Leaving Cert Exam Review -English Paper 1

By Yeats College English teacher Ms. Sinead Caslin Cregg

English Paper One was a fair and enjoyable paper with a few unusual options but no major unwelcome surprises. The majority of students should be very pleased with the exam questions, which were phrased nicely and offered lots of scope for both creativity and discursive flair. The only unexpected elements were that there was no “descriptive essay” option among the seven essay titles, instead a “fairy tale” appeared as an option, and one of the three Question B tasks was “a verbal pitch” which was a new style of question. Students were instructed on the paper, however, that a “verbal pitch” is a “a spoken promotional presentation”, so this would have helped to avoid any confusion.


The theme of Paper One 2021 was “Reflections on Time”.  The three texts in the Comprehension posed no major difficulties in terms of language and comprehension. Thankfully, no elements of Paper Two appeared on this exam, as was the case in 2019 and 2018, where a ‘literature based question’ appeared. In the Comprehending section, the accompanying questions were similar on each of the three texts. Question (i) was worth ten marks and asked students to discuss “three insights you gained” into some aspect of what was discussed in the accompanying text. Question (ii) gave a quotation from the text and asked students to “give your personal response to this observation by the writer” (also worth ten marks). Question (iii) was worth 20 marks, as in previous years, and asked students to discuss “four features” of a specific named language genre. These questions were the exact same whether students chose to answer on Text 1 or 2 or 3, which was a nice treat!   

The Question B tasks were varied and encouraged students to use their imaginative, creative streaks. The three options were “a feature article”, “an open letter” or “a verbal pitch” (which was essentially a speech!) The topic of commemorative statues came up in Text 1, while animal rights came up as a topic in Text 2’s Question B. This year, students had the choice of answering one Question A OR one Question B, which was a nice, generous amendment. The range of essays offered in the Composing Section was excellent this year. There was wonderful scope and variety in the seven essay titles offered to students. The “descriptive essay” option did not appear, but it has not been a very popular choice by candidates in previous years so it would not have been missed hugely in my opinion. Option five was a new, unusual task as it asked students to write “a fable or fairy-tale” featuring “a bee or bees” and “set in ancient Ireland” This option would have been quite unexpected but it would appeal to students who enjoy writing creatively. Option seven asked for a “speech” “against stereotyping”, which I expect will prove to be a popular choice among students. The topic of “community” appeared in the “discursive essay” option, where students were asked to discuss “the meaning and importance of community”. This is quite a topical issue especially now in the Era of Covid and it would suit a lot of students. The personal essays are always a popular choice with students and the two titles here offered plenty of creative scope. Candidates were invited to “reflect on the role of humour, fun and laughter in life” or “reflect on the significance of birthdays”.  The essay titles overall were very fair and do-able. Yet, there was also plenty of opportunity for the high-fliers to showcase their command of English and written expression. Overall, English Paper One was a stimulating and enjoyable paper with no major surprises.