Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Poetry

Unseen Poetry – Paper 2, 2010 – Seed by Paula Meehan

Unseen Poetry – Seed by Paula Meehan

  • I’ve decided to post about ‘Unseen Poetry’ because it’s one of those areas that can get ignored by students because it’s not something you can study for.
  • However, you can study for it – it’s all about practice and becoming familiar with the type of questions they ask.
  • There are two questions – one is made up of two individual questions which merit 10 marks each and the other is usually a personal response, worth 20 marks.
  • I’m going to deal with Question 1 in this post because the personal response is much less pointed, and if we’re being honest, it’s much easier.
  • However, if you choose to write about your personal response (which I’d recommend if you’re stuck for time), then I’d suggest that you look towards the first two questions to give you an idea about what to talk about.
  • The trick to getting the 20 marks in this question is pretty simple – answer the question and avoid any unnecessary quoting.
  • It’s so tempting to use as many quotes as you can to illustrate your point, but this is much more suited to the prescribed poetry section, rather than this question, which just proves you can read!
  • Underline the key words in the question and focus on them in your answer.

1.   (a)  What in your view is the mood of this poem? Explain briefly how it is conveyed.

Make reference to the text in support of your answer.  (10)

In my opinion, the mood of this poem is one hope and optimism. Despite the initial mood of gloom and sorrow, “Seed” develops into a beautiful poem which speaks to the power of hope and positvity.  In the opening lines, Meehan says “I step out into the garden from the gloom of a house where hope had died and tally the storm damage”. At this juncture, the tone and mood is somewhat dark, as it’s suggested that not everything has survived the storm. However, the discovery of some “forgotten lupins” excites and inspires the poet and her tone changes to a more hopeful and thankful one, thus changing the mood of the poem. She says “I am suddenly grateful and would offer a prayer if I believed in God, but not believing, I bless the power of the seed”. It doesn’t matter that Meehan isn’t religious because she recognises the ‘power of the seed’ and praises its endless abilities. In my mind, a seed conjures up and image of growth and fertility and of new beginnings and hope. Even though the poet doesn’t find solace in religion, she recognises and appreciates the power of nature. The arrival of the seed means that “the winter’s ended” and this is an extremely important message. It not only expresses the wonder of the seed as a means of new beginnings but underscores the hopeful, positive and optimistic mood of the poem.

  • Here you can see that this isn’t an overly complicated answer and in actual fact, I’ve tried to keep the answer as concise as possible. This is a 20 mark question, so you’re not going to be giving it the same amount of time as you’d give other questions, so naturally you’re not expected to go into the same amount of detail.
  • The question deals with the poem’s ‘mood’ which is often communicated through the tone, so your answer should reflect that in some way.
  • I’ve given a short answer that refers to the question throughout and avoided any unnecessary or superfluous words that only add pomp to your answer.
  • I’ve also tried not to over quote – this really isn’t that impressive, given that the poem is in front of you. If you’re over quoting, the examiner immediately recognises it as padding and an avoidance of the question.

(b)  Choose one image from the poem that appealed to you.  Explain your choice.    



“Seed” by Paula Meehan is a beautiful poem that contains a plethora of images which communicate the wonder of the seed. An image that appealed to me is one of the poet discovering a lupin in the aftermath of the storm. Meehan says that the lupins were “holding in their fingers a raindrop each like a peace offering or a promise”. I find this image to be extremely powerful and inspiring. Meehan recognises the damage of the storm as she “emerges from a house where hope had died”, but this discovery somehow reconciles the damage. I think that the poet acknowledges the cathartic qualities of the flower and it’s perceptible that Meehan views it as something which has the ability to withstand the harsh conditions of the storm. The idea that it is a promise is representative of the hope it brings with it. The raindrops have emerged from the storm in splendid glory and I believe that Meehan is communicating an uplifting message which is resoundingly positive. The raindrops are uses as a metaphor for new life and new beginnings. Meehan also personifies the flower, which elevates its importance and allows the reader to relate to it on a human level. The fact that it emerged “holding” the raindrops further exemplifies the immense power of nature. Throughout the poem, we are made aware of the regenerative qualities of the seed and this image highlights its ability to overcome adversity and emerge stronger than ever. Paula Meehan wishes to convey how something as small as a seed can be so powerful and important and her message is touching and uplifting. This image of the resilient lupin is not only one of the poem’s most appealing images, but it elucidates Meehan’s hopeful and upbeat message.

  • Once again, this is a simple answer, but it attends to the question throughout.
  • I’ve chosen my image and explained how it appealed to me.
  • What I’ve also tried to do is relate that image to the rest of the poem.
  • The important thing is to be aware of the question the question throughout and avoid waffling.

Last night’s 84th Annual Academy Awards saw 17 times nominated Meryl Streep scoop the “Best Actress” gong for her chillingly uncanny performance as Margaret Thatcher in Harvey Weinstein’s The Iron Lady.

It was a fantastic night for Weinstein, with both his movies The Artist and The Iron Lady winning some of the night’s top awards, including “Best Picture” for The Artist – a silent movie, described as a ‘love letter to Old Hollywood’. Jean Dujardin, the star of the Micel Hazanavicius directed film also took home the award for “Best Actor”, making him the first French-man to win Hollywood’s most prestigious accolade.

However, the night belonged to Streep, who finally received the Oscar, thirty years after winning her first “Best Actress Award” for her portrayal of a Polish immigrant in Sophie’s Choice. Despite being the most nominated actress in the history of the Academy Awards, this is Streep’s third Oscar win, previously claiming the “Best Supporting Actress” award for her performance as Joanna in Kramer vs. Kramer.


Meryl Streep accepting her "Best Actress" award at the 84th Annual Academy Awards

Dressed in a gold lamé Lanvin gown, Meryl looked sensational as she accepted her award, saying that most Americans are probably thinking “Oh no, not her again”, but in classic Streep wit, retaliated with “whatever!” Thanking her husband Roy for giving her “everything we value most in our lives”, she also paid tribute to her colleagues and her friends both “departed and here”.

Meryl Streep has previously been nominated for Academy Awards for her performances in movies like Ironweed, The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt and Julie & Julia. A typically gracious and humbled Streep acknowledged the friendships she has made throughout her “inexplicably wonderful career” and on stage last night, she admitted that this would probably be the last time she’ll be “up here again”.

Somehow, Ms. Streep, I doubt that!

Meryl, we bow down to you!



Meryl’s Oscar glory

Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

For some people Claudius is a black hearted villain who is justly punished for the murder of his brother, while for others he is a potentially good king who pays dearly for his past. Discuss with reference to the text.


  • Okay, let’s be honest, the likelihood of this question coming up this year isn’t very high, but a few people have asked me to do a ‘Claudius question’, so here it is. Let’s break it down first:
  • This is actually a very good question because not only do you have so much to talk about, but because you can use so much of the information you have from all of your other essays.
  • Think about it: if we’re talking about the character of Claudius, then there will obviously be points in relation to HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HAMLET, HIS MALTREATMENT OF WOMEN ANDTHE THEME OF KINGSHIP. Therefore, essays like the ‘role of women’ or even the ‘character of Hamlet’, or ‘revenge as a theme’ will help you with this question.
  • So what am I trying to say? I’m saying that ALLTHE ESSAYS YOU DO FOR HAMLET ARE IMPORTANT BECAUSE THEY ALL RELATE TO EACH OTHER. Therefore, the more you can do, the easier it will be for you to tackle any question.
  • So what if this question doesn’t come up this year? It doesn’t matter, because you will see that there are points you can make in this essay that would easily fit into about 3 or 4 different essays.
  • It’s extremely important to see the bigger picture. Of course you have to attend to the question throughout, but remember what I always say: ALLQUESTIONS AREESSENTIALLY CHARACTER QUESTIONS. This is why this is a useful question – it will help you with many of the play’s central themes.
  • You will probably have noticed by now, but I always open my essays with A RELEVANT QUOTE – it grabs the reader’s attentions and immediately displays your knowledge of the text and you engagement to the question.
  • Don’t forget, when we’re talking about a character, discuss him/her in terms of their INTRODUCTION, DEVELOPMENT and CONCLUSION.
  • This isn’t a question from exam papers, so I have tested it out to make sure you can write it in the 60 minute timeframe. Now bear in mind, I haven’t studied Hamlet in nearly a year, so this morning, I decided to write out this question and answer it from scratch, without looking over any notes or revising anything. AND I HANDWROTE IT IN 50 MINUTES. Therefore, think what you can do – fresh from studying the play, and your mind full of ideas! You guys will breeze through this, but I hope this can maybe give you all some useful tips. I hope all my quotes are up to scratch, but if not, please forgive me…it’s been nearly a year.



“That one may smile and smile and still be a villain”.


These are words spoken by the titular character of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet that highlight the essence of the “smiling damned villain” that is Claudius. For some people, Claudius is a black hearted villain who is justly punished for the murder of his brother, while for others; he is a potentially good king who plays dearly for his past. In my opinion, Claudius is a well rounded, multi-dimensional character who can never be judged in a single light. Shakespeare makes Claudius so interesting because, while Claudius is the consummate villain of the play – a usurper, capable of bestial depravity, he is also portrayed as a villain with a conscience. Claudius is duly aware of the gravity of his offence, but he refuses to repent. While Claudius exhibits all the qualities of a good and honourable king, in reality, he is an unscrupulous murderer who is justly punished for his “rank offence”.


When we are first introduced to Claudius, he impresses us as a tactful and diplomatic leader. He balances affairs of state with his marriage to Gertrude, while leadingDenmarkthrough the mourning of his brother’s death – Old Hamlet. Claudius says “we are contracted in one brow of sorrow, with mirth in funeral and dirge in marriage, in equal measure, weighing delight and dole”. It would appear that Claudius possesses all the necessary leadership qualities for a king. He portrays his excellence and showcases his political prowess when he sends Voltimad and Cornelius to Old Norway to stop his nephew Fortinbras trying to attackDenmark. From his introduction, Claudius is presented to us, as Polonius says “a man faithful and honourable”.


However, in reality, Claudius is a sycophant and our hatred of his is largely coloured by Hamlet’s disdain for him. Claudius refers to his nephew Hamlet as “our chiefest courtier, our cousin and our son”. He appeases the Danish prince by telling him that “you are the most immediate to our thrown”. Once again, we view Claudius as someone who knows how to deal with people – acquiescing Hamlet and asking him not to return to university inWittenberg. When Hamlet agrees to stay inDenmark, he does so on his mother’s request, saying “I shall in all my best, obey you, madam”. Hamlet’s deliberate exclusion of Claudius arouses our suspicions towards Claudius and because we sympathise with Hamlet as the play’s tragic hero, we tend to distrust Claudius almost immediately. However, he shows no signs of cracking, simply saying “tis a loving and fair reply”. Claudius, is you seem has the potential to be a good king – he is unfazed by Hamlet’s remarks and continues to leadDenmarkthrough the grieving of their former king. This presents the audience with an interesting idea – is it necessary to be a scrupulous and moral person to be a tactful and effective leader? After all, one could argue that Claudius is an extremely capable king who doesn’t let his personal life get in the way of his politics – which is slightly ironic, when one considers how he achieved his crown.


It is not until the appearance if the Ghost that we learn of Claudius’ “rash and bloody deed”. The Ghost charges Claudius with bestial depravity which is both fratricide and regicide and this cements Hamlet’s hatred of him. The Ghost says, “the serpent that did sting the father’s life now wears the crown”. The Ghost urges Hamlet to exact revenge on Claudius by telling him to “revenge his most foul and unnatural murder”. It is in this scene that we see just how menacing and calculating Claudius really is. He is not the noble king he would like us to believe he is – Claudius is nothing but a black hearted villain, who “won by shameful lust the will of my most seeming virtuous queen”. Claudius murdered Old Hamlet while he was sleeping by pouring a “leprous distilment” into his ear. This is an extremely important scene because it unmasks the true Cladius – a cowardly, “baudless” and “kindless villan”. We as an audience fully support Hamlet when he ensues to “put an antic disposition on”, because we feel that Claudius is deserving of everything he gets. Claudius’ methods are calculating and deceitful – elucidating his cunning and callous disposition.


Hamlet’s apparent madness causes great worry in the Danish court, but this worry is most prevalent in Claudius. However, unlike Gertrude, Claudius is in no way concerned with his nephew’s mental nadir, but it instead conscious of the fact that “madness in great ones must not unwatched go”. Polonius tells Claudius that the real reason Hamlet is mad is because of his unrequited love for his daughter Ophelia. Claudius proves himself to be utterly unscrupulous – hiding behind the arras with his “lawful espial” Polonius to eavesdrop on Hamlet’s and Ophelia’s conversation. Claudius soon realises that unrequited love is not the cause of the Danish prince’s madness and urges “dear Rosencrantz” and “gentle Guildenstern” to “glean” what information they can from Hamlet. Claudius is an amoral sycophant and completely self absorbed and villainous.


Nevertheless, throughout the play, we, as an audience, question whether Hamlet’s madness is indeed feigned or is in fact real – caused by the death of his dearly beloved father? This in turn, causes us to wonder whether or not Claudius is the murderer – after all, he appears to be and able and fair king. However, when Hamlet vows “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”, Claudius’ guilt, treachery and sheer black heartedness come to the fore. Claudius, clearly uneasy by the re-enactment of his crime, rushed out of the theatre, screaming for air. It is perceptible to the audience that Claudius is most definitely the murderer and his admission of guilt in the Prayer Scene confirms this:


“O! My offence is rank and smells to heaven,

It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,

A brother’s murder!

Pray can I not, though inclination be as sharp as will”.


Claudius’ guilt is blindingly evident, but he cannot pray for forgiveness, because he refused to forgo the merits of his crime – namely “my crown, mine own ambition and my queen”. It is interesting to note that Gertrude only features as a third in his list of priorities – underlining the fact that he is a completely self-centered, morally inept criminal, who favours power and money over human relationships. Claudius’ villainy in nowhere more evident than when, soon after the Prayer Scene he sends Hamlet to his death inEngland, referring to him as a “foul disease”. Claudius only cares about himself – a ruthless usurper who will do anything to protect himself and hold onto what he has gained through criminal and unlawful deeds.


It is in the final scene that we see just how black hearted and callous Claudius is. Hamlet has outsmarted him and returned fromEngland– alive and unharmed. Claudius quickly placated a raging Laertes who is livid upon seeing the man who killed his father. Claudius persuades Laertes to kill Hamlet in a duel, by stabbing him with a poison sword. It seems that the calculating antagonist has a predilection for poison – killing his own brother with a “leprous distilment”, filling a poison chalice for Hamlet to drink from and covering the tip of Laertes’ sword with a “deadly poison”. These all serve to exemplify just how twisted and brutal Claudius is. If he ever possessed the potential to be a good king, then he is thwarted at every turn by his own cruel and sick deeds. However, Claudius’ plans backfire and Laertes confesses all to Hamlet and tragically, it is Gertrude and not Hamlet who drinks from the poison chalice, with Claudius weakly telling her “Gertrude, do not drink”. It seems rather fitting that Claudius would die; drinking from the same poison chalice – given his infamous affiliation with it. Laertes, Gertrude and the “noble prince” all die because of the black hearted villain Claudius.


Claudius is the consummate villain – one who hides behind a mask of nobility and regal grandeur. To some, Claudius is a potentially good king who pays dearly for his past, but Claudius’ diplomacy, tact and shrewdness and overshadowed by his manipulative, callous and cold heart. He is the leader of a depraved underworld which is “disjoint” and “stewed in corruption”. It is because of Claudius that all the major characters of the play die, therefore, we feel justice has been done and he has been rightly punished, when Hamlet sends him to his death as a “kindless, treacherous, lecherous, remorseless villain”.


There you go folks! Happy writing!


Claudius character question – Jamie Tuohy

Guide to Leaving Cert English 2012, Hamlet

Is Hamlet a noble hero?

  • Apologies for the lack of posts recently!! I’ve had SO MUCH READING AND STUDY TO DO! Taking a 30 min study break to do this essay for you guys!
  • This is just a question that I have made up which should cover any Hamlet character question.
  • It’s quite a broad question which should hopefully provide the scope for discussing a wide variety of his traits and characteristics.
  • One thing I always do in an essay, and it’s something which I’ve forgotten to draw your attention to and that is OPEN WITH A QUOTE. This is a fantastic way to immediately catch the attention of the reader/examiner and it shows your knowledge of the text INSTANTLY.
  • The reason why I’m doing this question as opposed to a more specific question is because this allows me to present both sides of Hamlet’s character and most of the question on Hamlet’s character tend to deal with the DUALITY OF HIS DISPOSITION. Hamlet is a fascinating character with many different traits and hopefully this question can make that clear.


“O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown”

These are words spoken by Ophelia in Hamlet by William Shakespeare that highlight the condition of the protagonist himself. Hamlet is a multi-faceted character – as the prince of Denmark he is noble, courageous, valiant and intelligent. Shakespeare presents us with a character who has high moral standards and a sense of spiritual sensitivity. His abhorrence for evil and his contempt for the hypocrisy of the court is illustrated through his quest to avenge his father’s death. Hamlet is an extremely complex character and there certainly is a dichotomy therein. Hamlet’s bravery and nobility are at times, overshadowed by his procrastination and vacillation from action to inertia. Hamlet is unable to act in a decisive manner and this is his hamartia. However, because we admire Hamlet’s moral sensitivity, we tend to accept his behaviour. He gains our sympathy and by the end of the play, Hamlet emerges as one of Shakespeare’s greatest noble heroes; albeit a tragic one.


When we are first introduced to the crestfallen prince in Act 1, Sc.(i), he is not present, however the sombre mood and eerie atmosphere set the tone for the whole play. Everyone around him appears to be getting on with their lives after the “most unnatural” death of Old Hamlet. Gertrude – Hamlet’s mother (and the queen) has married Claudius – Hamlet’s uncle. Everyone’s new found happiness elude Hamlet, whose grief is evident through “his inky cloak” and “customary suits of solemn black”. It’s evident that the anomalous murder of his father has had a greater impact on Hamlet that is had on his mother. He praises his father, saying “so excellent a king that was to this Hyperion to a satyr” and expresses his disapproval towards his mother to “post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets”. Despite the misogyny of his first soliloquy, Hamlet expresses his filial loyalty towards his father, underlining the fact that he guided by a his sense of morality – a truly noble and admirable quality in the young prince.


This loyalty is something that is a constant feature of his disposition and when the Ghost appears to Hamlet, he shows his bravery and courage by following it, despite Horatio and Marcellus urging him to do otherwise. The Ghost reveals himself to that of Hamlet’s father – the king Old Hamlet. He tells his son “but know, thou youth, the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown”. This is an extremely important scene, as we are made aware of that fact that Claudius is the murderer. Hamlet vows to avenge his father’s death and in doing so proceeds to “put an antic disposition on” of feigned madness. Hamlet is of noble extraction and sees Claudius as a threat to the state of Denmark. He recgonises that the “time is out of joint” and feels that he was “born to set it right”. His nobility is perceptible, as Hamlet feels by killing Claudius, he is purifying the whole court and ridding Denmark of evil.


Claudius is the consummate villain of the play and it is important to note that Hamlet hates and mistrusts him from the start – even before he knows that he is the murderer. He sees his “uncle-father” as a “treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain” and will not allow him a redeeming feature. When the Ghost charges Claudius with bestial depravity, which is both fratricide and regicide, it cements Hamlet’s hatred of him and acts as an agent provocateur to his actions. However, unlike Claudius, Hamlet is not a cold hearted killer and refuses to kill Claudius solely bases on the Ghost’s appearance. He will not do so until he is absolutely certain, beyond reasonable doubt that his father was murdered by is very own brother. Hamlet displays a conscientious and intelligent mind.


This intelligence is often expresses through Hamlet’s soliloquies, which also portray a man who is highly philosophical. In Act 2, Sc.(ii), he waxes praise upon the endless abilities of man, saying “how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form, in moving, how express and admirable”. One of Hamlet’s most admirable attributes is his verbosity. He is an eloquent scholar and often gives us insights into life through his deep and meaningful soliloquies. Hamlet will do anything without considering the consequences of his actions. In doing so, he highlights his cleverness and nobility.


Shakespeare created a well rounders character in Hamlet and Hamlet himself uses his intelligence in a cunning and shrewd manner. He refuses to kill Claudius while he is praying because he knows that in doing so, Claudius will go straight to heaven. Instead, he constructs an elaborate plan, in which he’ll have the players re-enact The Mousetrap, which he hopes will “catch the conscience of the king”. Hamlet hopes that when Claudius sees the players mimic his crime, it will prove too much for him and his guilt will be perceptible. Even in instructing the players, Hamlet impresses us a knowledgeable and cultured man. He tells the players exactly how to act – showing precision and attention to detail. When the player king is poisoned, it proves too much for Claudius and he swiftly exits – just as Hamlet has intended. Through his shrewdness and cunning – he has consummate evidence that Claudius is the killer.


As an audience, we are willing Hamlet to kill Claudius and avenge his father’s death, but his hamartia – his procrastination prevents him from doing so. Hamlet’s nobility, bravery and intelligence give him a super human persona, but his inability to act in a decisive manner is his fatal flaw. He ruminates too much “o’er the issue” and this spawns the death of many of the play’s central characters. He is an enigma and at times, we are often left wondering as to who he hates more – Claudius for killing his father, or Gertrude for possessing such scant regard for her late husband. once Hamlet assumes his antic-disposition, he ceases to be a single unified personality. The complexity of his character lies primarily in the contradiction between the noble and contemplative Hamlet suggested by his soliloquies and the often harsh and cruel nature revealed in action.


This duality is evident in his maltreatment of Gertrude and Ophelia. Hamlet uses guttural language to describe his mother’s relationship with Claudius. His obsession with what appears to be an incestuous relationship is an extremely disturbing aspect of his character. Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst suggested that the reason for Hamlet’s procrastination and why he prolongs in killing Claudius is because of the “Oedipus Complex”. Perhaps Claudius has carried out Hamlet’s subconscious desire to kill his father and marry his mother? Similarly, Hamlet’s treatment of Ophelia – his girlfriend is inhumane. He teases her saying “I did love you once, I love you not”. He urges her “get thee to a nunnery” and his maltreatment Ophelia is not an appealing aspect of his character. Nevertheless, we overlook Hamlet’s behaviour and when he kills the “meddling old fool” Polonius, we don’t view Hamlet as an ignoble villain, but rather as the antithesis, because we are aware that he is motivated by filial duty.


In the final act, we see a truly noble Hamlet. He acts on instinct and with courage and defiance. We are made aware that he truly does love Ophelia, as in the ‘graveyard scene’, when he finds out that the deceased body is that of Ophelia’s. he jumps into the grave. He defiantly declares his absolute love for her and says “forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love, make up my sum”. We see Hamlet’s nobility and realise that his flippant comments to her stemmed from his antic disposition and feigned madness.


Even when Horatio – the voice of reason urges Hamlet not to take part in the duel with Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, Hamlet is fearless and courageous and vows to take part. The battle has been arranged by Claudius with the favoured outcome being Hamlet’s death. Hamlet is selfless and does not fear death – a truly noble and heroic quality. The great tragedy is that Gertrude drinks the poison which Claudius has prepared for Hamlet and Laertes dies. However, Hamlet, in his dying moments, avenges his father’s death by stabbing Claudius. The play ends in tragedy, but Hamlet is borne “like a soldier to the stage”.


Hamlet is a young man with depth and thought, who is both riveting and intriguing. He is an enigmatic character who we admire both for his strengths and his weaknesses. His abomination for corruption motivates his action, however his deception is key to the plot and the hypocrisy of the court, which is rejected by Hamlet thus becomes a feature of him, as illustrated through his antic-disposition. Yet, the fascination lies therein, because despite his deception, Hamlet impresses us as an extremely intelligent, courageous and valiant hero, but most of all, as a loyal son. He never acts without processing the consequences and it’s tragic that Hamlet dies even after all his contemplation. The ability of the audience to connect with the emotions of Hamlet, combined with his supremacy over evil, make him one of the greatest noble and tragic heroes in English literature. Indeed, Horatio says it best, when he elucidates the nobility of the Danish prince and showcases the tragedy of his death, saying:

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince”.




Good luck,


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!