Reading and Notating the Passage - Introduction to the Analysis Essay - Develop Strategies for Success - AP English Language

AP English Language

Develop Strategies for Success


Introduction to the Analysis Essay

Reading and Notating the Passage

Finally, READ THE PASSAGE. Depending on your style and comfort level, choose one of these approaches to your close reading.

1. A. Read quickly to get the gist of the passage.

B. Reread, using the highlighting and marginal notes approach discussed in this chapter.

2. A. Read slowly, using highlighting and marginal notes.

B. Reread to confirm that you have caught the full impact of the passage.

Note: In both approaches, you MUST highlight and make marginal notes. There is no way to avoid this. Ignore what you don’t immediately understand. It may become clear to you after reading the passage. Practice. Practice. Concentrate on those parts of the passage that apply to what you highlighted in the prompt.

There are many ways to read and analyze any given passage. You have to choose what to use and which specifics to include for support.

Don’t be rattled if there is leftover material.

We’ve reproduced the passage for you below so that you can practice both the reading and the process of deconstructing the text. Use highlighting, arrows, circles, underlining, notes, numbers, whatever you need to make the connections clear to you.


Spend between 8 and 10 minutes “working the material.”

DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. It is time well spent and is a key to the high score essay.

Excerpt from the opening of In Cold Blood

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.” Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far Western than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them.

Holcomb, too, can be seen from great distances. Not that there is much to see—simply an aimless congregation of buildings divided in the center by the main-line tracks of the Santa Fe Railroad, a haphazard hamlet bounded on the south by a brown stretch of the Arkansas (pronounced “Ar-kan-sas”) River, on the north by a highway, Route 50, and on the east and west by prairie lands and wheat fields. After rain, or when snowfalls thaw, the streets, unnamed, unshaded, unpaved, turn from the thickest dust into the direst mud. At one end of the town stands a stark old stucco structure, the roof of which supports an electric sign—Dance—but the dancing has ceased and the advertisement has been dark for several years. Nearby is another building with an irrelevant sign, this one in flaking gold on a dirty window—HOLCOMB BANK. The bank closed in 1933, and it is one of the town’s two “apartment houses,” the second being a ramshackle mansion known, because a good part of the local school’s faculty lives there, as the Teacherage. But the majority of Holcomb’s homes are one-story frame affairs, with front porches.

Down by the depot, the postmistress, a gaunt woman who wears a rawhide jacket and denims and cowboy boots, presides over a falling-apart post office. The depot, itself, with its peeling sulphur-colored paint, is equally melancholy; the Chief, the Super Chief, the El Capitan go by every day, but these celebrated expresses never pause there. No passenger trains do—only an occasional freight. Up on the highway, there are two filling stations, one of which doubles as a meagerly supplied grocery store, while the other does extra duty as a cafe—Hartman’s Cafe, where Mrs. Hartman, the proprietress, dispenses sandwiches, coffee, soft drinks, and 3.2 beer. (Holcomb, like all the rest of Kansas, is “dry.”)

And that, really, is all. Unless you include, as one must, the Holcomb School, a good-looking establishment, which reveals a circumstance that the appearance of the community otherwise camouflages: that the parents who send their children to this modern and ably staffed “consolidated” school—the grades go from kindergarten through senior high, and a fleet of buses transport the students, of which there are usually around three hundred and sixty, from as far as sixteen miles away—are, in general, a prosperous people…. The farm ranchers in Finney County, of which Holcomb is a part, have done well; money has been made not from farming alone but also from the exploitation of plentiful natural-gas resources, and its acquisition is reflected in the new school, the comfortable interiors of the farmhouses, the steep and swollen grain elevators.

Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans—in fact, few Kansans—had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there. The inhabitants of the village, numbering two hundred and seventy, were satisfied that this should be so, quite content to exist inside ordinary life …

Now, compare your reading notes with what we’ve done. Yours may vary from ours, but the results of your note taking should be similar in scope.


Notice that, in the sample, we have used a kind of shorthand for our notations. Rather than repeating the specific elements or points each time they are found in the text, we have numbered the major points.

1 = Something old West and insignificant about Holcomb

2 = The starkness of the town

3 = People reflecting the setting

4 = Contrast between first three paragraphs and the last two

This saves precious time. All you need do is list the categories and number each. Then, as you go through the text, number specifics that support these categories.

Excerpt from the opening of In Cold Blood