Leaving Cert. English, Paper 1 – Part A: The Complete Guide

Leaving Cert. English, Paper 1 – Part A: The Complete Guide

What are you being asked to do?

The marker is told to view each question as a task, which you must solve with your answer. Here the task is to show your comprehending skills; you are proving to the marker that you can read or look at a certain text and answer questions based on what you have read or seen. There are three question types used to test this: questions concerning what a written question is about, questions on the style of a written text, and questions on the style of a visual text.

If we look at the 2009 exam we see this. Text A contains three questions:

  1. Based on your reading of the above text, outline the views of Veronica Chrisp and Bernie Wright on animal welfare in zoos.
  2. Join the debate. Having considered the views expressed in the text, do you think zoos should be closed? Give reasons for your decision.
  3. Select four features of argumentative and/or persuasive writing evident in the text and comment on their effectiveness. Refer to the text in support of your answer.

Text B contains the questions:

  1. David Malouf evokes a strong sense of place in this extract from his short story. What impression do you get of the Australian town and its people? Support your answer with reference to the text.
  2. Do you think the boy has a good relationship with his parents? Give reasons for your answer.
  3. Identify and comment on four features of narrative and/ or descriptive writing evident in this text. Support your answer by illustration from the text.

Text C contains the questions:

  1. From your reading of this text what do you understand by the term ‘the decisive moment’? Refer to both the written and visual text in support of your answer.
  2. Select three features of the author’s style in the written element of the text and comment on their effectiveness. Support your answer with reference to the written text.
  3. Write a personal response to the visual image in Text 3 that makes the greatest impact on you. [You might consider the subject matter, setting, mood, caption, relevancy, photographic qualities/ technique, etc]

As seen, there are three question types throughout the three texts. However, regardless of the question type three things are asked of you to show your comprehending abilities:

  • to give a straight response – you are asked such questions as whether ‘you think zoos should be closed?’ which require to say whether you think something is so, or is not, or should be so, or should be not etc.
  •  you are asked to give reasons for your response – mention is made of e.g ‘Give reasons for your decision’ (the likes of ‘Support your answer with reference to the written text’ etc also indicates this as it asking you to give reasons from the written text).
  • To give examples for your reasons – each question always requires you to e. g ‘Support your answer with reference to the written text’ (here referring to examples), ‘Refer to the text in support of your answer’ (here answer refers to your straight response and reasons which you use to back it up)

Sometimes you may be asked to give a personal response – questions may appear such as ‘From your reading of the text’, ‘Do you think..’ or ‘Write a personal response’.

The questions in Part A are thus asking for a straight answer to each question, reasons for your choosing of this straight answer, and examples to show that your reasons for choosing this straight answer can be chosen and thus that your straight answer is suitable for answering the question asked of you. Throughout this you may have to respond personally.

What do you need to have in these answers?

As well as the three (or four, if you include a personal response) requirements above, the marker will expect your answers in Part A to include the four qualities of Clarity of Purpose, Efficiency of Language useCoherence of Delivery and Accuracy of Mechanics. Hence, in any answer to a question in Part A, you are required to have these seven elements, meaning that you can answer any question on Part A with a suitable answer structure that contains all seven elements.

An effective way to structure your answer so as to contain all seven elements is with the ‘say and show’ method. This involves stating your answer to the question and then showing how this answer is suitable for answering the question with evidence. This method splits your answer into an introduction, main body of three/ four paragraphs and a conclusion. The broad outline of this answer already sets out to answer Part A in the manner required as shown above; the introduction will introduce your answer with your straight response to the question, the paragraphs of the main body of your answer will provide reasons for choosing this straight response and examples to prove that the reasons for and thus the straight response can be chosen, while including a personal response, if needed. The conclusion will conclude your answer. Using this method answers the question and thus solves the task as the marker wishes because it also includes the four qualities looked for by the marker, as shall be shown.

Clarity of Purpose

The introduction brings about the first quality needed in your answer.

This means that you are engaging with the set task, which here is proving that you can read/look at a text and answer questions based on it. As we have seen, the set task requires several things of you, and the introduction allows you to place the first of these in your answer. To show this, we will take the question: ‘Do you consider the first paragraph to be an example of good descriptive writing?’ (2007, text 1, i)

Any introduction to a piece should tell its reader what it is about. Here, the first few lines of your answer should do this and thus your straight response to the question is suitable, because it will tell the marker in a concise manner what your answer is about. It will do so because the remainder of the answer will back this straight response up because it will be reasons for your choosing of this straight response and examples to back such reasons up – therefore the straight response is the perfect introduction because it tells your marker what the remainder of the answer will be about. A suitable straight response for the question above would be something such as ‘I do consider the first paragraph to be an example of good descriptive writing.’

Immediately your answer has one requirement, the straight response to the question. It now requires reasons to show the marker why you chose this straight response to answer the question (these reasons may involve a personal response; even though the above is a personal response more is needed, as shall be shown). As said, an introduction should inform the reader of what the remainder of the piece is about, and therefore your introduction here should tell the marker of the reasons for why you chose the straight response, such as the one above. Each of these will be used in a paragraph of the main body of your answer, so you should list these to the marker, because they are the rest of your answer, and in your introduction you need to tell the marker what is in the rest of your answer. For the answer above something such as so should suffice:

‘I feel the first paragraph is so because it uses verbs and adjectives to create a vivid energetic picture, imagery which appeals to the sense of sight and sound, and it uses personification of the tree, which adds to the dramatic visual effect.’

Each of your reasons will be used in a paragraph to back up your straight response. In each paragraph a threefold method can be used to show a reason for choosing your straight response.

Firstly, like the first lines of any piece should indicate what the remainder of the written piece is about, the first lines of each paragraph should indicate what the rest of the paragraph is about. You should therefore firstly mention the reason you will concentrate on in the paragraph, such as

‘I do consider the first paragraph to be an example of good descriptive writing, firstly because of its including verbs and adjectives to create a vivid, energetic picture.’

Secondly, you need to say how this reason helped you make your straight response to the question. This is an important part of Clarity of purpose because you are here showing to the marker that the reasons you have chosen for and thus your straight response do answer the question asked of you; in other words, you are showing that what you are writing is solving the task asked of you. Here you can insert another requirement sometimes needed in your answer, a personal response. You can here say why you chose this reason and thus why you are answering the question with the response you picked. Doing so for the question we have begun answering would continue its first paragraph in such a manner:

‘In doing so I think the first paragraph becomes alive and full of motion; it is not like a picture you would view in an art gallery which captures a specific moment, forever. Here the first paragraph is describing a tree being cut down so I feel it needs to describe the various stage of this, rather than capturing it in a one-off moment. The falling of the tree is not simply a one-off moment; it is a series of events which includes the tree’s struggle to stay up, its fall and after the fall. Therefore I expect a suitable description to be energetic and vivid to convey this variety and multitude of happenings. I felt using verbs and adjectives to create a vivid, energetic picture achieved this easily.’

If a personal response is not required, you can simply say why you chose this reason helps answers the question with your straight response, without inserting ‘I’, ‘me’ etc.

All that is then needed to conclude the paragraph are examples; these will provide evidence that your reason does help answer your question because the text shows instances of how you say it does, thus proving your statement of how it does so to be true.

If you use this threefold method for each paragraph of your main body you will be including the requirements for your answer; you will have given a straight response to your answer, provided reasons for doing so (as well as showing how these reasons prove your straight response to be suitable for answering the question) which can include a personal response, as well as backing up all of this with examples. Having done so in a well-structured and organised manner brings in another of the four qualities looked for by the marker in your answer.

Efficiency of language use

This quality focuses partially on your using of language (/writing) to form a suitably structured answer to the question/task required of you. Using the structure above would show that you are able to control your language to answer the question/task. This quality also concerns your writing/ language use within your answer structure, and that you are using suitable langauge to answer the question within a suitable answer structure, both of which are needed to show that you can use your language suitably to answer the question. Some things to keep in mind so that you are using suitable language are:

  • Correct terminology/phraseology is essential – if you are asked on a certain question, you will be expected to write about material which is in someway suitable; for example if you are asked to talk about a character, the marker won’t expect you to be mentioning such things as setting.
  • Short sentences are best; long sentences may take away from the point you are trying to make and the marker may view this as ‘waffle’.
  • The use of ‘I’ or ‘me’; if the question is aimed at ‘you’, answer accordingly.
  • Engage with the text and use plenty of examples to back up your answer.

Coherence of delivery

This marker will look for your answer to continuously and cohesively answer the question over its entirety without disruption or interruption. Providing your answer with examples will continuously provide evidence for your straight response and reasons for this – so use plenty of examples.

The other way to continuously and cohesively answer the question is to ensure that when you move from one part of your answer to another, such as a different part of the paragraph, or another paragraph, you link this new part of your answer to the previous part. This ensures that your answer remains unified and gaps do not form. There are two places in your answer to do so:

1) In paragraphs when different examples are used to provide evidence that your reason does help answer the question through the response you used. Use linking phrases to link your examples and present them as unified, all serving the same function, showing that your reason does help answer the question with your response. Use such phrases as ‘We see this again with..’, ‘We see more of the same’ etc.

For example, in the paragraph which we have been answering, after introducing the point about the verbs and adjectives and showing how this reason helps you answer the question with your response, you could use such examples and link them as so:

‘This is seen with the mention that the tree ‘twisted’ but later ‘keeled over’ and finally fell to the ground ‘with a thunderous hurricane crash’ all in the space of a couple of moments. However the description does not stop there; even after the tree has fallen the description continues and we hear how the boy saw ‘light flood in to the space where the tree had stood.’ I felt that the effect is that the description is alive and energetic, with a variety of happenings occuring in a small space of time which, when forcing these all together in one short paragraph, creates an intense feeling of energy, which the description (as shown above) aimed to convey.’

The linking phrase ‘However the description does not stop there’ links the first example, of the tree’s fall, to the second, of the boy’s viewpoint of the fall. In doing so, it shows both examples to be doing the same thing, showing that the verbs and adjectives present the fall as vivid and energetic, through portraying the fall as a series of happenings, and thus showing a suitable reason for answering with your straight response to the question asked, which furthermore presents your straight response a a suitable for answering the question.

2) In-between paragraphs; again linking phrases can be used to present your answer not as a group of separate paragraphs providing reasons for your straight response to a question, but a unified answer which makes a response to a question and then exapands upon this statement by providing reasons which all show why chose to respond to the question in the manner you did so. At the beginning of paragraphs you can link each paragraph to the last through linking phrases such as ‘Another reason I’, ‘As well as..’ etc.

For example, if you were to begin the next paragraph after the one just mentioned above, you may want to link it in such a way as ‘As well as its including verbs and adjectives to create a vivid energetic picture, another reason I consider the first paragraph to be an example of good descriptive writing is its including of imagery which appeals to the sense of sight and sound.’

This, as said, achieves the same effect as linking examples in your paragraphs; it shows each paragraph linked to another to be doing the same thing, providing reasons for choosing to respond to the question in the way you chose to.

After completing the main body of the answer, all that is left is the conclusion. The purpose of the conclusion is to conclude your answer so here you should be reminding the marker of your response to the question, your reasons for doing so and how this suitably answers the question. Therefore, you should list your response, your reasons for this response and finally a couple of lines stating what these have shown over the entire answer; how your response and reasons are a suitable answer to the question. An example for the question we have been answering throughout could be:

‘As shown, I do consider the first paragraph to be an example of good descriptive writing. This is because the first paragraph uses verbs and adjectives to create a vivid energetic picture, it uses imagery which appeals to the senses of sight and sound and finally because of its personification of the tree, which adds to the dramatic visual effect. All of these combine to make the first paragraph an example of good descriptive writing because they allow the paragraph to show, rather than simply tell, what happened (the falling of the tree).’

Finally, with regards to the final quality needed, Accuracy of Mechanics, spelling and grammar should be of a high standard, with very few mistakes allowed before marks are deducted (this occurs when mistakes hamper the marker’s of your answer).

 

All in all, when you are answering your question for the part A/ comprehension section you should be focusing on:

  • Providing a response to the question
  • Providing reasons for this response
  • Stating why you can use these reasons
  • Evidence that proves your reasons are relevant
  • Clarity of Purpose: that you are answering the question (providing a response to the question)
  • Coherence of Delivery: that you are continuously answering the question
  • Efficiency of Language Use: that you are using the appropriate language (structure included) to answer the question
  • Accuracy of Mechanics: While doing all of the above you are using correct spelling and grammar

Checklist:

  • Introduction: list response and reasons for this
  • Main body: three paragraphs, each of which has linking phrase to the last paragraph to achieve coherency. Each paragraph should state the reason for your response in the introduction, explain why this reason justifies your response, while also giving examples to provide evidence of your reason.
  • Conclusion: Sum up your response and state its significance.
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About the Author

John Ryan

John has a Masters in Modern English Literature and is the founder of RyJoLC, an educational consultancy based in Dublin that provides English language and curriculum resources to educational institutions worldwide.
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