Monday, June 07, 2010

Quotations in the Leaving Cert

There have been a lot of visitors to this blog in the last few days who have arrived by Googling something like 'How important are quotations in the English Leaving Cert?' So for everyone who is studying for the next three days prior to the Literature paper on Thursday afternoon, here are some comments on the Higher Level exam, which almost all our own pupils will sit:-

  • Quotations are particularly important for the Single Text (for us, King Lear - a reminder that Higher Level candidates must answer on Shakespeare at some point), and for Prescribed Poetry. Our own 6 King Lear revision podcasts feature plenty of quoting, and indeed you can test yourself in number 4, which is a quotation auto-test. Quotations both for Shakespeare and for Prescribed Poetry should be short and effective - in other words, stitched naturally into your commentary to support a point you are making and to show your grasp of the text. By this stage you should know all your quotations: inevitably, you are only going to use a minority of these. Some candidates like to write quotations in a different colour, or to highlight them: this can pick them out for the examiner.
  • Unseen Poem: again, pick out short phrases and individual words. If you find a particular moment interesting or memorable, briefly quote it and explain. In the 2009 marking scheme, examiners were advised that this question is 'essentially a reading test: do not expect lengthy answering.' Quoting effectively shows that you have read effectively.
  • Comparative section: since the emphasis here is on a wider sweep than for the Single Text, you're likely to use fewer quotations. However, brief phrases can still be used very effectively, and you should definitely know your key moments extremely well, and be able to quote at will from them. For example, Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa is one of our texts. In the key dance scene, Maggie starts everything off with 'a look of defiance' on her face. That single word 'defiance' gives you an opening into her feelings - what is she defying? This brief quotation from the stage directions is enormously helpful and suggestive.
  • And in the Language Paper I (on Wednesday morning), when answering the A section (comprehension) questions, you should stitch brief phrases and individual words into your answers. The examiners expect evidence directly from the text, but there's no virtue in just quoting large chunks of it - not advised. When answering a 'style' question - the way the piece is written - you need to quote examples of the style.

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