Exam Centre: Poetry




Studied Poetry (50 Marks)

Below are some general guidelines you need to bear in mind when you are answering a Leaving Cert poetry answer; while if you click on any of the poets below, you will find yourself on a page with specific exam help for that poet.

Unseen Poetry (20 Marks)

To see a sample question and answer for the2013 unseen poetry section click here.

To see sample answers for the 2014 unseen poetry section click here.

For links to sample answers for the studied poets, see below.


Poetry Guidelines


1. Make sure that you know clearly the different points you can make about a particular poet. For example one poet might use language in a particularly innovative way in their poetry or they may deal with a particular  theme in their work. You should know 5 – 7 points that you can discuss about the poet before you even see the question. These will become paragraphs in an exam.

2. Once you know the points that you intend to make, the poems that you have studied – and the quotes/ references that you know – can be used to back up the point that you make in each paragraph. For example if you were writing a paragraph about Sylvia Plath’s ability to portray difficult themes like mental illness in her work, then you might use the poem ‘Poppies in July’ as an example, along with quotations like ‘If I could bleed, or sleep!’ to illustrate the insights her poetry give into that subject. You may use other poems in the point/ paragraph to further back up the point you are making but it is not essential and can sometimes cause confusion.

3. Planning your answer properly is hugely important. Read the question carefully and underline the key words in the question. Be careful that you spend time to make sure that you have identified the most important words because using these in each paragraph (or alternatives that have the same meaning) will be essential to you getting high marks.

4. Brainstorm your answer to the question using the points that you have learned about that particular poet. Decide what points will fit well with the question and what points that you may leave out.

5. It is expected that you will deal with two fundamental aspects of the poet’s work – their style (language, imagery etc) and their themes(subjects they focus on). Use the question to decide how much – and how many points – of your answer to devote to each aspect. If the question allows, it is best to devote more of your essay to points/ paragraphs on the poet’s themes as this allows greater scope for personal response.

6. Make sure that your brainstorm/ plan leaves you with 4-5 ordered (numbered) points and that these address what the question is asking you. These will make up the main body of your essay – between the opening and closing paragraphs.

7.You will need to write between 800-1000 words for the poetry question.

8. You should have a short prepared opening paragraph ready which you can then adapt to the particular question asked. This paragraph should discuss the poet in a general sense, mention a quote about the poet themselves (or a quote from them outside of their poetry) and most importantly, use the key words from the question. The key is to ‘shape’ the opening paragraph that you have prepared around the question that you have been asked. Try to keep the opening paragraph relatively short – 100-150 words is fine. It is advisable to mention the poems that you intend to discuss at the end of the opening paragraph.

9. Although you may have studied five poems, you are not obliged to discuss them all. Use the poems that best fit the question asked.

10. The names of each poem should be given capital letters and be in inverted commas. Do not misspell the names of the poet or the poems.

11. The opening (topic) sentence of each point/paragraph should outline what aspect of the poet’s work you are about to discuss as well as connecting clearly with the question (by using the question’s key words or their alternatives.) For longer paragraphs, it is advisable to reconnect with the question (and the wording) in the closing sentence of the paragraph

12. It is advisable to keep quotations short and integrated into sentences. Make sure the quote is accurate and spelt correctly, and is contained in inverted commas. Quotes should be picked/used only because they back up the point that you are making in the point/ paragraph. For example if the point/ paragrpah was discussing Larkin’s use of memorable imagery, then you might use the quote ‘special shell’ or “accoutred frowsty barn’ to prove the point. There is no rule as to how many quotes you should use but it is expected that each point/ paragraph will have at least 3-5 as examples to back up the point you are discussing. Do not use the word ‘quote’ anywhere in your answer. For example instead of writing, “I really liked the quote…..”, instead write ‘I really liked the line/image/phrase.’

13. It is important to make it clear to the examiner that  you understand how a poem is constructed. Use your vocabulary of poetry throughout your answer. Use words like alliteration or ‘alliterative line/phrase’ as well as ‘ onomatopoeia’ or ‘onomatopoeic word/phrase.’ Discuss ‘themes’ and ‘rhythm’ and always use the words ‘simile’ amd metaphor’ – if suitable – when discussing a particular image that the poet has used.

14. Once you have completed your 4-5 point/paragraphs, then you should include a closing/ concluding paragraph to finish. This should be fairly short (depending on time) and should reconnect with the wording of the question. It should also summarise your overall feelings on the poet and possibly even link with the quote that you used in your opening paragraph. Always include a closing paragraph, even if it has to be very short. It is essential to reconnect with the question asked.

15. Look carefully at the structure and style of the sample paragraphs that you have been given.

16.The most important thing by far in your answer is that you show evidence that  you personally have engaged with the poems themselves i.e. personal response. The word ‘I’ should be at the heart of your answer. The examiner will want to hear what you think about the poet and their work. What did the poem make you think of? Could you connect the poem and its theme(s) with your own life in any way? How relevant is the work of a poet or a particular poem to a teenager in 2014? Was there any particular images that stood out for you in the poet’s work? Is there anything you admired about the poet’s work? What and why? Obviously you do not have time to go on tangents but you do want your personal response to sound believable and authentic. Do not exaggerate to the point of your response sounding unrealistic. If you criticise a poet, be able to base your criticism on their style and the themes that they deal with in their work, rather than simply saying you just hated it or found studying the poet ‘boring’. Remember too that it is possible to disagree or even dislike the views expressed by any poet while still possibly retaining an admiration for his/her skill (style) as a poet.  Writing good personal responses takes both bravery and practice. However you will not achieve high marks in the poetry section unless you master the skill of developing and conveying genuine personal responses in your answer.


‘In each of the questions in Prescribed Poetry the underlying nature of the task is the invitation to the candidates to engage with the poems themselves.’ 

– From ‘Examiner’s guidelines’



Click on any of the images below for specific exam help on that poet.

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

W.B. Yeats

W.B. Yeats




Philip Larkin






English@Banagher College


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