AP English Language

Develop Strategies for Success


Introduction to the Analysis Essay

Rating the Essays


Let’s Take a Look at a Set of Rubrics for This Analysis Essay

By the way, if you want to see actual AP rubrics as used in a recent AP English Language and Composition exam, log onto the College Board website at www.collegeboard.org/ap.

As you probably know, essays are rated on a 9–1 scale, with 9 being the highest and 1 the lowest. Because we are not there with you to rate your essay personally and to respond to your style and approach, we are going to list the criteria for high-, middle-, and low-range papers. These criteria are based on our experience with rubrics and reading AP Literature essays.

HIGH range essay can be a 9, an 8, or a high-end 7. MIDDLE refers to essays in the 7 to 5 range, and the LOW scoring essays are rated 4 to 1.

Let’s be honest with each other. You and I both can recognize a 9 essay. It sings, and we wish we could have written it. And, it’s wonderful that the essays don’t all have to sing the same song with the same words and rhythm. Conversely, we can, unfortunately, recognize the 1 or 2 paper, which is off-key; and we are relieved not to have written it.

High-Range Essay (9, 8, 7)

• Indicates complete understanding of the prompt

• Integrates the analysis of Capote’s view of Holcomb with his tone

• Explores the implications of the contrasts within the excerpt

• Identifies and analyzes stylistic elements, such as imagery, diction, structure, selection of detail

• Cites specific references to the passage

• Illustrates and supports the points being made

• Is clear, well-organized, and coherent

• Reflects the ability to manipulate language at an advanced level

• Contains, if any, only minor errors/flaws

Note: A 7 essay rated in the high range makes the jump from the middle range because of its more mature style and perception.

Mid-Range Essay (7, 6, 5)

• Refers accurately to the prompt

• Refers accurately to the stylistic elements used by Capote

• Provides a less thorough analysis of the development of Capote’s view of Holcomb than the higher-rated paper

• Is less adept at linking techniques to the purpose of the passage

• Demonstrates writing that is adequate to convey the writer’s intent

• May not be sensitive to the contrasts in the excerpts and their implications


• The 7 paper demonstrates a more consistent command of college-level writing than does the 5 or 6 essay.

• A 5 paper does the minimum required by the prompt. It relies on generalizations and sketchy analysis. It is often sidetracked by plot and the references may be limited or simplistic.

Low-Range Essay (4, 3, 2, 1)

• Does not respond adequately to the prompt

• Demonstrates insufficient and/or inaccurate understanding of the passage

• Does not link stylistic elements to Capote’s view of Holcomb

• Underdevelops and/or inaccurately analyzes the development of Capote’s view of Holcomb

• Fails to demonstrate an understanding of Capote’s tone

• Demonstrates weak control of the elements of diction, syntax, and organization


• A 4 or 3 essay may do no more than paraphrase sections of the passage rather than analyze Capote’s view of Holcomb.

• A 2 essay may merely summarize the passage.

• A 1–2 essay indicates a major lack of understanding and control. It fails to comprehend the prompt and/or the passage. It may also indicate severe writing problems.

Student Essay A

This is a high-range paper for the following reasons:

• It is on task.

• It indicates complete understanding of the prompt and the passage.

• It uses mature diction [paragraph 1: “Capote reveals … imminent change”], [paragraph 2: “Capote also gives … simplistic”], [paragraph 3: “the hard blue skies … to do so”].

• It integrates references to support the thesis of the essay [paragraph 2: “Capote also gives … hamlet”], [paragraph 3: “Focusing … has-been status”], [paragraph 4: “with the simile … passage”].

• It grasps subtleties and implications [paragraph 1: “Capote reveals … change”], [paragraph 2: “One gets … place”], [paragraph 4: “The area’s … discusses”], [paragraph 6: “By the end … descriptions”].

• It introduces specifics in a sophisticated manner [paragraph 3: “He does not … farming days”], [paragraph 5: “The author … solemnity”].

• It uses good “connective tissue” [paragraphs 2 and 3: “in addition”], [paragraph 4: “Capote also uses …”], [paragraph 5: “This is not the only contrast …”].

• It creates original and insightful comments [paragraph 2: “one gets … melancholy place”], [paragraph 3: “He does not … farming days”].

• It presents a conclusion that introduces unique observations and brings the reader directly to what may follow this passage.

This is a high-range essay that indicates a writer who “gets it”—who clearly understands the passage and the prompt and who can present ideas in a mature, controlled voice.

Student Essay B

This is a mid-range essay for the following reasons:

• It sets up an introduction that indicates the writer’s understanding of the prompt.

• It cites appropriate specifics, but often does not adequately integrate these into the analysis [paragraph 2: “In order … present there”], [paragraph 3, sentence 2].

• It uses frequently awkward diction and syntax [first line of paragraph 2], [last sentence of paragraph 2], [all of paragraph 5].

• It demonstrates good topic adherence.

• It reveals a facility with stylistic analysis [paragraph 2: “To create … reaches them”], [paragraph 3, sentence 3].

• It presents a conclusion that does not add anything to the impact of the essay.

This mid-range paper indicates a writer who understands both the prompt and the process of analysis. However, the essay does not address the subtle, underlying purpose of the passage and ignores the foreshadowing and contrast. The writer’s frequently awkward and disconnected diction and syntax prevent it from achieving the level of the high-range essays.

Now It’s Your Turn


1. Try a little reverse psychology. Now that you are thoroughly familiar with this passage, construct two or three alternate AP level prompts. (Walk a little in the examiner’s shoes.) This will help you gain insight into the very process of test-making.

2. Find other examples of descriptions of setting you can analyze in the same way as you did with the Capote excerpt. You might want to investigate works by John Steinbeck, Joan Didion, Peter Matthiessen, and, certainly, Sebastian Jung’s The Perfect Storm.