EducationExam reaction

Leaving Cert politics and society: a tricky paper with ‘lofty’ questions

‘Best way to succeed in this subject is to look at what is going on in society and not be too fixated on rote learning’

Leaving Cert students were asked "what is the purpose of a manifesto in party politics" as part of today's politics and society exam. Photograph: Alan Betson

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Students were required to think critically about material throughout a challenging higher-level politics and society paper which reflected contemporary topics.

Paul McAndrew, a politics and society teacher at the Institute of Education, said there was lots of choice on the paper.

“The paper reflects contemporary political topics, but potentially in too lofty a manner for most students,” he said.

“There were many tricky moments that required students to both adapt their knowledge to new contexts or think beyond the particulars of the syllabus.


“This paper reaffirms the principle that the best way to succeed in this subject is to look at what is going on in society and not be too fixated on an ideology of rote learning.

“There is a general sense on this paper that the exam setter is echoing news stories of the year. While very contemporary, this means that some aspects of the questions better reflect discussion around the dinner table than the prescribed material of the course. This poses a challenge that will distinguish those looking for the very top grades from the rest.”

Section A of the paper contained short questions, with students required to answer 10 of the 15 provided.

“This choice will have been necessary for many as some questions examined material not clearly included in the syllabus,” said Mr McAndrew.

“For example, question G asked ‘the purpose of a manifesto in party politics’, which is not something directly covered.

“Students could recontextualise material from discussions on the role of political parties, but this particular demand sits outside what they would have been taught to expect.

“Later in the same section, question M asked on “the relationship between western imperialism and Edward Said’s theory of orientalism” and gives only four lines for a topic that you could write a book about. Being so succinct on such a big topic really requires a striking level of clarity and brevity.”

The data-based questions (DBQ) of Section B was a departure from previous years as both texts were taken from lobbying groups, said Mr McAndrew.

“Previously these kinds of texts were contrasted against the more objective CSO data, but here both pieces were of similar source. Both pieces had plenty of clear objective data, but students needed to be very careful in disentangling it from its interpretative context. This required a careful application of a critical thinking tool kit.”

Mr McAndrew said that section C’s discursive essays were a combination of the enticing and the challenging.

“Every question opened with something that would attract students but followed it with a specific twist that will penalize those hoping to waffle or rant. For example, a discussion of ‘nationalism and/or cultural identity’ is something that many students will be familiar with, but this was only examined via the lens of Thomas Hylan Eriksen’s theories, thus excluding many potential talking points and shifting towards pressure regulation in ‘overheating’ societies.

“Elsewhere students were asked on social media, again very familiar, but in the context of ‘periods of social and political unrest’, which is not something normally discussed. The question on the UN will require students to connect the dots of various topics as the UN is not a sole topic itself,” he said.