Thursday, June 05, 2014

Leaving Cert English Paper 2, 2014

This afternoon's Leaving Certificate Paper 2 has just finished, and there were a few grey-looking faces coming out of the exam hall. This was a demanding paper at Higher Level (which almost all our pupils sit); in this, the vast majority of candidates take Macbeth as their single text (the recent Chief Examiner's report commented on this). The limited number of key characters in this second-shortest of Shakespeare's texts may account for the absence of other named characters in the questions this time, with a testing question on Macbeth's relationships with others and what they reveal about power struggles, and a more straightforward question on 'dramatic techniques' (there might be a few responses dealing entirely with the soliloquies).

It is clear that those who study the other single texts tend to face easier questions (as was the case last year with The Great Gatsby). So there were straightforward character questions on Pride and Prejudice and Empire of the Sun, for instance, and a typical 'vision and viewpoint' one on the bleakness of Never Let Me Go. Perhaps some schools will reconsider tackling Shakespeare as the single text.

The two modes in the Comparative section were Vision and Viewpoint and Cultural Context (at the expense of the probably more popular Theme). There were fair questions here.

Tediously, of course, most of the talk will be about poetry (70 out of 400 marks), and the setters threw another curve-ball here after yesterday's Heaney essay on the language paper. His poem 'The Peninsula' appeared as the unseen poem - a very tough and perhaps disconcerting choice for candidates under pressure. This is no 'Mid-Term Break', with some dense language (particularly the winding final sentence) and ideas.  Heaney did not appear as a prescribed poet, and it is clear that the SEC is sending a message about 'poet-spotting' (Plath came up again). Perhaps of more concern is the very wordy and sometimes tortuous nature of the questions' diction itself. It's entirely possible that many candidates will not have understood 'evocative' in the Yeats question. The Larkin question was the most 'loaded', with an awful lot to think about and deal with : 'a perceptive observer of the realities of ordinary life in poems that are sometimes illuminated by images of lyrical beauty'. And the three 'd' words in the Dickinson question (four!) will have taken plenty of intellectual energy too: dramatic, disturb, delight.

At Ordinary Level, there were no such demands, with straightforward questions on Macbeth and the comparative, and Heaney's 'The Underground' and Plath's 'Child' being given accessible questions. The unseen was 'Coming Home' by the Welsh poet Owen Sheers.


David Fitzgerald said...

Thank you for that info on the ordinary level paper 2014. Only place I could find it. Would anyone be able to say what modes in the comparative came up at OL also?
Thank you

SCC English Department said...

You're welcome. At Ordinary Level, the modes were Relationships (an important relationship, the strength of a significant relationshop) and Theme (common theme re ending of text or understanding through an important character), key moment capturing the theme.