Tips for students with dyslexia who find English Paper 1 in the Leaving Certificate challenging

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Tips for students with dyslexia who find English Paper 1 in the Leaving Certificate challenging


Wyn McCormack

These tips are for students with dyslexia who find the English Paper 1 in the Leaving Certificate the most challenging paper of the whole exam.  The difficulties may be with some of the following:

  • The amount or reading involved.
  • Understanding the question asked.
  • Structuring answers so that they answer the question.
  • Blanking out when asked about a personal response.
  • Writing compositions.



There are 3 texts with an A and B question.  Students are required to do an A and B question but not from the same text.   If your reading is slow or you have to reread several times to get the full meaning of the text, this is a way to reduce the amount of reading and save time.


  1. Don’t read through all the texts.


  1. First look at the B questions. Decide which B question you would be most comfortable with.   This could be something you can structure easily such as diary entries or a letter giving information rather than an inspiring or persuasive writing task.


  1. Having decided which B question to do, look at what you are being asked in the other two A questions. Decide which set of questions would be easier for you to answer.  This becomes your choice. This means that out of the three texts, you only have to read one.


  1. Read what you are being asked to do in your chosen A question. Then read the text with this in mind.  Then begin answering.


After answering the A question, go to the B question.  Take time to plan your answer before you begin.  Having a clear structure helps your answer to be targeted to what you are being asked.


Question the question

Ask yourself   ‘What is this question asking me to do?’  Take time here.  Don’t plunge into your answer.


One approach is by numbering / highlighting the tasks asked in the question.   Look at the example below.  I have inserted the numbers and letters.


The New Yorker has been described as a magazine that (1) informs, (2) entertains and (3) comments.  Based on your reading of the written extract above, would you agree with this description?  Support your answer with reference to both the (A) content and (B) style of the written piece.


The instruction to you is ‘Do you agree with the statement’?   Decide if you agree or not, and then the answer can be structured into 3 main paragraphs with a short introduction and conclusion.  The three paragraphs deal points 1, 2 & 3 above making sure to refer to content(A) and style(B) as part of the answer.


Prepare checklists of points that will help you structure an answer in the exam

You may be asked to comment on the writing style or humour of a piece.  Prepare lists of points which you can use in the exam.  See below for examples.  Then check the text to see if you can identify some examples in the text.


george 1


Such checklists will also help in Paper 2.   When asked about drama in a text, you could look for:  tension, violence, conflict, characters with depth, characters the reader identifies with, plot and twists, life-changing events, strong emotions etc.



Signposting is the use of words that can link the paragraphs and guides the reader through your ideas.  They are particularly useful for examiners to clearly distinguish the points you are making if you have the use of tape recorder as an accommodation.  Examples include words such as:


Firstly, Then, Next, Finally, Since, However, Nevertheless, Thus, Therefore, etc.




Have a Framework for your answer.


Your opening sentence should address the question.  Then briefly outline what you say in your answer.


Each paragraph should deal with one IDEA only. You may have more than one idea or angle on your one idea but you must be precise and clear. Don’t worry about opinion unless you are asked for it.  MAKE your point, EXPLAIN it and BACK IT UP with EVIDENCE.


One sentence is enough here. You should press home your arguments. (Keep the key words in mind).


Choosing the Composition

Again these tips are for the students who may blank when faced with the choice of composition or find they don’t write enough, write off the point, structure the essay poorly or run out of ideas or time.  If the student is comfortable with composition, these tips are not for them.


  1. Take some time to totally imagine a character.  Know their life, habits (good and bad), how they get on with friends, what they look like, their weaknesses and strengths, their ambitions, their interests,  how they handle conflict or a crisis, how they get on with their family,  their neighbourhood, their occupation or school, incidents they have been involved.  Take pictures from magazines so you can see them in your mind’s eye.  Develop two key back-up characters.  One might be a friend with whom they might disagree.  The other could be a parent, sibling or friend that they rely on for support.  Develop these characters as well.    Then if you choose a short story for the essay, you have ready-made characters.  The examiner will not know all your essays are about the same person.


  1. If you choose an essay asking your point of view or personal experience, remember you can make these up. No examiner will know if it is true of you or not.  Your task is to write enough for the examiner to give you marks.


Take time to plan your answer so you know the structure of it. Write it down so that if when writing, you lose the thread of thought, you can refer back to the plan.  Use signpost words to show the links in what you are saying.


  1. Graph organisers/frameworks are a wonderful help in structuring your thinking. Draw the appropriate one out on a blank page when you are planning your answer.   Here are some examples.










  1. A) could be used for a debate type essay. See Appendix A where the chart is used for a debate on school uniforms.  B)  could be used for a narrative or an essay with stages.


The framework below could help with a story.

What happens first
The main event
What happens after the main event



  1. Look for compositions titles that are easy to structure. Below are the compositions from 2014 higher level paper.   I have highlighted three.   While the example is taken from the higher paper, the method applies equally well at Ordinary level.


  • For Composition 3, think of 5 unusual or interesting people, and you have your paragraph structure. You can make up the impact they had on your life.
  • For Composition 4, think of 4 to 5 moments or things you find exotic or beautiful in everyday life. You then have your paragraphs.   When writing descriptions, use your five senses to help you imagine them.  It will help you write more.   Take a moment to envisage a stormy day at the coast.  Describe what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel and try to get those images into the reader’s mind.  A brainstorm of the your senses might help here.  See Appendix A for an example.
  • For Composition 6, think about 3 or 4 moments of uncertainty that a young person might experience and you have a paragraph structure. (Remember you need not actually have experienced them.  The examiner won’t know.  It could be moments that others you know have experienced.  Just make them yours in the answer).



English Higher Level Paper 1    2014. 


  1. ‘It is about the ghost-life that hovers over the furniture of our lives…” (TEXT 3)         

Write a short story in which a ghostly presence plays a significant part.  


  1. TEXTS 1, 2 and 3 are linked by the theme of influence.

You are representing Ireland in the final of the World Youth Public Speaking Championships.  Write a passionate speech in favour of the motion: “Young people should exert their influence by actively engaging with important current issues.”  


  1. In TEXT 1 we meet the feisty Mildred Remlinger.

Write a personal essay about your encounters with a variety of interesting or unusual people and the impact they made on you.  


  1. “It was a completely exotic item in that ordinary world ”   (TEXT 3)            

Write a descriptive essay about what you find beautiful or exotic in everyday life.    


  1. “How has the weather influenced your writing?”    (TEXT 2)

Write a feature article for a magazine, which may be light-hearted or serious, about Irish  people’s obsession with the weather.  


  1. In TEXT 1, Dell’s future is very uncertain.

 Write a personal essay about one or more moments of uncertainty you have experienced.                          


7.Write a short story for inclusion in a collection of Science Fiction writing inspired by the  following quotation from TEXT 2, “ …a new beast, slouching towards us… the beautiful mutant”. 


Wyn McCormack © 2016