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Leaving Cert English - Juggling the Comparative Texts

May 17, 2016

Leaving Cert English - Juggling the Comparative Texts

Get ready for the comparative texts!

The Comparative Text question is worth 70 marks. This means that it is the only question on the paper which is worth more than the essay. How can you ensure that you achieve the maximum amount of those marks?

In the Comparative Text question, you will have to write an answer that compares and contrasts three different texts. It’s no mean feat, but it is very possible. We look at the actions of past A grade pupils, and at the guidelines set out by the Chief examiner in order to see where marks are being awarded in this question. If you follow this guideline to answering the question on the comparative texts, it will help you iron out the common difficulties students have, and will also give you an edge when it comes to getting your hands on every one of those 70 marks.

Firstly, as with all questions, study and planning is key. The good news here is that the areas of Theme or Issue, Literary Genre and General Vision and Viewpoint are already determined for you. The only unpredictable element will be the approach of the questions that fall under these headings. This means that you can have quite a large part of your answer well rehearsed before entering the exam hall.

Study and planning for the Comparative Question:
Comparative answers are simply multitasking by another name.
Comparative answers are unlike anything you would have experienced in the Junior Cert, but can very easily be mastered. The first step is accepting that you do not need the in-depth knowledge that is required for the single text. The second step is to familiarise yourself with exactly what the examiner is looking for in a high grade answer.

Of all the questions on the English paper, I always feel that this question takes the most discipline when answering it. However, contrary to popular belief, it is actually the easiest to prepare for.

1.    How well do I need to know each text?

Students often panic when it comes to answering the comparative question, because they feel they have to know each of the texts as well as they know their single text. This is not the case. 
All you need to have is a clear understanding (main events and key issues for characters) of each of the texts along with good notes on each under the headings of Theme or Issue, Cultural Context and General Vision and Viewpoint.

Check out the website here for these headings, and you can apply them to your texts. 

The essential ingredient is for students to personalise their answer and form their own opinions. These clever individuals are well rewarded with a high grade, so use these notes to develop an opinion in the light of your chosen texts. 

You must also ensure that you have a strong knowledge of a number of key moments for each text. I would recommend four from each text to reflect the Comparative studies headings. That means 4 for Cultural Context, 4 for Theme or issue and 4 for General Vision and Viewpoint. Some of these will overlap - happy days, because juggling three texts is enough to deal with!

2.    “I never know what to say for the comparative answer! It’s just so complicated!”
Be confident with your opinions and structure your answer around the following key elements. 

There are key elements that must be present in your answer:

i.)    The name and authors of each of your texts. (This might sound obvious, but you would be amazed at the mistakes nervous students make!)

ii.)    A very clear understanding of the heading you are discussing, whether it is Cultural Context, Theme or Issue. I always get my students to write a brief introduction explaining their understanding of their chosen heading. 
This results in a tighter answer with focused areas that they can discuss further in their answers. See our notes for an explanation of each of these headings and how to analyse them.

iii.)    Regular reference to the question.

iv.)    Regular comparisons of the texts – you should develop a grid of key similarities and differences, but also your opinion about them.

v.)    Well-formed personal opinions in light of the question asked.

vi.)    Regular use of key moments to support your opinions – 4 detailed key moments for each comparative heading in each text. (There will be overlap here)

vii.)    ANALYSIS. This is the bottom line for every student. Your answer is actually an analysis of each text, not a summary or a list of similarities and differences. In order to analyse the texts, consider why these similarities and differences exist within them.

viii.)    Comparative link words. These words show the examiner that you are comparing the texts. E.g. Likewise, on the other hand, similarly (don’t over use this one!) however, in the same way. Your answer must have a smooth structure that reads coherently and cohesively.

3.    “I find that I always end up writing the same thing and can’t seem to improve my grade!”
We want you to speak your mind, but make sure it is well informed first.

Every student can cover the key elements for an answer; it is your informed opinion that will ensure that it reads like an analysis of the texts rather than a checklist or formulaic response. This is what gives you the edge, and will help you pick up those extra marks. English is all about having a well thought out opinion that you are able to support with the knowledge of the texts. It is vital that you use that here. Use our notes and guidelines to develop your own opinions. This will be rewarded by the examiner and will be reflected in your grade.

Remember the examiner will have a large number of exams to correct, so your opinion must reflect your thoughts, which will obviously be different to everyone else’s!

Make your answer individual to you, and this will make your question stand out. If you listen to the Chief Examiners comments about previous candidate’s performances, it is quite clear that this is vital if you want to attain a high grade. Students who scored well in this section always ensure that their answers are strongly focused with clear, good use of the key elements.

What did the Chief say? At the end of the day the Chief is the boss who decides what to reward in your answers.

The Chief examiner stated that the lowest scoring questions were the 
“….. superficial responses, which simply outlined broad similarities/differences between texts.” 

The Chief Examiner clearly states that the best answers were written in an “analytical fashion”. You need to really understand that analysis means you first present your point, and then you discuss why this similarity or difference between the two texts exists. After that, you then link your point to a third text while supporting it with reference to a key moment.

What did the examiners say? 

Remember, the Chief listens to them so it’s important to listen to them as well.

“In the Comparative Section, examiners were impressed by evidence of strong textual knowledge and also the variety of approaches to the analysis of texts. Weaker responses tended to be characterised by an over-rehearsed formulaic approach”  

And again the Chief says

“Students might be reminded that a personal response to a literary text should be central and that it can take many forms”

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