How to Approach Leaving Cert Prescribed Poetry!
In this article I will outline how to most effectively approach Prescribed Poetry at Leaving Cert Level.
How Many Poets Should I Learn?
This is a question that I get sent to me on a regular basis. It is only natural that when you take into account the density of course-content in Leaving Cert English that one would want to cut corners and learn the minimum amount of poets. However, taking a risk and learning three or four poets can be utterly destructive to any chance you have of achieving top marks! I always teach at least five poets and I always expect my students to be familiar and comfortable with five poets. By implementing this practice, my students are guaranteed to be able to answer at least one Prescribed Poetry question on the day of the exam. There are eight poets on the course and four are RANDOMLY selected by the SEC, for purpose of assessment (nationality and gender are not considered when selecting a poet for assessment).
I would strongly recommend that you do study five poets and that you don’t take a risk by studying three or four. If the worst-case scenario presents itself to you on the day of the exam and your three or four poets don’t come up, then you’ve literally lost 60 marks, or in other words 15% of your overall grade (goodbye H1).
Bottom line: study five poets. It’s your Leaving Cert, its high stakes, no need to take risks; you have the time and the resources to learn at least five poets.
What Should I Study in Relation to my Prescribed Poet?
You should know, to some extent at least, the background story of each of your prescribed poets. Only by knowing and understanding your poet’s life can you ever truly appreciate the messages within their poetry. An effective practice in an exam is to relate you poet’s poetry directly to his or her life experiences. You will find this information somewhere within in your poetry textbook or online. A good idea is to plot 5/6 key pieces of information relating to you poets life on a flashcard. Link each piece of information to at least one poem. This will be easier than you think. This will then allow you to contextualise your poet’s personal experiences and your poet’s poetry.
Once you have a clear understanding as to where your poet is coming from, you should then map out your poet’s themes. You will be required to reference at least five of your poet’s poems on the day of the exam so you should list out the themes that feature in your poet’s five poems. This will enable you to notice multiple themes that are reoccurring throughout some of the poems while also allowing you to recognise themes that come up less frequently in your prescribed poet’s poetry.
You should also identify the poetic techniques that your prescribed poet employs in his or her poetry. This is essentially the language that your poet uses. Does your poet use metaphors, anthrporphsm, personification or simile for example? If so, where (give a quote)? If so, to what effect – what images are created as a result? A large component of studying poetry is understanding, appreciating and recognising the poetic techniques found in an anthology of poems. If you can reference the techniques that your poet employs in their poems and if you can explain the effect these techniques had on you, the reader, then you are standing in good stead.
Once you have a decent level of understanding of your poet’s background, the themes that come up in their poetry and can discuss their use of poetic technique sand the effect these techniques have on your reading of the poem, then all you need to do is to be able to reference the poem using quotes. I advise you not to learn poem line by line. This is crazy , far too time consuming and pretty unprofitable. Instead, choose quotes that you deem important, based on your poets themes and their use of language (poetic techniques and imagery).
To recap; you should know your Poets:
- Poetic Techniques
How Do I Effectively Answer a Prescribed Poetry Question?
Every Prescribed Poetry question fundamentally assesses you on your poet’s theme and language. Lets look at a past exam question to verify this fact:
2015: ‘Frost communicates rich insights into human experience using language that is both accessible and appealing.’
This question, in a nutshell, is asking you to discuss how Robert Frost expresses his rich insights into human experiences (themes) using language (poetic techniques and imagery) that is accessible (easy to understand) and appealing (interesting).
It is important to note that when a corrector is correcting your answer they will be looking to see if you’ve actually answered the question. The corrector will do this by allocating codes to the different parts of the question. For example; if a response to the above question was being corrected, then every time the candidate mentioned ‘rich insights’ a code RI would be written in the margin, when the candidate mentions how these rich insights were communicated using language that was accessible and appealing the code LA would be written down in the margin by the corrector. The more times the codes appear on you script the better as these codes note each time you mentioned/discussed a particular element of the posed question. This is a method of correcting that ensures that students who actually answer all elements of the question are awarded marks. It is absolutely vital that you identify the different parts to any question that you are answering in relation to prescribed poetry.
A tip to ensure that you keep your answer relevant to the question is to reinforce the questions key words throughout your answer. If my students were to answer this question I would expect to see the phrases ‘rich insights’ ‘human experience’ and ‘language that is accessible and appealing’ littered throughout their work.
In order to most effectively answer this question I recommend allocating one poem per paragraph and always planning my answers with the codes in mind. It would be your job, if answering the above question, to connect how Robert Frost’s use of language helps him communicate his insights into human experience (themes). Plan out each of your five points with these codes in mind .
What Should my Prescribed Poetry Answer Look Like?
- Introduction Paragraph
- Five Main Body Paragraphs
How Long Should it be?
Roughly 4-5 A4 pages
*You should check out the Lee Tutorials Leaving Cert Poetry Grade Rubric on the Lee Tutorials Instagram page for an exact breakdown of the features of quality for each grade.
*Please contact me via the Lee Tutorials Instagram page should you have any questions about the content of this article