The Irish Junior Cycle is designed to best prepare young people in the first three years of their post-primary education for further academic study in their Senior Cycle. It helps to develop vital skills including time management, Irish and English language fluency, writing, working under pressure and managing independent revision.
As students come into their final year of their Junior Cycle in secondary school (aged 15 or 16), they will be coming up to their exams for the Junior Certificate (which is being phased out and replaced by the Junior Cycle Profile of Achievement). The core subjects studied at the Junior Cycle level include English, Irish and Mathematics, and History was added to this list in September 2020.
This article will focus on the final English written examination paper in the Junior Cycle. We will discuss what this exam involves and what to expect, as well as how to revise for this exam with past papers and other resources.
The Junior Cycle English exam
English is one of the core subjects that all students at Junior Cycle level must sit in their final exams. As with all core subjects (including Mathematics and Irish), the English exam is offered at Higher and Ordinary levels and is related to students’ learning throughout the second and third years of their Junior Cycle programme.
This is assessed through two classroom-based assessments (the second of which will have a formal written assessment task) and one final written examination paper. The English examination as it stands today was introduced in 2014 and is marked out of 180. It makes up 90% of students’ final marks for English at Junior Cycle level.
The learning outcomes of Junior Cycle English which are assessed in the final examination include reading texts with fluency, understanding and confidence, and decoding groups of words and phrases to read for a variety of purposes including learning, pleasure, research and comparison. Students must be able to use a wide range of reading comprehension strategies appropriate to texts to retrieve information, link to previous knowledge, follow an argument, summarise and synthesise, link main ideas, and question, analyse and evaluate the material.
The core aims of the exam are to encourage students to enjoy and be creative with language, and develop control over using and responding to English with purpose and effect. They should be able to connect key literacy skills, engage critically with a variety of texts and gain confidence in using and understanding English language conventions.
What to expect in Junior Cycle English exam papers
The final written examination for Junior Cycle English is a two-hour paper which requires students to engage with, understand and respond to texts. The exam will be based on three strands:
Oral language—comprehending, interpreting and responding to spoken texts and demonstrating how context and purpose can vary across these texts
Reading—reading with fluency and for a variety of purposes, demonstrating vocabulary when responding to literary texts and understanding and appreciating how word choice, grammar, structure and tone differ with context and purpose
Writing—demonstrating an appreciation of written language including syntax, grammar and word choice, using an individual style that reflects personal voice and writing competently and fluently for a variety of purposes
The three key areas that students will be assessed on are:
Responding to stimulus materials
Responding to studied texts
Writing for a variety of purposes
Unlike other exams, the Junior Cycle English exam does not have a predictable format with a set number of sections or questions. It does, however, follow a theme; the theme in 2017, for example, was mysteries. All of the exam questions follow the theme.
For the writing aspect of the exam, students must demonstrate their understanding that there is a clear purpose for writing activities and be able to plan, draft, re-draft and edit their own writing. They should write for a variety of purposes: to analyse, evaluate, imagine, explore, engage, amuse, narrate, inform, explain, argue, persuade and comment in a range of formats (letter, report, article, review, blog and story).
How to revise for Junior Cycle English exams
The Junior Cycle English exam focuses more on assessing fluency and competency with English language rather than formally evaluating technical components of language such as spelling. While language conventions are important for the exam so should be revised, it is more important that students develop confidence and practice writing for different applications.
To prepare for stimulus material (text that hasn’t been seen before or studied), students should practise with a number of materials including poetry, drama, fiction and broader printed texts (such as posters, websites, radio transcripts and brochures).
Studied texts refer to the novels, poems, plays, films and short stories that students study between first and third year. Revision of these should focus on effective quotations for each character, poem or key text theme with citations where possible. Students should also revise paragraph structure (point, quotation and explanation) to write effectively in their study.
Finally, students can use flashcards featuring themes and techniques to improve vocabulary and experiment with audio and visual revision—including television or film adaptations of novels and plays. Their individual style, imagination and creativity should be actively encouraged to build confidence and develop a personal voice—this is essentially what examiners are looking for.
Edco English exam papers
Students should understand the English exam by practising on previous Junior Cycle English exam questions. This can help them become familiar with how the exam paper is structured and what to expect. It can also help students gain a greater understanding of pacing, prioritisation and how much to write for each question, which can help them manage their time in the exam.
Edco Junior Cycle English exam papers for Ordinary and Higher levels include a mixture of past and sample papers, an assessment task and revision booklet, a student guide to better grades and access to an online study hub. They also explain the new Junior Cycle Learning Outcomes and are designed to help students map their progress.
Other resources for revising Junior Cycle English
Yuri’s English Grammar – Basic to Intermediate and Intermediate to Advanced are a series of grammar charts to help students revise key aspects of English language including pronouns (personal, reflexive and object), possessives, prepositions, comparatives, superlatives and much more. The Intermediate to Advanced set focuses on more complex structures and is ideal for students sitting the Higher exam paper.
Less Stress More Success – Junior Cycle – English – Ordinary Level and Higher Level condense, organise and prioritise content from the Junior Cycle course and present information in a clear and concise way. They include sample questions, advice on question timing and cheat sheets outlining the criteria for success in each section of the English course.