It’s extremely important you give yourself a head start on the Leaving Cert course by practising and improving your writing in TY. Here I will outline some tips I have learned over the years on how to improve your writing skills, for both authors-to-be and those who want to give themselves an advantage heading into 5th year English. These steps will ensure you are confident and able for all the writing you will be required to do for your Leaving Cert, whilst also being easy-to-follow and ideally time-effective.
Keep a Diary
My number one tip for writing is to practise, and the best way of ensuring this is to keep a personal diary that you can fill in every day, or every couple of days. You don’t need lengthy, time-consuming essays about what you had for dinner, it can be a short, to-the-point entry, but try your best to include at least 3 descriptive sentences and include at least 3 emotions/sensory language in your piece. I usually spend 5-10 minutes filling out my diary every second day, and it not only helps your writing, but keeps track of all your memories!
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An obvious one, but totally worth mentioning. Get into the habit of reading at least 10 minutes a day. I would recommend reading before you go to bed as it also helps you relax and unwind from the day, whilst improving your english and writing. Reading boosts your vocabulary, exposes you to more imagery, morals and ideas and also improves your concentration and ability to interpret the meaning of questions and passages and helps you understand sentence structure and comprehensions, all important in the Leaving Cert! If you already enjoy reading and want a challenge, try a classic like The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice or Little Women or else pick up a few short stories and poems and read them over a few times before trying to summarise them out loud to work on your comprehension abilities. If you aren’t an avid reader, start with books you enjoy reading, on subjects you are interested in. You are still improving your vocabulary and widening your range of writing styles, just in a less-focused, more fun way.
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Another good way to ensure you are prepared for Leaving Cert English is to challenge yourself. You know your own strengths and weaknesses, so set yourself challenges and targets that are tailored to fit your needs. If you find yourself struggling with punctuation and syntax, have a look over these things using your English book or online resources, or chat with your teacher about why you might be struggling with this and practise this area. If you find that you struggle coming up with imaginative ideas for a short story, set yourself the target of writing one short story a week and read one short story a week to help build up your imagination. If you are one who finds remembering books and plays extremely difficult, and you struggled with this for your Junior Cert, set the goal of summarising a book once you have read it, perhaps through a book review or a short descriptive paragraph. Whatever it is you struggle with, set the task of practising and improving this area so that your English skills are roughly equal heading into 5th year.
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Did you finish your Junior Cert English exam with heaps of time to spare? If no, you are one of many. If yes, either you should be teaching English or you didn’t answer the questions properly. Timing is something we all struggle with, especially with subjects like English that are full-on. The best way to work on this area is to practise. Print reading comprehensions from past Junior Cert or Leaving Cert papers and attempt to do it in the time allotted to that question. Time how long it takes you to do your English homework, and see if you can reduce this number by five minutes, or to match the time a question of that nature should take in an exam setting. But be kind to yourself. You can’t expect to write quickly, instantly. This takes time. Start slowly, and build it up by knocking off 1 minute each time you practise. It’s important to stay on track when it comes to timing, but you must also be careful not to rush or write too little. That is why practise makes perfect. The more you try to time yourself on questions, the more you will get used to it, and this is something that will aid you across all subjects in your Leaving Cert.
Most importantly, you should do your best to practise exam questions, from either the Leaving Cert or Junior Cert, to get yourself used to the types of questions you will be expected to answer. Aim for one exam question a week. They can range from descriptive writing to unseen poetry, or just simple reading comprehensions. Whatever it is, it’s a good idea to practise these exam questions to get yourself prepared.
You don’t need to follow these steps religiously, you can try out one or two and see what suits you best, or what gives you the best results. These aren’t law, they are just guidelines that will help steer you in the right directions. The beauty of TY is that you have the time to figure these things out!