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English Paper 1 Essay Length

The Leaving Cert. English Paper

-Higher Level-



In this blog post, we will be establishing the layout, timing and length of the Leaving Cert. Paper in English at Higher Level.

*Paper One has an overarching theme. It is important to acknowledge this as the three texts presented in the paper will all share this theme (see fig.1 below which displays location of the paper’s theme).

fig. 1

1. The Layout:


Paper One – 200 marks


Two Sections:             (i)  Comprehending

                                     (ii)  Composition


Section One:                   Comprehending

Question A                        50 marks

Question B                        50 marks


Section Two:                 Composition

(Essay Writing)                100 marks


Paper Two – 200 Marks

Three Sections:            (i) The Single Text

                                         (ii) The Comparative

                                         (iii) Unseen and Prescribed Poetry


Section One:             The Single Text                                  60 marks

Section Two:             The Comparative                              70 marks

Section Three:          Unseen and Prescribed Poetry   70 marks


2. Timing


Paper One – 2 Hours 50 Minutes

*Take 10 minutes to read the paper 


Section One:                Comprehending

Question A                        40 minutes

Question B                        40 minutes

Section Two:                Composition

(Essay Writing)                   80 minutes


Paper Two – 3 Hours 20 Minutes

Section One:             The Single Text                                     60 mins.

Section Two:             The Comparative                                70 mins.

Section Three:          Unseen                                                  20 mins.

                                    Prescribed Poetry                                50 mins.



3. Length


Paper One

Section One:                Comprehending

Question A                        3 pages

Question B                        2 pages

Section Two:                Composition

(Essay Writing)                4 pages


Paper Two 

Section One:             The Single Text                                   4 pages

Section Two:             The Comparative                               4/5 pages

Section Three:          Unseen                                                1 page

                                     Prescribed Poetry                             3/4 pages








Lots of you wonder how much you should write for each of the sections and most teachers will say it depends on the student, on the question etc..

I’ll give you some general guidelines courtesy of my mate Benny who corrects Leaving Cert Hons English every year (those doing ordinary level will probably write less for some sections).

Paper 1

Comprehension answers:

10 marks = half page

15 marks = three quarters to one page

20 marks = one to one and a half pages

Question B = one and a half to two pages.

Depends on task. Language of information asks to you be direct, succinct and get to the point so a report, set of guidelines, leaflet might be a page or just over. However, a general guideline suggests two pages – and when you’re counting, don’t include the addresses in a letter. They don’t count as half a page!

Composition = 4 to 6 pages. Quality is more important than quantity. Don’t write so much that the reader gets bored and wishes it was over.

Paper 2

Single Text = 4 – 5 pages. Beyond 6 and you’re probably just waffling.

Comparative = 5 – 7.  Anything less is flimsy. You do have 3 texts after all.

Unseenpoetry = Page and a half maximum.

Studied poetry = 4 pages.

Obviously some people write slow, some fast, some big, some small. The important thing is that the examiner sees you are focused on the question and organised in your approach. Don’t waffle.

Oh and one more thing! Bear in mind that the average number of words per line is 10-12. Now grab a copy, any copy and count your words – how many do you usually have per line?

If it’s 8 or less your writing is very big

so you may need to write a bit more.

If it's more than 15 your writing is very small and it may seem like you haven't written enough. Start skipping a line between paragraphs!

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