Tag Archives: comprehensions

Celebrity ‘News’?

The time has come for me to confess.

I normally hide behind my ability to quote random chunks of Shakespeare at will but that doesn’t change the fact that – here it comes – I find it hard to resist celebrity magazines. I stand in the supermarket queue and get sucked in by the gossipy headlines strategically placed to tempt me into wasting my money. I’ll find myself secretly pleased that the person ahead of me is taking forever – you know the type, the woman who waits until every single grocery is packed and stashed before rooting around endlessly in her bottomless handbag groping for her purse.

Why? Because this gives me a chance to flick to the contents page and then quickly scan the article relating to the most scandalous cover story, just to prove to myself what I already know internally – it’ all fluff. Hyped up, OTT, manipulative nonsense that’s not worth my time or energy.

So why do I still get sucked in? And why am I so determined to resist?

I got some clarity on the issue this week as my Leaving Certs and I revisited a comprehension from the 2005 exam paper – it was a mock celebrity interview with Irish Rock Diva Eva Maguire written by a former leaving cert student. One of the comprehension questions asked “Do you find the style of writing in this magazine article appealing?” – and discussed how this question requires a much more subtle answer than your bog standard “Identify and comment on four features of the writer’s style“. And before you freak out, you don’t need to go into anything like this detail in the exam – I’m just the kind of person who doesn’t know when to shut up!

So what is my answer? Well, yes and no.

First off the article is extremely well written but crucially the language nonetheless remains accessible, meaning it will appeal to a large target audience. The writer creates a vivid picture of Eva who “is extraordinarily beautiful and astonishingly tough, steely and ambitious. Her golden hair frames features dominated by huge blue eyes. She wears a diamond and sapphire-studded ring on her left hand…” This article offers us a clear picture of the woman and her lifestyle but it requires little cerebral exertion on our part to gain this insight into her life.And let’s face it this style appeals to most people when they pick up a magazine in a train station or a doctor’s surgery – at that moment they probably don’t want to have to grapple with complex vocabulary they may or may not understand (in fact this can be an issue for more highbrow publications like Time Magazine, The Economist and Vanity Fair who attract a very educated and literate readership but don’t sell in the large numbers that celebirty magazines do).

Secondly, sensationalist show and tell stories appeal to the gossip in all of us – like it or not it’s perfectly natural to feel curious about the lives these people lead and perhaps to even fantasise that one day it could be us flying in a private jet to our holiday home in the Bahamas! So when we read that “she has achieved head- spinning, global success, winning international music awards, packing concert venues and seeing her albums topping charts all over the world” we get a powerful reminder of why it is that so many people show up to X-factor auditions and why they are so devastated when they fail to make it past bootcamp or judges houses.

Thirdly the use of hyperbole, and the overuse of emphatic and superlative words adds to our sense that these people are somehow bigger, better and brighter than ordinary plebians like ourselves. Here “in a rare, exclusive and candid interview, the 24 year -old rock superstar reveals where she sees her destiny and for the first time shares with “Celebrity” readers some of the secrets of her forthcoming wedding plans“. If we can’t see through the manipulation inherent in the language itself we can end up falling for the excitement and drama of the writing. Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining the modern obsession with being famous – not talented or successful or exceptional – but famous for the sake of being famous. Because there is after all only one thing worse than being talked about and that’s NOT being talked about!

There was one other element of the writing style which appealed to me. Personally, I don’t think this student was paying homage to celebrity magazines by copying their OTT hyped-up style; I think he or she was completely taking the piss, but in a very low key and subtle way. For me this article isn’t a homage it’s a parody! Look at the way it mocks vacuous female celebrities who buy rare breeds of dog (that surely should never have existed) and carry them around in their handbag – in this article the photo shoot “shows her posing with one of her pet miniature greyhounds“. Too ridiculous to be true but we’re almost convinced because this is after all the way many of celebrities carry on! The notion that money doesn’t buy class is again hinted at when we learn more about their wedding plans and are told to “expect six hundred doves to flock the Italian sky at the moment when the wedding vows are made“. I mean ‘puh-lease’! Give me a break!

And that, my friends, is why I haven’t bought a single celebrity magazine in the past four years. Yes, I’ll flick through them at the checkout, but only to remind myself of how empty, vacuous and pathetic they really are. They promise so much yet so rarely deliver. Like this article they promise exclusive access to the inner sanctuary of the celebrity’s home; they hype up the tell-all secrets only they have managed to goad the interviewee into revealing but when all is said and done you learn little you didn’t already know. Maybe that’s why celebrity reality TV shows like the Kardashians are so popular; because they do actually give you no-holds-barred access to the most intimate details of these people’s lives (like one of them seriously gave birth on camera? Just the thought of it makes me feel queasy. That poor baba did not sign up for that!!!).

Finally although it sounds self-righteous and judgemental, there is no denying that this style of journalism promotes superficiality and excessive materialism. It elevates celebrities to a ridiculous status, pretending that their every move qualifies as ‘news’. Spend an evening in our house and you’ll find both my husband and myself regularly shouting at the telly or the radio (or both) saying that’s not news when yet another story about Brad and Angelina’s latest adoption gets higher billing that a mudslide that’s killed hundreds of people. Perhaps this is the greatest crime of all that the oxymoran ‘celebrity news’ commits.  It tells us that we should view the minute details of their daily lives as somehow more significant and important than wars, murders, natural disasters, fraud and world hunger.

Like ‘clean coal’ ‘military intelligence’ and ‘truthful tabloids’ ‘celebrity news’ doesn’t exist! And ultimately, just because it happens to a ‘celebrity’ shouldn’t mean it qualifies as news!

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.

Answering style Q’s

Questions on the writer’s style have become more complex in recent years. However, at least they don’t leave you in a vacuum! Instead you are given some features and then asked to demonstrate that you can locate these elements and  discuss them, displaying a clear understanding of what they are, where they are in the text and how they work.

eg. 2014 Text 1

Ford’s writing is characterised by its engaging narrative, lyrical beauty and concrete realism. Based on your reading from paragraph three onwards of the above extract, to what extent do you think this statement is accurate? Refer to features of Ford’s writing style evident in the extract in support of your viewpoint.

You can also be asked to take a comparative approach where you examine two different styles of writing, decide which one you prefer and then defend your preference! So “In my opinion, this writer is better than this writer at making his point because….”

e.g. 2014 Text 2

In your opinion, which of the above novelists, Alan Warner or John Lanchester, more effectively conveys his point of view? Explain your answer with reference to features of style evident in both of their contributions.


Other sample questions on the writers style include:

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

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

3. What features make this an interesting piece of informative writing?

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

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

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


You must be able to distinguish between informative, persuasive and argumentative writing.

See the following article: Summary of Language Genres

Next you must be able to explain what makes each technique effective – this refers to both the effect the technique has on the reader and the impression of the writer this technique creates.

To see a list of techniques and a description of what makes each one effective you’ll need to download this file (Techniques.doc) – it’s too wide to put up as an article.

You might also want to look at this wikipedia article but a lot of the terms are overly complex and you don’t need to know most of them http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_devices

For a discussion of some of the errors students make when answering style questions, see this article on Vivid Feckin’ Imagery

Describe a personality / lifestyle



What kind of person is the writer/narrator/character? What impression do you form of…

Describe the character of……. What do we learn about the personality of……..

The list of words below are intended as a way to prompt ideas. However, you must remember that simply figuring out the ‘right’ answer (if there even is such a thing in English!) isn’t enough – it’s not just what you say, but also how you say it that matters. Your answer needs to flow from one idea to the next and to show depth and insight.

Compare these two snippets:

Kate seems like a kind person. We see this when she puts her arm around Aisling’s shoulders and says “hush now, don’t cry, we’ll figure something out“.


Kate is the kind of person who helps old ladies across the road and rescues kittens from trees. Kate has never met Aisling before and yet she interrupts a very busy schedule to calm and comfort her. Kate’s determination to find a solution “we’ll figure something out” reveals a ‘never say die’ attitude that I really admire“.

Both of these answers identify kindness as one of Kate’s personality traits (for the record these are only partial answers – you’d need to identity four or five aspects of her personality when writing a full answer) but the first one might scrape you a D in an honours English paper while the second would get you an A. So remember – it’s not just WHAT you say that counts – HOW you say it is supremely important if you want to get a good grade.

One thing you need to consider is whether or not your response has sufficient depth. It’s never enough to simply (1) find and regurgitate the information that’s in the passage. You must (2) interpret the text. Ask yourself what is being implied and suggested even if it’s not explicitly stated. Finally you need to reflect on how this links to your prior knowledge and (3) evaluate what is being said. I have interpreted the text when I comment on Kate’s busy schedule and praise her willingness to help a stranger. I have also linked to my own knowledge and experience of human nature when I mention a ‘never say die attitude’. Finally I evaluate her personality by saying that I admire her.


Affectionate, caring, considerate, kind, thoughtful, generous, selfless,unselfish

Ambitious, driven, determined, focused, hard-working, interested, motivated, assertive, pro-active


Anxious, uptight

Arrogant, conceited, vain, condescending, obnoxious



Cheerful, optimistic, positive, happy-go-lucky

Childish, immature


Confident, self-confident

Co-operative, helpful, good-natured

Courageous, brave, decisive


Curious, inquisitive




Devoted, loyal, friendly

Distant, aloof, secretive, cold, callous, cruel, uncaring


Eager, enthusiastic





Genuine, sincere, serious

Grumpy, pessimist(ic), gloomy, sour



Humble, modest



Inconsiderate, inflexible, thoughtless, uncooperative, impolite, irresponsible



Intelligent, clever, knowledgeable

Interfering, meddlesome


Judgemental, condescending, critical, intolerant, prejudiced

Jealous, envious


Lazy, scattered, unfocused, apathetic, unmotivated, indifferent


Miserly, stingy, frugal, thrifty

Malicious, evil


Melodramatic, moody, temperamental


Naive, innocent



Open-minded, tolerant





Polite, mannerly, refined

Practical, punctual

Pretentious, fake


Realist, realistic



Reliable, responsible


Sarcastic, witty

Self-centered, selfish, self-involved

Self-conscious, insecure, paranoid, neurotic,

Sensitive, shy, reserved

Stubborn, persistent




Thoughtful, pensive, philosophical



Uneducated, ignorant




If asked to describe someone’s lifestyle, obviously full sentences will reveal more than individual words but here are some suggestions:

He / she lives a very __________ lifestyle.

  • frugal
  • opulent
  • decadent
  • carefree / relaxed
  • eccentric
  • rewarding
  • demanding
  • pressurised