Junior Cert English: ‘An improvement on last year’s paper’

Second exam under new curriculum brings some surprises but leaves students happy

The Junior Cycle English Higher Level examination was structured in a way to reward students with a wide knowledge of the syllabus and has been described both as "student-friendly" and "an improvement" on the 2017 paper.

The two-hour exam, divided into three sections, was worth 90 per cent of the overall marks, with the remainder based on an assessment task completed during the year.

Students were asked to complete 9 questions in total and were tested on reading and writing with competence; understanding characters and responding imaginatively to texts.

Kate Barry, a teacher at Loreto Secondary School, in Fermoy, said the higher level paper would not have been too much trouble for most students who had prepared for the exam.


“It was an improvement on last year’s paper. The questions on the study text were more of an invitation for students to use their knowledge of the text in their answers.

“Last year’s Shakespeare question asked students to design a poster about the play whereas this year’s one was to talk about a specific scene in the play, about conflict, and how that could be resolved. I felt they would have been able to use what they had learned about the play itself.”

Last year, English became the first subject to be examined in the reformed Junior Cycle programme. The 2017 exam, which received a mixed reaction from teachers, did not feature a question on a novel despite the fact that students would have studied one.

This year, students were happy with the question about the novel although some will have been surprised by the omission of a question about film and on one of the poems they prepared for.

“They were very happy with the novel question,” said Ms Barry.

“They thought the last question about the unseen poem was a little bit random. Apart from that, they thought theu could use what they had learned and that is really what they were looking for - that their hard work had paid off,” she added.

Candidates who had expected a question on one of the poems they had studied might have been disappointed as they were asked instead about Seeing and Believing , an "unseen" poem by Edwin Romond which was printed on the exam paper.

“Over the three years students are expected to study 26 poems and on the higher level paper there was no question that they would answer using one of those poems,” said Ms Barry.

“They were given an unseen poem and while they would have used what they had learned, I think there are questions about that - about transferrable skills.

“Given the nature of the exam there’s always going to be some bits that come up so it will suit some candidates better than other candidates,” she added.

Overall, the students were happy with the paper and Ms Barry described it as “student-friendly.”

The Ordinary Level paper was “more complex” though students were “generally happy” with it, Ms Barry said.

“It had lots of short questions and some of them were quite challenging. One of the more challenging questions was on the novel. Candidates were asked: “if you could add a completely new character to the novel or story you have chosen, what would that character be like, what would he or she do?”

“I thought that was a strange question. It didn’t test as much their knowledge of the novel ... as to how much they could come up with something on the spot.”

Other than that, it was good. There was a nice grammar question in it.

“There was certainly nothing nasty in it.”

“Generally they were happy.”

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Iriseoir agus Eagarthóir Gaeilge An Irish Times. Éanna Ó Caollaí is The Irish Times' Irish Language Editor, editor of The Irish Times Student Hub, and Education Supplements editor.