It may be almost 400 years since he died, but Shakespeare is still the most popular choice for Irish students when it comes to the Leaving Certificate exam.

A study of student responses in last year's English exam papers has found that Macbeth proved to be "by far the most popular single text studied, almost to the exclusion of the four other options".

The findings are part of a report by the chief examiner into last year's papers, which has been published by the State Examinations Commission.

When it came to poetry, Sylvia Plath was the poet most favoured by students completing the Higher Level paper.

She was followed by Elizabeth Bishop, Derek Mahon and Gerard Manley Hopkins; in that order.

The report found that in the Ordinary Level paper an extract from comedian Des Bishop's book, 'My Dad was Nearly James Bond', proved "immensely" popular with candidates.

The report found that students were most successful when they avoided what examiners called a "formulaic" approach and showed instead full engagement with the work of the poet or writer.

It also warns students to brush up on their language skills including punctuation, syntax and spelling.

It reminds students that marks are awarded for language skills in all answers and that examiners are also looking for "lively interesting phrasing, energy, style and fluency".

The report found that the management and control of language continued to pose problems for some candidates.

It singled out for criticism poor performance in some responses in spelling, grammar and punctuation.

The report said a "formulaic" approach inhibited some students from engaging with the questions and from expressing independent opinions.

It said it wanted to remind both students and teachers that candidates were free to disagree with the terms of a question if they wished to, so long as their answer was supported with suitable reference to the subject matter.

The use of language was also commented upon in two chief examiner reports into Chemistry and Physics.

The Physics report noted that candidates appeared to have difficulty in expressing their understanding of physical principles and applications in clear and unambiguous language.

The chief examiner's report into the Chemistry paper reminded students that full sentences were required in many answers, not just words or phrases.

This report also criticised a lack of appreciation of the precision of language among some Higher Level candidates.

In both the Physics and the Chemistry reports, chief examiners made frequent reference to student difficulty in applying what they had learned to unfamiliar contexts, or to practical contexts.

The chief examiner in Physics noted that questions that differed to those appearing in school text books or past exam papers "proved to be challenging for all but the highest achieving candidates".

That report recommended that students should be encouraged not to approach the subject just as "information to be memorised", but as a series of interdependent principles to be understood and applied in a wide variety of contexts.

The State Examinations Commission has published four subject reports into English, Physics, Chemistry and Religion.