Leaving Cert English: An Overview

English is one of three mandatory subjects on the Leaving Cert. You must (at least) pass it in order to be accepted into a postsecondary programme. It is always the first exam and there are two papers. Paper 1 is on the first day and Paper 2 is on the second day.

Every year, the curriculum changes, meaning that different poems, plays, and works of fiction are studied. The basic format of the exam is still the same.

What’s on the exam?

Paper 1:

Paper 1 is made up of two sections and is worth 200 points.

In Section I – Comprehending, you answer Question A and Question B, each worth 50 points. A Question A and a Question B follow each of the three texts. You must answer one Question A and one Question B.

Question A is made up of three parts that you must answer, two parts are worth 15 points and one part is worth 20 points. Question B is a longer question worth 50 points.

Section II is the composition section, which you will be given a choice of prompts to answer. The choices of prompts include writing a short story, feature article, speech, personal essay, descriptive essay, or discursive essay. These prompts have connections to the texts in Section I.

Paper 2:

Paper 2 is made up of three sections and is worth 200 points.

In Section I – The Single Text, you answer one question about a text. There are five texts with two questions each.

In Section II – The Comparative Study, you answer one question from A or B. You cannot use the text you answered the question in Section I in this section.

In Section III – Poetry, you answer two questions, one for Unseen Poetry and the other for Prescribed Poetry. On the prescribed poetry section, there are four authors, with a question for each – you pick one.

Tips for success

  • Do not answer any extra questions. Only answer what is required of you and focus on those answers. You will not get any extra points for answering additional questions.
  • Pace yourself and allow yourself enough time to answer each of the questions.
    • Practice your timing when revising, make sure you can write what is required within that time limit.
    • Take a few minutes at the beginning to properly read the texts and questions. Know which questions you will answer within those first few minutes and spend the bulk of your time answering them.
    • Take some time to plan out your answers with an outline. Ask for extra paper at the beginning for planning.
    • Don’t spend too much time answering one question, make sure to answer all the questions.
    • Take a few minutes at the end to look it over.
  • When picking a question to answer, make sure you pick the question you feel the most confident about answering.
  • There are eight prescribed poets and four will be on the exam, so study five poets because at least one of them will show up on the exam.
    • Every year there is at least one Irish poet and at least one female poet, so include Irish and female poets in the list of those you are studying. However, there is no guarantee the Irish or female poet you study will show up.
    • Have quotations ready.
  • Be aware of themes.
  • You are graded on clarity of purpose, coherence of delivery, efficiency of language use, and accuracy of mechanics.
    • Make sure your answer to the question is relevant, clear, and spelling and grammar error free.
    • Answer all elements of the question and don’t ramble.
    • Make sure your essays are organised and logical:
      • In your introduction, you need to include what points you will make, what you’ll be writing about, and your thesis statement.
      • Every body paragraph needs a topic sentence and needs to be linked to the last one.
      • In your conclusion, restate your thesis statement and sum up what you’ve written.
    • Don’t write an essay in the wrong style and pick the prompt in Section II you find interesting and you feel confident about answering.
  • Look at past exam papers and assignments from class, especially comments from your teacher. Know where you need to improve and what you’re doing well.


We hope this exam format overview and list of tips will help you. Best of luck!

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