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Question B advice

What do I need to think about before I start writing?

Imagine your answer is a SUITCASE – the examiner is looking for certain TAGS.

T = Topic. Stick to the topic. Have plenty of ideas. Identify problems but also offer solutions.

A = Audience. Who are you writing for? What kind of language is appropriate? (formal/informal)

G = Genre. Are you writing a diary/report/speech etc…? What layout is expected?

S = Style. What techniques will you use? Emphatic words, vivid imagery, address audience etc…?

If these elements are there then you should have everything you need in your answer.

You cannot answer QA & QB on the same text.

If you do you lose 25% of the marks for Paper 1.

What can I be asked to write?

Report / memo


Letter (may be based on the text)




Diary entries (may be based on the text)




How much should I write? 1½ – 2pgs

How long do I have? 45Mins

Do I need to read the text the QB follows?

Often you are asked to base your answer on the information in the text so you will have to read it quickly to get ideas.

The examiners will reward ‘creative modeling’.

This means you can use the ideas in the text BUT you cannot just re-write sentences word-for-word and pretend you’ve come up with them yourself (this is plagiarism.)

They are expecting you to model the same style – if the writer used quotes, you should too (but different ones), if the writer included an anecdote you should do (but your own anecdote…). You must add your own personality & imagination. Don’t steal the ideas, challenge them, add something new, model a similar style but different content. 

Trust Your Voice

Lots of you are afraid of Paper 1. You fear the moment that you open the exam and discover that you have to have an opinion. Your opinion. Not your teachers or the revision course booklet’s or your parent’s. Your own. It’s just you, a blank page, a biro and the light of your imagination. So I ask myself what are you so afraid of?

And to be fair I remember this fear myself, the desire to do well balanced against the uncertainty of not knowing what I would face on the day. But I don’t recall the same level of anxiety that I see on a daily basis in my classroom. I don’t recall complaining about how unfair it all was (maybe that’s just because I was lucky enough to love English) Or asking ‘How could the examiners expect us to make it up on the spot?’ as though thinking on your feet were somehow a ludicrous proposition. I do remember being infuriatingly opinionated about pretty much everything – I still am – but I also thought it was part and parcel of being a teenager. Stick it to the man. Tell it like it really is. Perhaps I was just naive.

So let’s try to get to the bottom of it. What has happened in our education system to make you so afraid?

Well first of all, education is increasingly a business with you as the client and us as the provider. Because of the demands students and parents make on teachers and because teachers make those demands of themselves – let’s face it, we all want you to get good results – you are being spoon fed. You are being told what to learn but all too often you are not being taught how to learn. And you are not innocent in this process so don’t fool yourself – you tell the teacher, I want notes. I need notes. At home you condition your parents to think that the more notes you get the better the teacher is. Even the teachers start to believe this. When you get a corrected test or a piece of homework back all too often (and of course there are plenty of exceptions) your message to us is ‘I don’t care what I did wrong. I don’t need to think about that. I just need you to fix it so that when I’m rote learning it off for the exam I’m not learning something with mistakes in it’.

But the mistakes inevitably appear in the exam because you have to demonstrate that you understand what you’re talking about.

Or maybe not. Maybe few mistakes appear because this is, after all, the  Leaving Cert & it caters all too well to rote learning.

Maybe it’s only when you go to college that the wheels fall off the wagon because now you are expected to think for yourself, to figure it out, to have an opinion. To go to the library and wade through reams of information because no-one around here is going to hand you a neatly photocopied summary of the topic, you have to come up with that yourself. But nobody’s ever asked that of you before and you don’t know how. You HATE having to have an opinion of your own, because there are no guarantees that it’s RIGHT. And you want guarantees. And notes. And predictable exams. And good grades. And a good job afterwards, thank you very much. You can always ask someone in the year ahead for their notes. For a price of course. Education is still a business after all.

But then the wagon falls apart completely when you start working because suddenly someone else is the client and YOU are the provider. Your boss wants you to write a memo, make a presentation, compile a report. Hell, even before you get to that stage you need to write a letter of application to get the job. You vaguely remember your teacher trying to get you to do this when you were at the peak of your teenage hormonal obsession with that boy with the nice skin and the broad shoulders who smelled like a Lynx ad. You were probably in 2nd yr. But then exams kicked in and then more exams kicked in and eventually you decided it was easier to give your voice away to someone else. You became a kind of talking puppet for other people’s notes and opinions – all of which you were able to learn off verbatim because you’re good at that – but you lost yourself. You lost your own voice.

Not every student feels like this. Lots of you have a wonderful voice on paper that you trust, that you feel confident in unleashing on the world. But even you are still filled with doubt, with uncertainty because there is no predicting what will come up on the day. You have to prove that you know what you’re doing. Pick the right words, use the right techniques, choose the right format. And for some of you, for many of you, this is terrifying. It’s like entering a burning building with no insurance.

I want none of you to feel like this. I’d like you to trust your voice. Have an opinion. If there are all sorts of topics out there that you don’t have an opinion on, there’s plenty of time to read more about them, to form an opinion. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. I will not ridicule you – when have I ever done that? I might make suggestions about how to edit your work, how to make it better. And that isn’t a threat to your voice. That is professional help to clarify your thoughts and words and ideas. But your voice is still your own and you need to own it. Because one day you will be asked for your opinion – at work, or when you are raising your children, or when you are caring for your elderly parents. And I don’t want you to feel the same panic then that you feel now when I ask you to write a speech or an article or a personal essay or a short story. I know you feel uncertainty. But you always have your voice. And no-one can take that away from you.

Except if, like me, you’ re suffering from chronic laryngitis.


Let me repeat – the system stinks. That’s not your fault.

It’s natural to feel anxiety about Paper 1 – especially if English isn’t one of your better subjects and you have no aspirations to be a writer. Ever. It’s the equivalent of asking me to be enthusiastic about maths -wasn’t my strongest subject at school and you’ll never make me enthusiastic about it.

So it’s ok to be nervous. And it’s not your fault the system is so flawed. But we’ve got plenty of time between now and then for you to gain some of the confidence you need for Paper 1. Can we do it? Yes we can.

Types of comprehension

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2014 – the exam no longer features a ‘visual text’ by itself. For now they seem to have integrated it so that every text is accompanied by image(s) and/or a graph and usually – but not always – one of the three questions will ask you to discuss/interpret the visual text.

Types of Comprehensions

You will have a choice of 3 texts – you pick one to read & answer questions on (QA) and one piece of functional writing (QB) from a different text.

You cannot answer QA & QB on the same text.

If you do you lose 25% of the marks for Paper 1.

Typically 3 different styles of text, sometimes with a combined written & visual element.

WARNING: In 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 two of the 3 texts had a visual element so you cannot ignore this section when revising for the exam. In 2014, however, while all three comprehension texts had visuals, only one text had a question which asked you to discuss the visual as well as the written element (it was a book cover).

1. Non-fiction: This could be an interview, a newspaper or magazine article, a speech, a blog, an extract from a biography or a non-fiction book.

2. Descriptive writing: Extract from novel / short story / biography / travel writing.

3. Visual text: A series of photographs usually accompanied by a short article or introduction (on one occasion it was 2 contrasting book covers).

Typical questions?

Non-fiction =

Describe the personality of the writer / interviewee.

Describe the lifestyle of the writer / interviewee.

In your own words, outline the argument made by the writer / speaker.

What is your opinion of this issue? (support by close reference to the text).

To what extent do you agree/disagree with the writer? (almost same as above).

Do you think the writer likes or dislikes his subject matter? (the person / group or issue he’s writing about). How is the writer’s attitude revealed?

What is the most important point being made by the writer?

Select three features of the writer’s style and comment on their effectiveness.

Identify 4 elements of effective speech-writing & comment on their effectiveness.

Identify 4 features of argumentative and/or persuasive writing and comment on their effectiveness.

What features make this an interesting piece of informative writing?

Select the quotation used in the passage which the greatest impact on you and give reasons for your choice.

Do you find the style of writing in this article appealing?

Descriptive writing =

What qualities do you find appealing in the character of __________.

What impression of the character of _________ is created in this extract.

Describe the relationship between the two characters of ________ & ________.

How does this extract create a strong sense of place?

Does the description of the market / railway station bring it to life for the reader?

Identify and comment on 4 features of narrative and/or descriptive writing used.

Choose 3 particularly vivid images you find effective in this extract.

This novel has been described as compelling and well written. Do you find the style of writing dramatic and descriptive?

Would reading this extract encourage you to read the book in full?

Comment on the appropriateness of the title.

What signals let you know this story is intended to be humorous?

Visual text =

What impact do the visual images make on you?

Which image makes the greatest impact on you? You may wish to consider the subject matter, setting, mood, caption, relevancy, photographic qualities / techniques, use of colour, light, objects, details.

Which image is most effective in capturing the theme of _________  / Do these images capture the essence of _____________.

Imagine this series of images is to be published in a book of photojournalism. Which one would you choose for the front cover and why?

Which book cover do you find more interesting?

Select another image you would use to expand this selection. Briefly describe it and say why it would fit in well with this collection.

Outline briefly what you see in each of the images.

What does the photographer want the viewer to feel?

Do the written and visual elements of the text go well together?

From your reading of the introduction and the photos, what impression do you have of this issue?

Write one paragraph that would serve as an introduction to this collection of images.


Report Layout

There are a few ways of doing this correctly. You can use the headings IMRAD -introduction, methods, results and discussion or

Use the following headings:


Explain what the report is about, why you decided to write it, how you will gather your information.


Using bullet points & statistics, make a list of your findings.


What can you conclude from what you’ve discovered above.


What changes / solutions do you suggest. One per conclusion. Be specific.

NOTE: on one occasion students were asked to write a ‘memo’. A memo is an informative document usually used in an office setting. It can come in many different formats so there is no one absolutely correct way of approaching this task. The language is usually formal, clear and direct. Click on this link for more discussion and sample memos: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/590/04/Sample Report

Report on the eating habits of Junior Certificate students.


The purpose of this report is to find out more about the typical eating habits of junior certificate students. Interest in this topic began following a discussion on healthy eating during our home economics class. We compiled a questionnaire which was distributed to all junior certificate students.


  • 24% of students regularly skip breakfast
  • 76% eat unhealthy snacks during morning break (these include chocolate, crisps, sweets, fizzy drinks, sausage rolls, wedges).
  • 58% bring a packed lunch, 12% go home, 17% eat in the canteen.
  • 13% rarely eat lunch.
  • 94% have a healthy hot dinner every day.


Students have a healthy balanced diet for the most part. Some students eat excessive amounts of junk food during morning break. There are also some concerns about the practice of skipping meals.


Introduce a special offer in the canteen whereby students can buy a bottle of water, pot of yoghurt and piece of fruit for €1.50 during morning break.

Arrange for a nutritionist to speak to all SPHE classes, focusing on the health benefits of healthy eating and the dangers of skipping meals.

Provide in-service training for teachers on recognising the symptoms of eating disorders.

Report writing – common mistakes

(A) Using casual, conversational language and abbreviations.

Examples =

  1. It’s obvious that SHOULD BE It is obvious that

  2. We’ve discovered SHOULD BE We have discovered

  3. …we’d look at SHOULD BE …we would examine

  4. We realised how bad students were eating SHOULD BE We realised how unhealthily students were eating.

  5. rubbish food SHOULD BE unhealthy or junk food

  6. Parents must give their kids SHOULD BE give their children

A report is an official document so always choose the most formal phrase you can.

(B) Offering personal opinions.

Examples =

  • Few leaving certs eat a breakfast which is surprising, you’d expect them to try and get a good start to the day considering they are facing such a big exam year.


  • 77% OF leaving certificate students don’t eat breakfast.
  • Lots of students eat chocolate, crisps and sweets during the day. This is disgraceful.


  • 76% eat unhealthy snacks during morning break (these include chocolate, crisps, sweets, fizzy drinks, sausage rolls, wedges)

A report presents the facts in clear simple direct language.

It is a scientific fact that skipping meals is unhealthy but there is no scientific proof that it is ‘disgraceful’. Get to the point and avoid giving your opinion.

(C) Taking too narrow a focus.

  • Instead of talking about all meals you only referred to lunch
  • Instead of asking about packed lunches you only looked at what was sold in the canteen (in this case it should be re-named “Report on the school canteen”)
  • You went totally off the point and assessed levels of obesity.

(D) Your method of finding out information was flawed – you used observation instead of a survey or questionnaire.

Why is this a problem?

Think of the example above – if you simply stand in the canteen and watch people eating you won’t be including everyone – the people who go home for lunch, those who go to town and those who bring a packed lunch – so your conclusions will be flawed. Also, you cannot get any exact statistics simply by watching. The whole point of a report is to find out more than you know or suspect already so you need exact figures.

(E) You were unrealistic which made the report seem fake!

  • “I interviewed all the students in our school” – this would be difficult, time consuming and unnecessary. A survey just needs to be given to a representative sample so that all effected groups are included. In this case if you want info. from the entire school give the survey to one class from each year group.
  • Some of your recommendations were unrealistic or impossible to enforce, for example “A new system will be introduced in the school canteen whereby students must buy at least one piece of fruit in order to purchase any other food” or “Warn parents that they must make their children eat breakfast”
  • Some ‘recommendations’ were vague or obvious, for example “students should have at least one piece of fruit a day”. This is simply stating a fact – it is not a recommendation of how to make it happen.

Spot the mistake(s) – here are sentences from reports written by my students:

Offer rewards if students can stay within their weekly amount of bad eating habits.

We decided to do more about the problem of eating.

Most of the students in fat don’t eat there (!) lunch sitting down.

The purpose of this report is to outline young people’s awareness of bad eating.

We went around the 2nd, 3rd and 5th yr classes and asked them questions.

The eating habits of students in our school is outrageous.

Now realistically speaking, how long do you think he will live, eating this way everyday. Not very long the rate he is going.

A meeting by the student council has brought the attention to the students that…

Chocolate is the worst. Most students eats it, not many eats crisps.

First years are the most who go to the chipper for lunch.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT – try writing the following report

“As a member of your student council you have been asked to prepare a report on the changes students would like to see made in your school. The report will be presented to the Principal and the Board of Management”.

Speech/Debate/Radio talk

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZsDliXzyAY]

You have been asked to deliver a speech/talk because you are well-spoken and intelligent.

How formal your language is depends on your audience – if you are delivering a speech to the UN or world leaders your tone will be very formal. If you are addressing your classmates you can be more informal – but if the Principal and parents are there don’t overdo the informality. Never curse.

Techniques =

  • Address the audience – welcome them, address them directly frequently during your speech and again at the end.
  • Present your topic and opinion immediately.
  • Use the pronounswe’ ‘us’ ‘our’ to make the listener feel that you’re all in this together.
  • Rhetorical Q ‘s keep the listener’s attention.
  • Repetition of key persuasive phrases hammer the idea home

e.g. “We must never accept….we must never allow” e.g.“It is foolish to think…it is foolish to presume”

  • Connecting phrases create a flow & help build a series of related ideas for the reader

e.g. ‘however’ ‘therefore’ ‘thus’ ‘nonetheless’ ‘of course’ ‘furthermore’ ‘similarly’ ‘indeed’ ‘if’ ‘on the one hand’ ‘on the other hand’ ‘besides’ ‘by contrast’ ‘this reminds me of…’

  • Concrete examples/evidence are absolutely essential – they prove you know your topic.
  • Facts/Statistics make your opinions seem watertight & beyond discussion. Name the source report, the researcher, their qualifications and the institution they are affiliated to.
  • Refute counter arguments – point out why those who disagree with you are wrong. Prove that their arguments are weak, flawed and incorrect.
  • Clear, logical structure is vital – one main idea per paragraph, develop each idea fully.
  • Contrast is an excellent technique because it allows the audience to see things more clearly. You could contrast past and present; males and females; powerful and powerless individuals; rich and poor; knowledgable and ignorant etc…
  • Identify problems but also offer solutions – nobody likes a whinger, we much prefer visionaries who can offer us a better way forward.
  • End with a call to action – what is it that you want your audience to do? Don’t give out to them, inspire them. Suggest practical steps towards change that they can take.

Some techniques work well in a persuasive speech but less suitable in an argumentative debate. Use the following in moderation in a debate, but extensively in a persuasive speech:

  • Vivid imagery will arouse an emotional response in the reader (the real aim of persuasion)
  • Hyperbole makes the speech more dramatic for the reader (your passion will inspire them).
  • Evoke God, the bible, Einstein or Shakespeare so you come across as morally powerful and intellectual. Evoke big ideas like justice, truth, right, wrong.

Speeches v’s Debates: What’s the difference?

A speech can look at an issue from all sides (balanced view) or can take a one-sided viewpoint (revealing a bias)– it’s up to the writer. Appeal to the audience’s emotions.

A debate differs from a speech in that you are specifically asked to speak for or against the motion/topic. You MUST pick a side. Appeal to the audience’s reason & intelligence

Here the purpose is not to discuss an issue in a balanced way, but to convince the audience through LOGICAL arguments that your point of view is the correct one.

Speeches v’s Radio Talks: What’s the difference?

  • A radio talk tends to be more informal.
  • You address the listeners rather than the audience/fellow students/world leaders.
  • You may be interrupted by the DJ from time to time. You can write these ‘interruptions’ into your answer, but remember, this isn’t an interview so you’ll do almost all of the talking. It should not be written in Q and Ans. format – that’s what you do for an interview.
  • To make your answer more realistic you may wish to name a specific radio show/presenter e.g. “Well Ray” “Talk to Joe” “Hello Marian”.
  • If you imagine that a particular word or phrase should be said loudly or with strong emphasis, write it in block capitals OR underline it OR make a comment in brackets. e.g. Can they be serious? (in disbelief) e.g. I’ll never forget her face (shaking head sadly) e.g. We CANNOT allow this injustice to continue. e.g. This is the only way forward.

Only use 1 of these stylistic choices & don’t overdo it. Use occasionally not every sentence.