Preparing Yourself for the Short Story in 5 Steps!

How to Best Prepare Yourself for The Short Story


The Short Story, at Leaving Cert Higher Level, is a feature of the Composition Section of Paper One. The Short Story is a popular question, as it tends to come up every year. Oftentimes students are given two title options, which make this element of the Composition Section very attractive.


It is important to note that it is the most popular choice with students; therefore you will need to separate yourself from everybody else, in order to achieve a high grade. This can be easily achieved, as along as you are willing to put in the preparation work during your studies.


It is worth 100 marks, which is a quarter of the overall marks on offer in Leaving Cert. Higher Level English! To put the enormous weight of these marks on offer into perspective, think of it as being potentially worth twenty CAO points to you! It is therefore imperative that you score highly in this section if you are seeking a high grade in the exam and if you are seeking points in the Leaving Cert for the purpose of the CAO. Students’ who achieve success in this section will have prepared themselves very well prior to sitting the exam.


From my years of experience in teaching Leaving Cert Higher Level English, I feel that the following five steps will help you prepare yourself for the Short Story section of this exam.


How to Best Prepare Yourself for the Short Story:


  1. Establish Criteria for Success:

 Before you ever write a short story, you should establish a list of exactly what it is that will make your short story successful. A list of Success Criteria my current 6th year group decided upon is the following:


  • A title
  • A familiar setting
  • A multidimensional character
  • Dialogue
  • A consistent narrative
  • Descriptions
  • 5 senses
  • Tension
  • Climax
  • Resolution/twist/cliff-hanger


It is your responsibility, as a Leaving Cert English student, to include each criterion in your piece of writing. Once a list of criteria for success has been established you can then go and approach planning your short story.


  1. Plan Your Short Story:

It is best practice to plan your essay. From my experience I can safely say that a well-planned essay reads much more fluidly for the corrector and typically has a more calculated and impressive ending. Use a mind map to brainstorm/plan out some ideas in relation to your chosen Short Story title. This mind map can be consulted throughout the writing process and will allow you to be more productive with your time as you will be less likely to run into the dreaded ‘writer’s block’ while writing the story.


Try to think outside of the box here and bear in mind the fact that most students will go for the obvious ideas. The more unique your idea, the better! A unique/interesting story will prove to break the monotony of the correcting process from the perspective of the corrector! You should understand that you are not expected to write the next bestselling novel on the day of the exam. However, you are expected to write a Short Story that uses various literary techniques (see list of criteria for success). A well-written story with an average storyline trumps a poorly written story with a great storyline!


  1. Write your Short Story:

 Once you have established criteria for success and have planned your short story, then go ahead and take the time to write it. Remember, if you are outside an exam situation you could treat this as the Short Story’s first draft. While writing the Short Story try to consciously include the list of criteria already established to the best of your ability while simultaneously providing the corrector/your teacher with an interesting storyline.


Your short story should be no shorter than three and a half A4 pages and no longer than 5 A4 pages. Make a conscious effort to show a wide range of vocabulary in the short story (see Lee Tutorials’ Instagram post on how to broaden one’s vocabulary).


  1. Submit your Short Story for Correction:


Ensure that you take the time to proofread your story before submitting it to your teacher for correction. Ask for them to leave as much feedback as possible. When you receive this piece of work back, go about completing step 5.


  1. Redrafting your Short Story:


In order to develop both your short story and your writing style, it is a good idea to redraft your work. Heed the advice that you have received from your teacher and make the changes that they have mentioned. Resubmit this work for re-correction and repeat this process until you’re happy with the final product. You will notice that your short story will slowly, but surely, begin to climb up the grade ladder. Throughout this process you will begin to learn and develop the various short story writing skills that are required by this section of the exam.


You should aim to cover a plethora of genres when writing short stories throughout your Junior Cycle/Leaving Cert course. Popular Short Story genres include war, loss, crime etc. The more genres that you are comfortable writing on, the more adaptable you are in terms of the potential titles you may be presented with.


A tip on how to adopt a good writing style: READ fiction! Your school has a library, use it!


I hope that these five steps help you in your preparations for the Short Story element of the Composition Section in Paper 1. If you have any questions please contact me via Instagram DM.

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