Correcting Leaving Certificate Higher Course Essays

Relatively few teachers have direct experience as Advising Examiners at Leaving Certificate Higher Course History. Many teachers, therefore, are unsure about the standards and expectations, which Higher Course History demands.

In an effort to clear up some of the uncertainty, Deirdre Clancy uses four sample essays to illustrate how Higher Course essays are corrected. These essays, which were written by students in exam conditions, are preceded by the General Principles of Marking which is reproduced from the Chief Examiner's Report on the Leaving Certificate History Examination

1994. The General Principles explain how paragraphs are assessed and they should be referred to while reading the comments on the side and at the end of the essays.

General Principles of Marking
Marking schemes are reviewed from year to year depending on such factors as research findings, types of question, etc. In assessing the essay-type answers this year, excluding the Research Topic which candidates presented in this examination, the examiners applied the following two principles, the Cumulative Markand the Overall Evaluation.

(i)The Cumulative Mark
A cumulative mark, to a maximum of 60 marks, was awarded for all the data relevant to the set question set down by the candidate. -
The stages in the process leading to the determination of the cumulative mark were as follows;

          (a)The answer was broken up, using brackets, (-), into paragraphs/ paragraph equivalents, which were defined as follows:

(b) Each paragraph/paragraph equivalent is then awarded a mark, which is arrived at by measuring the paragraph against the following rating scales.


Descriptions Marks
Very good
  1. A really worthwhile piece of exposition or commentary
  2. Accurate and substantial factual information
  3. Clearly expressed 
  1. Worthwhile
  2. Factual information…. adequate
  3. Meaning….reasonably clear
  1. Trivial or irrelevant
  2. Grave errors of fact or serious confusion

(ii) The Overall Evaluation
The examiner reviewed the answer as a whole in the context of the set question and awarded a mark, to a maximum of 20 marks, which was arrived at by measuring the answer against the following rating scales.

Verbal Descriptors Marks
Excellent Treatment of the set question shows completeness of coverage, originality, very detailed learning or wide reading 17-20


Very good Treatment of the set question is accurate and substantial 13-16
Good Treatment of the set question is not exceptional in the information or commentary. 9-12
Fair Treatment of the set question has identifiable defects, e.g. incomplete coverage, irrelevant data, factual inaccuracies etc.  5-8
Poor Fails to answer the set question, but has some merit if, at best, it has only scraps of relevant information 0-4

The total mark obtained by adding the Cumulative Mark and the Overall Evaluation mark constitutes the mark obtained by the candidate for the question answered. The detailed application to each of those principles to each individual question depends on the task demanded by such key words as evaluate, discuss, account for, describe, etc. and the number of elements in the question.

Consider Course 11, 1994, Question D.3, titled World War 11
Account for the initial success and the ultimate defeat of Germany in World War 11.

The task word is 'account for' and the two elements are 'initial success' and 'ultimate defeat'. The combination of those factors determine the application of the Cumulative Mark principle to any answer to that question.

Sample Answers
The following sample answers are designed to show how the application of the marking scheme works in practice. These sample answers are the actual work of Higher Level Leaving Certificate students and were written during the past year in examination conditions i.e. 5 questions in 3 hours. The questions are verbatim from the Leaving Certificate Higher level paper of 1997.

Since the purpose of this exercise is to aid teachers in the assessment of those of their students who intend to take Higher Level History at Leaving Certificate, it is essential to point out that constant reference to the marking scheme, as outlined above is absolutely necessary. In other words, neither the mark allocated to each 'paragraph equivalent' nor the overall evaluation mark is in any sense an impressionistic one, but is based firmly on the criteria delineated in the marking scheme. Obviously, this is necessary in order to ensure standardisation on a national level. Therefore, a careful study - both of what constitutes a 'paragraph equivalent' and of the 'descriptors' in terms of rating scales - will lead to a satisfactory and accurate cumulative mark being awarded for relevant factual information. The same will apply for decisions reached for the overall evaluation mark which, it must be remembered, is arrived at "in the context of the set question" All of this is very clearly stated in the General Principles of Marking above.

Please Note: These answers are transcribed exactly as presented including historical errors, incorrect spelling, punctuation etc.

Correcting Leaving Cert Higher Course Essays: Sample Answer 1

Evaluate the contribution of Charles Stewart Parnell to the Home Rule Movement. (80)

(Charles Stewart Parnell became leader of the Home Rule Party in 1880 following the death of Isaac Butt. Parnell was a man who entered politics for want of something better to do. He came from a wealthy Protestant background. When he entered politics, he joined the obstructionist party. They made long and boring speeches, which would obstruct the business of Westminster. They did this because the British government would not listen to Irish peoples needs for Home Rule.)

(Parnell was young and enthusiastic and he encouraged within his party a sense of initiative. He ordered his party to sit together as a party at Westminster. He created a disciplined, tightly controlled, pledge-bound Home Rule party. He succeeded where Butt had failed in bringing the Home Rule party to the centre of the British political stage.)

(Parnell's speech in parliament that the Manchester Martyrs were not murderers brought him to the attention of the fenians. He joined with them in forming the New Departure. Davitt set up the New Departure, which wanted the 3Fs for tenants, Fair rent, Free sale, and Fixity of tenure. This was a coalition between the Fenians (farmers): Parnell (parliament) and Cumann na nGaedhael (money))

(Parnell gained support from the whole of Ireland. He set up Home Rule branches around the country. However, he tailored his speeches to suit his audience. In Westport he urged tenants "to keep a firm grip on your homesteads". Pamell used tactics like moral intimidation, which included mass attendance at elections and boycotting. In Ennis he told farmers to treat evicting landlords like "lepers of old". Through this Parnell gained widespread support for the Home Rule party.)

(Parnell gained even more support when there was an article published in the English Times titling "Parnell and crime". It said that Parnell was aware of the murders. Pamell vindicated himself and gained even more support. He was later given the title the "Uncrowned King of Ireland": Parnell succeeded in bringing Home Rule to the centre of British political life. The House of Commons/lords vetoed the first home Rule bill, however the second Home Rule bill was due to become law in 1914.)

(Parnell's involvement with Kitty O'Shea led to his downfall and caused a split in the Home Rule party. When Captain John MacBride. file for divorce against his wife he named Parnell as the third party. This caused outrage and Parnell refused to resign. His good friend Cecil Rhodes advised him to resign - marry and return. However, Parnell refused and he was forced to resign by his party. Following this the party split into 2 groups the Parnellites and the anti-Parnellites.) (Parnell was a great leader and he succeeded where others failed in bringing Home Rule to the centre of British politics. One of Parnell's great successes was in converting Gladstone to Home Rule.)

Cumulative Mark (for relevant factual information) 34/60
Overall evaluation (see 'descriptors' in scheme) 11/20
Total = 45/80
Note: length of essay - a little over 2 A4 pages of hand-written text.


In the' good' category 

Top of the 'good' category.
Not very substantial. 

'Good' category
Worth 5m at the most

In the' v. good' category
Barely worth 

Some inaccuracies.
Some repetitions.
Adequate only

Information not made relevant
To set questions. 

Conclusion, with some attempt
at evaluation but also some 


Correcting Leaving Cert Higher Course Essays: Sample Answer 2

Evaluate the contribution of Charles Stewart Parnell to the Home Rule Movement. (80)

(Charles Stewart Parnell became MP for Meath in 1875. he quickly became involved in Home Rule and also, to the disgust of Isaac Butt, the obstructionists. In 1879 he became leader of the Fenian-controlled Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain. He had gathered Fenian popularity by declaring that the Manchester Martyrs were not murderers. In 1879, when there was an election for leader of the Home Rule Party, Butt barely managed to win. But died a few months later but Pamell still didn't take control. William Shaw replaced Butt.)

(Parnell now realised that he would have to get the support of the public if he were to become the leader of the Home Rule Party. In 1879 he became involved with the Land League which guaranteed him support from the tenants as he sided with them. He used the Land League to help keep him in the public view and he used Parliament to help the Land League. In 1882, Parnell was successful enough to become leader of the Home Rule Party. Also in 1882, he considered the Land Question solved as leaseholders and tenants in arrears were included in the terms of the 1881 Land Act under the terms of the Kilmainham Treaty.

From here on in, Pamell concentrated on Home Rule. You have to remember that when assessing Butt's leadership qualities of Home Rule that not many British MPs had ever been to Ireland and had very little time for the problems of the Irish. He therefore had created the first steps towards the freedom, which the Irish now looked for. It would take the insight and sense of Parnell to further the cause.).

(From 1882, Pamell set up a tightly disciplined party. Each member had to "sit, act and vote as one". Resignation from the party followed failure to comply. From this party pledge, Pamell managed to have a tightly-disciplined party, all of whom were interested in getting Home Rule for Ireland.)

(By 1886 Parnell had enough Irish MPs to get his point across in Parliament.Their representation doubled in the 1885 General Election. in this election the results were as follows:
Liberals: 349
Conservatives: 263
Home Rule: 86.
Pamell did not hold the perfect balance of power. He could make Gladstone Prime Minister but he could not do the same for the Conservatives. The Conservatives had already offered Pamell a bargain. But now Pamell hoped that Gladstone would offer something different.

Before Pamell had finally made up his mind, Gladstone's son, Herbert, announced from the family home at Hawarden that his father was deeply impressed by the show of support in Ireland for Home Rule and that he intended to issue a Home Rule Bill in Parliament. This incident, - the flying of the Hawarden Kite, - caused Pamell to swing Home Rule support to the Liberals. In 1886, Gladstone issued a Home Rule Bill but it was defeated by 93 votes in the House of Commons. This was mainly because some Liberals, led by Joseph Chamberlain, had voted against the Bill.)

(The Conservatives now came to power. But the main thing for Pamell was to keep the H.R - Liberal alliance. This looked to be in danger when a London Newspaper issued that Pamell had actually agreed with the Phoenix Park murders of 1882. Pamell continued to contest his innocence and in 1889 a journalist, Pigott, admitted to having forged the letters. There was an upsurge in support for Parnell and he became the "Uncrowned King of Ireland".)

(Nothing could seem to go wrong for Parnell at this stage - unfortunately it did. Pamell had been living with Katherine O'Shea, wife of Captain O'Shea for a number of years and they also had two daughters. In 1889 Captain O'Shea filed for a divorce and named Pamell as co-respondent. People believed that it was another try to put down Pamell. But Pamell didn't disagree with the accusations and was found to be the guilty party in 1890.)

(Parnell was not ready for the response of his nationalist followers. Gladstone informed him that on "morale grounds" he could not continue with the Liberal - Home Rule alliance. In committee room 15, Parnell was voted against by 45 to 27. But he continued to lead a minority party. His candidates fought in three bitter by- elections in 1891 and lost all three. Tired and disillusioned, Parnell died in October 1891.)

(Pamell, for all his work, went out of political history on a bad note. It is true that it was his own fault that his downfall came about through his own mistakes but one mistake cannot overshadow the good he did for the Home Rule Party. He had led the first political Home Rule Party to getting a Home Rule Bill issued in Parliament. He had created a strong united party that had followed their aims and nearly got them too. Pamell had laid the foundations and had also taken the first steps in creating and establishing a successful Home Rule Party. He gave the people of Ireland a security that they had never felt before and he also gave them a sense of adventure to go on and continue fighting for Home Rule.)

Cumulative Mark (for relevant factual information) 55/60
Overall evaluation (see 'descriptors' in scheme) 16/20
Total = 71/80

The treatment is accurate and substantial
Note: length of essay - a little over 3 A4 pages of hand-written text.

Giving background information;
factually covered;
Top of the 'good' category

Good evaluation of early 
In the 'v. good' category

A short but 'v. good' 
paragraph equivalent

Solid, relevant factual 
information here.

Not made relevant to set
question, but factual 
information adequate.

By implication relates to set 
Question: negative 

Top of the 'good' category

A v. good conclusion.
Some repetition, but a very
good attempt at overview in
terms of "contribution".