “struggling to be free”.
    • It also provides dramatic irony. We know that Claudius isn’t praying, but Hamlet does not.
  • Act 4, Scene 3: “The present death of Hamlet, do it England…”
    • Once again, we see Shakespeare creating dramatic irony as we are informed of Claudius’ intentions towards the unsuspecting Hamlet.
    • Claudius sees Hamlet as a “desperate disease” and recognises him as a threat to the state, but more importantly his crown.
    • It also shows us that Claudius isn’t the noble king he would like everyone to think he is – he is ruthless and callous and willing to commit even more grievous acts to remain in power.

 

What Worked For Me:

  • I had a few tricks for gaining top marks in any Hamlet question and one of them was to read any relevant speeches or soliloquys and then explain them to myself out loud, as if I were teaching them to a class. Admittedly, this drove my family mad, as each night I would just speak to myself in the Bard’s language. However, you will be amazed how much information you will retain from reciting quotations out loud. It will also allow you to use quotes that aren’t obvious and not the usual ones that all students use. Adopting the broody demeanour and sullen gaze of the Danish prince, while whaling “to be or not to be”, is of course, optional.

 

  • I mentioned how important characters are when it comes to Hamlet and I had a handy method for being prepared for any question on the text. Take a character each night for a week and write down all their traits, then compare them to all the other major characters of the play. For example, tonight, take Hamlet and write down all his characteristics and then compare and contrast him with Claudius, Polonius, Gertrude and Ophelia. By the time you’ve all the characters done at the end of the week, you’ll be sorted for any question.

 

  • I always tried to have a piece of information that not many other students would have and this involved a little bit of secondary reading, which is good practice for college! A great point for Hamlet is the “Oedipal Complex”, developed by the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. He argued that Hamlet delays in killing Claudius because Claudius has acted out Hamlet’s subconscious desire to kill his father and marry his mother. Knowing this doesn’t mean you should give a psychoanalytic reading of the text, but it’s a great additional point for talking about Hamlet’s character or his relationship with Gertrude.
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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!

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Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Paper 1

Question A: The Comprehension – Jamie Tuohy

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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 examinations.ie 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.

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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,

Jamie.

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Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

Here’s an old post which has been popular over the last few days! It should certainly be one of the questions students are focusing in on – it’s long overdue!

More Matter Jamie

If there is any justice in the world, the people setting the English Leaving Cert exam this year should put a soliloquy question on the paper for the Hamlet question. If I were doing the Leaving Cert this year, this would be one of the essays I would be concentrating on, because:

  • This is an essay that basically prepares you for EVERY OTHER QUESTION.
  • If you’re asked to write about theme, you’ll be talking about how it is conveyed and that is through the characters and through WHAT THEY SAY.
  • The soliloquy essay is one in which you talk about all the different aspects of the play – you’ll be talking about the role of women, Hamlet’s procrastination and Claudius’ deceit.
  • I ALSO PREDICT THERE WILL BE SOMETHING ABOUT DECEPTION on this year’s paper and this essay is a perfect example of deception – it is only through the soliloquies…

View original post 1,733 more words

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Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

Images of Disease in Hamlet – Jamie Tuohy

Took 20 mins out of exam study to make some quick notes for all you Leaving Certers worried about the tricky question of ‘disease in Hamlet’:
  • There are a considerable number of images of sickness and disease in Hamlet describing the unwholesome condition of Denmark morally.
  • This image of the Danish court dominates the play.
  • Associated with this are images of poison and decay.
  • All these related images form a powerful, imaginative pattern, contributing to the mood and atmosphere of the play and reinforce its central themes.
  • The Ghost’s description of Old Hamlet’s murder is presented in language associated with disease (poison).
  • The murder is not enacted but we are very aware of the distasteful nature of the crime. The poison used by Claudius is a ‘leprous distillment’ which causes disease, and a ‘vile and loathesome crust’ of scabs to cover the body of its victim.
  • The corruption of Denmark and its people is seen as insidious poisoning.
  • Marcellus says “there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark”. 
  • Poisoning is not just something described by the Ghost and featured in the imagery – it recurs in the Dumb-Show and is the means by which all the major characters die/
  • The imagery of corruption, sickness and decay, is often a reflection of Hamlet’s darker moods, as for example, in his first soliloquy, with its emphasis on the ‘sullied flesh’ and on the world as an ‘unweeded garden’ infested with all things ‘rank and ‘gross’.
  • He regards his mother’s sin as a ‘blister’ on the ‘fair forehead of an innocent love’. 
  • He sees Claudius as a ‘mildewed ear’ – blasting his ‘wholesome brother’.
  • He tells Gertrude that if she refuses to face up to her guilt, she will be like somebody trying to find a cure for an ulcer and by covering it with useless ointment, while “rank corruption mining all within/infects unseen”.
  • He compares the war between Norway and Poland to a kind of tumour, which grows out of too much wealth and he thinks of his decision to spare the life of a praying Claudius and his mother’s part i it, as the ultimate sources of the poison and rottenness which threaten the well-being of Denmark.
  • On the other hand, Claudius thinks that Hamlet is the source of Denmark’s decay.
  • After the death of Polonius, he compares his lateness in having Hamlet locked up, to “a foul disease”, who permits it to undermine his life. “Diseases desperate grown by desperate appliance are relieved or not at all”.
  • He says to Laertes of Hamlet’s return “but to the quick of the ulcer/Hamlet comes back”.
  • As well as emphasising the imaginative effect of imagery of sickness, disease and poisoning, we should include other influences which help to counterbalance the sense of decay and corruption induced by the reflections of Claudius and Hamlet.
  • The atmosphere of the play is not entirely one of gloom an ugliness.
  • Hamlet is a rich and varied play, encompassing many moods and many contrasting strands of imagery.
  • Against the morbid atmosphere evoked by numerous reference to rottenness and corruption, exists the lyrical beauty of Hamlet’s description of the morning dressed in a russet mantle, Marcellus’ splendid lines on Christmas tide, the associations of grandeur and magnificence called up by Hamlet’s ample classical imagery and Gertrude’s delicate and elegiacal account of Ophelia’s death. 

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Good Luck,

Jamie

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