Presentation Secondary School

Senior Level Students

ATTENTION!! Senior English students

English pupils told: ‘argue more to earn exam points’


Leaving Certificate English students have been advised to brush up on their ability to argue to gain more points.

Exam chiefs are disappointed that candidates can be “overly reverential” and reluctant to express an opposing view when invited to do so in questions.

Their criticism follows a review of the performance of students in last year’s English exam, and a detailed analysis of the standards of answering, at both higher and ordinary level.

The Chief Examiner’s Report on Leaving Cert English, published by the State Examinations Commission, makes several references to the need for students to show how they can think for themselves.

One of the key aims of the English syllabus, for both higher and ordinary-level candidates, is to develop skills in critical literacy, through learning how to resist the “persuasiveness” of a text.

Students are expected to be able to question the authority of texts and to compare and contrast texts, regarded as very important in preparing them for the responsibilities and challenges of adult life.

So, some exam questions are framed in such a way that students are invited to engage, but not necessarily to agree, with the premise put forward in the questions. Examiners say such a possibility is often encouraged by phraseology, such as “to what extent do you agree or disagree with … “, and marks are given for points of disputation.

But the report states that “candidates can appear to adopt an overly reverential approach to questions”, which can affect their ability to demonstrate skills in critical literacy.

Examiners advise that “challenging the terms of a question, perhaps disagreeing with some part or the entire premise outlined, is an acceptable way in which to approach an answer”.


The ability to display such skills is key in the Comparative Study section, which involves discussion of and comparisons between two or three texts such as a novel, play, short story, autobiography, biography, travel writing or film.

It is possible for candidates to challenge, wholly or in part, not only the premise put forward in the questions, but also the views and opinions they encountered in studying the texts, the report states.

Examiners warn that “formulaic approaches to answering questions in this section can hinder candidates by inhibiting their engagement with the terms of the questions and curtailing the expression of independent opinion”.

Irish Independent