English paper 'very challenging'


Neither Sylvia Plath nor Seamus Heaney appeared in today's higher level English paper, despite widespread speculation that both poets might feature.

Some students expressed disappointment at a "very challenging" paper and a selection of questions that had a narrower focus than in previous years.

“The examiners have upped the ante this year,” said Michal Doherty of the Asti. “All the questions were challenging. There was a much narrower focus throughout. Students had to think very hard before answering. There was no room for pre-prepared material.”

The huge reaction on social media to the non-appearance of either Plath or Heaney has drawn renewed criticism of the practice of predicting the content of the English higher level paper.

In 2010, poet Eavan Boland was widely tipped to feature. Bookmakers Paddy Power gave odds on the outcome of the exam and many students expressed anger when Boland’s poetry was not included.

This year teachers warned students to ignore predictions about exam content especially in light of comments made by the Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn last December.

Mr Quinn criticised the prevailing desire for exams with “no surprises”.

His comments came on foot of a report published by the Department of Education and Skills looking at the current points and Leaving Cert systems and examining the need for change.

The report criticised the practice of candidates memorising pre-packaged answers and essays to secure maximum marks and points and was critical of media commentary, which it said “tends to equate predictability in the exam with quality.”

The State Examinations Commission is carrying out an analysis of Leaving Certificate exam papers to see if questions and topics have become too predictable.

“When I heard the Minister’s comments before Christmas I changed tack with my students,” said one English teacher today. “If I was an exam setter and my boss went on the public airwaves criticising how I do things, I would react. I knew this year’s paper was going to be weird.”