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Junior Cert English: 'There isn’t a fifteen-year-old alive that can spit out high quality writing in two hours'

Make the new English Junior Cert exam fairer by adding thirty extra minutes, writes Junior Cert pupil Tara O’Sullivan.

Tara O'Sullivan

MY NAME IS Tara O’Sullivan and I am 15 years old. I am also trying to change the new English Junior Cert.

Before this year, the English Junior Cert exam was two two-and-a-half hour-long papers. These papers had a clear structure that students could prepare for.

A whole new exam

Now, however, a completely new exam has been introduced. This year the State Examinations Commission released some sample papers. I welcomed these sample papers with open arms. We have been hearing general things about a new exam since I was in 4th Class in primary school.

These papers were supposed to clarify everything. I couldn’t wait to understand the exam that I was about to face, but when I opened the papers and read through them, I was utterly dismayed by the fact that the papers had no consistent structure.

The first paper had three sections, the second one had two and the third paper had four sections. Within these sections the questions followed no clear order. They seemed to ramble on in varying lengths with different marking values.

When I understood that we were to do the English paper in two hours I was shocked. Within any consistency, working out how much time to spend on each question was practically a guessing game.

There’s no way for students who can’t write well at a phenomenal speed to plan. And now we have the Junior Cert creeping up on us and no one seems to know what the paper may hold.

Taking action

With these reasons in mind myself and some of my fellow third year students decided to take action. With three of my friends, Faye Dolan, Ellen McKimm and Adrianne Ward, I have been campaigning since last Friday for additional time.

Our petition has been a huge success and can be found here on change.org. In less than a week we have almost 10,000 supporters.

These supporters are people from across the county, parents, teachers and students alike. So many have left comments agreeing that there just wasn’t enough time.

Many have talked about the stress we are under already being in an exam year and how this has added to it all so much.

Squeezing three years of learning into two hours

Like me they couldn’t believe the number of questions that they were supposed to answer in such a short time. Those who managed to finish the paper didn’t have any time to read over it.

To give students the opportunity to express their thoughts and analysis as eloquently as expected I truly believe more time is necessary.

Why we are trying to squeeze three years of learning into a two-hour exam for a subject like English seems ridiculous. This dramatic decrease in time only serves to widen the gap between Junior and Leaving Cert.

How can we be expected to go from a two-hour exam to an Leaving Cert exam of over six hours? We are taught from a young age to carefully plan everything we write as English is a subject that at a fundamental level needs time.

There isn’t a fifteen-year-old alive that can spit out high enough quality writing in such short time. We are not asking for much, just time to complete the paper.

Space to think is as important as space to write

In conclusion, space to think is as important as space to write and I firmly believe that students who have used sample papers and taken Mocks, along with their parents and teachers are best placed to give feedback and should most certainly be listened to.

As a democratic society that needs its people to be able to think and vote for themselves, I believe disregarding the opinions of its youth (especially in relation to education) is a terrible mistake.

As a future young voter I am disappointed by how little effect the dissatisfaction of students and teachers is having on the decisions being made by both the State Examinations Commission, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and in the Dáil itself.

Tara O’Sullivan is a third year student from Glasnevin, Dublin 11.

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