Leaving Cert English: ‘A challenge for pupils with limited attention spans’

Caitlin Moran features in this year’s Leaving Cert English paper one

Caitlin Moran features in this year’s Leaving Cert English paper one. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Caitlin Moran features in this year’s Leaving Cert English paper one. Photograph: Aidan Crawley


This year’s higher level English paper one challenged young people to think critically and creatively, according to teachers.

For the second year running, the higher-level exam asked students to draw from their literature studies, which were previously only covered in English paper two.

Lorraine Tuffy, Studyclix.ie expert and a teacher at Jesus and Mary Secondary School in Enniscrone, Co Sligo, said that this is a welcome development. “The highlight of last year’s higher-level paper one was undoubtedly the marrying of language and literature papers, and this year’s students would have felt prepared to draw from their engagement with studied texts.”

Jim Lusby, English teacher at The Institute of Education, said the general theme of the paper, “feeding our imaginations”, was interesting and relevant, while the paper’s approach to the topic was “stimulating”.

The exam featured three texts which candidates were required to read: “What Is Art For?” by the English writer Jeanette Winterson; an extract from David Park’s novel, “Travelling in a Strange Land”; and columnist Caitlin Moran’s essay, Libraries: Cathedrals of Our Souls.

‘Banalities on screens’

Mr Lusby said they required a sustained focus on experiences that stimulate the imagination, a focus that will “be alien to any student whose attention span is usually limited to scrolling the ever-changing banalities on screens”.

He said the questions set on each text were subtle and precise and demanded an understanding of how words shift their meanings with changing contexts.

Kate Barry, ASTI subject representative and a teacher at Loreto Secondary School in Fermoy, Co Cork, said that the paper offered well-prepared candidates a selection of questions that they could get straight into.

One question, which asked students to write an introduction to a collection of essays, was particularly timely, Barry said.

Students were also particularly keen on the journal entry, which asked them to imagine they were fleeing Earth after human actions had made the world uninhabitable, said Barry.

Candidates were also asked to consider the timeless relevance of their Shakespearian text by considering how the Bard’s work reveals something to a modern audience about ourselves now, Tuffy added.

“Essay questions were varied and, for the most part, engaging,” she said.

A short story question, however, posed challenges: it required students to ensure a librarian, photograph and a chair were central to the plot of a spy story.

“Perhaps the highlight of the paper was its last question where students were encouraged to articulate self-awareness in a debate speech for or against the motion: “We are a self-obsessed generation.”

Social media

The ordinary level paper, meanwhile, focused on the theme of social media.

Mr Lusby said the paper managed to be accessible and comfortable as well as stimulating and thought-provoking.

Set texts included a YouTuber’s description of social media experience, reflections on the selfie, and blog posts from The Friends of the Earth website.

“The composition tasks maintained the interesting balance of the entire paper, often starting with a familiar idea, but then inviting candidates to approach it from a somewhat different angle, such as imagining a year without the use of any form of social media,” he said.

Try this one at home: Write a descriptive essay which captures a sense of the difference between dawn and dusk and celebrates both the beginning and the end of the day;


Write a short story, suitable for publication in a collection of spy stories, in which a librarian, a photograph and a chair are central to the narrative.

- English paper one, higher level