The problems of the Higher English exam are easy to resolve.
Paper One: close reading - 1 hour - 40 marks. It is not necessary to grind students down with a 50 mark paper to test their reading skills. 40 marks worked in the past. Paper Two: writing - 2 hours - 60 marks - 2 different writing tasks; 'free' essay - creative or discursive - 30 marks; critical essay on literature - 30 marks.
In the "free" writing paper, the Scottish Qualifications Authority could give advance notice of a topic or two, for example traffic congestion or encouraging fitness, to encourage students who are prepared to learn about those topics in advance to write well about them. This would promote use of research as students would not know how they could use their knowledge until exam day.
As far as talk is concerned, I suggested many years ago that the teaching and assessment of oral skills should be a whole-school concern. It isn't only in English that youngsters speak.
I wonder how many would agree with your Platform article last week that students are working "flat out". Sometimes they do seem "flat out", but how much of this horizontal malaise results from diligence in school work requires further inquiry.
Eddie Poyner retired principal English teacher Bonnington Avenue, Lanark