Leaving Cert English paper 1: Chadwick Boseman stars in diverse and timely exams

Denise Chaila also featured in contemporary papers that ‘tuned in’ to current moment

Leaving Cert students begin their first exam – English paper one – at Sutton Park School, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Leaving Cert students begin their first exam – English paper one – at Sutton Park School, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The late actor Chadwick Boseman played a starring role in the first State written exam for almost two years, as just under 40,000 students sat diverse and different Leaving Cert English paper-one exams.

Most students have responded positively to the English papers which, at higher level, asked them to write about the controversy surrounding statues of men involved in the slave trade or the dangers of stereotyping.

On the ordinary-level paper, meanwhile, an appearance by Denise Chaila, an Irish musician with Zambian roots, represented a move towards a paper that is more representative of modern Ireland.

The higher-level paper featured extracts from Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir by author John Banville and A Ghost in the Throat, the award-winning novel from Doireann Ní Ghríofa.

Julian Girdham, a teacher at St Columba’s College near Rathfarnham in south Co Dublin and blogger at JulianGirdham.com, said that the higher-level paper offered diversity in choice and content, and was relevant to the students.

“It tuned into the moment and many of the questions gave students scope for a meaty, interesting answer. Question A (1) in the comprehension is normally quite functional, but this time students were asked for more thinking and insights,” he said.

“In the Banville comprehension, they were asked: ‘Based on your reading of text one, explain three insights you gained into the impact of time on memories.’”

Lorraine Tuffy, Studyclix.ie’s English expert teacher and a teacher at Jesus and Mary Secondary School in Enniscrone, Co Sligo, said that the paper was “enticing and stimulating”.

Ms Tuffy said that the Banville text was “beautifully nostalgic and evocative” while the Ní Ghríofa extract was “arrestingly aesthetic”, but “perhaps the most broadly appealing text was a commencement speech delivered by the late Chad Boseman at Howard University in which the actor promotes the pertinence of purpose in life”.

Ms Tuffy said that the personal essays provided much scope for candidates and were age-appropriate. “The debut of a ‘fable or fairytale’ in which bees feature prominently may have been a freer and stimulating option for the well-prepared creative writer.

“Overall, the paper promoted critical, creative and reflective thinking in students,” she said.

Inviting

The ordinary-level paper focused on the general theme of music. “[The second text] was perhaps the most inviting for its exploration of how music connects us as well as its consideration of the transformative impact of technology on our musical experience,” said Ms Tuffy.

“Typically, composition titles were broad and varied. Most enticing were perhaps the personal essay titles which would have been well received; a particularly provocative title promoting individuality asked students to respond to this statement: ‘You shouldn’t bend to fit the world and its labels.’”

The Leaving Cert exams, which feature more choice than previous years, have been designed to account for the fact that students have missed several months of their education because of school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms Tuffy said that the amendments to this year’s English paper one gave candidates more time to think than they usually get, while the level of choice meant they were free to focus their energy and attention.

Try this at home

– English paper one, higher level, Question B, 40 marks

You have been invited to write a feature article, entitled Monumental Matters – The Story of Statues, to appear in the magazine supplement of a weekend newspaper. In your article you should: reflect on the long-established tradition of erecting statues to celebrate or memorialise people, explore some of the reasons why commemorative statues may be controversial, and give your views on continuing this tradition into the future.