I completed my Leaving Cert a few years ago and studied English and French in University afterwards. I’m now a teacher of both and recently realised how difficult some students consider the subject. I got an A1 in English (I got 98% overall when I viewed my script) and thought I would reflect on some of my own study efforts and share them. This is by no means an exhaustive list but they certainly worked for me so I hope somebody finds them helpful! In relation to timing for each section I simply made an effort to complete my English homework within the recommended timing in sixth year.
I’ll be the first to admit that I absolutely adored the essay and Question B section, but don’t panic if you’re somewhat less enthusiastic! I’d advise choosing one or two of the essay types available on the composing section and focusing solely on them in order to perfect one or the other. My own personal forte was the magazine article- I enjoyed the relaxed, humorous tone of the article and it suited my own English writing style. If you struggle with using your imagination I’d advise preparing for one of the essays that include elements that are more easily prepared for. For example, preparing for the speech question would entail preparing an appropriate introduction and ending that can often be manipulated to suit a variety of situations. In the meantime, keep reading- even just articles online from the Guardian. Every little helps!
I personally didn’t find the comprehensions overly difficult and I’m sure that many students of all abilities will agree with me on this.
I adapted the usual and effective approach of underlining important words in the question, and then underlining sentences in the comprehension that I considered relevant. I would add three points to each question and ensure that relevant quotes are added to back up my statements.
Even those who have a natural flair for English aren’t guaranteed to excel in Paper Two if they do not spend the time learning the necessary material. I can remember my own teacher warning me that I couldn’t “write my way out of trouble” in this paper.
I would ensure that I was actually answering the question in each essay by referring back to the question around three times in each paragraph (at the beginning, middle and end).
I really wanted to improve my English vocabulary and I signed up for Word of the Day emails in the summer before sixth year in an effort to do this. I would then make a note of a word that would be suitable for writing about some of the texts I’d studied (for example “incogitant” was a term that proved useful with some of the behaviour of some characters in the play we had studied) and would make an effort to integrate these into my written work. I have to stay that I really think that this helped my written work distinguish itself and I would truly recommend it!
Hamlet was the prescribed drama when I completed my Leaving Certificate. I’ll be the first to admit that whilst I found the play relatively easy to study, I was by no means enthralled with the text!
I firstly focused my attention on the study of the characters. Studying each character individually is an excellent place to start as you can easily adapt these to “theme” questions once you know each character well.
I learned all of their relevant quotations and also ensured that I knew various impressive English words relevant to their own characteristics. For example, I would learn that Gertrude was “taciturn” rather than simply learning that she was “quiet.” I would also learn the term “incessant vacillating” in relation to the character of Hamlet, as opposed to learning a more simplistic term like “Hamlet’s indecision.”
I really found that this would greatly improve my vocabulary and easily improve the quality of my written pieces.
I would also start each question with a quote in the opening paragraph, where possible. For example, if the question related to deception I would perhaps add a relevant quote like “This above all: to thine own self be true” into the first paragraph.
I am sure that you already have plenty of “comparative” notes so I will try to keep this section brief! I would recommend dividing A4 pages into sections relevant to comparative study (for example “setting”) and comparing the three using relevant quotes. I felt that this really helped to keep things fresh in my mind and wasn’t overly time consuming.
I ensured that I had plenty of “comparison” synonyms- “however/ on the other hand/ nonetheless/ on the contrary.”
I would also add personal points (phrases like “I was surprised that”) when comparing texts.
I am well aware that many people hate poetry and find it very challenging. I would firstly concentrate on learning poetic techniques and their effects on poetry. You may well have studied these at Junior Certificate level but they are well worth revising.
I am aware that the effect of the technique on the poem may well depend on the poem itself but I found studying the general functions of each technique on poetry rewarding. For example, understanding the effects of a simile as a comparison allowed me to delve deeper into the poem. I would question what was actually being compared in the poem and use the rest of techniques like this in order to establish an understanding of the poem on both a technical and personal level. I found this strategy particularly useful for the unseen poem question- I simply highlighted the techniques and quickly established an understanding of the poem based on them and a quick reading of the poem.
In relation to prescribed poetry, I would obviously learn off the relevant quotes for each poem. Depending on the length of the poem I would highlight around three to five techniques used in the poem and their effects on the poem. I would also ensure that I had a good understanding of each theme and learn off impressive, easy to learn terms relating to each. For example, instead of learning that there is a lack of sympathy in “The Great Famine” (by Eavan Boland) I would instead learn that it is “devoid of compassion.”
Finally, I’d also learn off relevant quotes about the poet that could be added to an opening or closing paragraph. These aren’t necessarily from poems themselves (I remember learning that people referred to Patrick Kavanagh as “That Monaghan boy”) and can often be found in poet introductions in textbooks.
Best of luck. 🙂