Leaving Cert English 2: Most user-friendly choice 'in decades’

Higher level exam judged to be a good test of students’ abilities overall

There were no tears today for Leaving Cert students of English as Paper 2 performed as students hoped and, dare one suggest, expected on Thursday afternoon.

"I was giving out to people for making predictions about John Montague and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin on Twitter last night," said ASTI subject representative Fintan O'Mahony. "But they both turned up on the higher and ordinary level papers."

Despite the well-received poetry section, the higher level exam was judged to be a good test of students’ abilities overall.

"It wasn't a predictable paper," said Elaine Dobbyn, a teacher in Coláiste Iognáid, Galway. "I thought the State Examinations Commission did a good job of challenging the students without throwing them completely."

Most students would have studied Othello for the single text question, and this year the female characters were to the fore. Students were able to get stuck in to a "juicy discussion" about whether the women in the play were weak and therefore unsympathetic, according to Dobbyn.

The second question generally focuses on a theme within the play. “That question asked about values,” said O’Mahony. “It was a question on theme, but the language was slightly unusual.”

‘Balanced sensitivity’

Jim Lusby of the Institute of Education said: "Questions on the other single texts, including The Great Gatsby and Never Let Me Go, showed a balanced sensitivity to the complexities of the texts."

The comparative study presented the greatest challenge in the higher level paper. “It definitely threw a few students,” Dobbyn said.

“My students enjoy the literary genre question in that section generally, but the questions that appeared were very specific and I think limited them a bit.”

“The theme or issue section was fairly sticky,” said O’Mahony. “Normally that question is quite general and looks for depth in the answer.”

A question that asked students about an idealistic versus a realistic impression of a theme or issue was probably “a step too far for some”, O’Mahony said.

The prescribed poetry section was hailed as the most user-friendly selection in decades by Lusby. “That section inspired huge joy,” Dobbyn said.

There were three "very nice" choices in Montague, Ní Chuilleanáin and Robert Frost, according to O'Mahony. "The Hardy question was also appealing for students who are Thomas Hardy fans," he added.

The unseen poem, Peter Sirr’s “Peter Street”, gave students nothing to worry about according to teachers.

Ordinary level students had a paper full of good questions that were “well set, clear and helpful”, Lusby said.

“It’s always a good sign when different students choose different questions and that happened here,” O’Mahony said, adding that most students stayed for the duration of the exam.

“You’d often get some students bailing out early,” he said. “Very few did this afternoon.”