5 Steps to a 5: Writing the AP English Essay (2016)
Step 1. Set Up Your Study Program
Chapter 1. Introduction to the Training Program
IN THIS CHAPTER
Summary: Find the answers to your questions about the AP English essays
Discover what constitutes an AP English essay
Examine different essay requirements for AP English Language and AP English Literature
Explore a generic set of AP English essay rubrics
Meet Your Trainers
“The task of a writer consists in being able to make something out of an idea.”
Welcome to our writing training program. Obviously, if you’ve decided to purchase and read this book, you already have an interest in writing. Good for you. Now, take a moment to clarify for yourself why you feel the need for training. (Check those that apply.) Perhaps:
_____ You want to do well in your AP English class.
_____ You freeze when writing timed essays.
_____ You have trouble finding the right things to say.
_____ You don’t like to write exam essays.
_____ You can’t finish an exam essay on time.
_____ You frequently have writer’s block.
You might also have chosen this text because you’re interested in or unsure about one or more of the following aspects of the writing process. (Check those that apply.)
We’re betting that you checked off more than one of these items. With this in mind, we’re going to help you address each of these areas of concern about writing. Think of us as your AP Writing personal trainers. You have the ability, and you certainly have the desire and will. Together, we will develop and strengthen those writing muscles you need to compose effective AP English essays.
It is important to understand that the purpose of this training is to help you to develop as an AP writer throughout the year, NOT just for performance on a single exam at the end of the term. But, obviously, if you train with a specific goal in mind, your performance on the exam should be enhanced.
Having said that, there are probably many questions that you would like to ask about AP English essays. Here are a few that students have asked over the years.
Questions and Answers About the AP English Essay
What’s the Difference Between the “Average High School English Essay” and One Termed an “Advanced Placement English Essay?”
You can begin to answer this question yourself just by deciding which of the following is an average high school essay and which is an AP English essay.
Verbal prowess has certainly played a great role in history. An individual’s language is instrumental in the formation of his personal identity just as the language of a given culture plays a large part in the formation of its communal identity. Language can be a key to success in both personal and public causes. Back in the early 1800s, a young black slave Phyllis Wheatley set herself apart through poetry and led her readers to a fuller awareness of the plight of slaves in the United States. In the later 1800s, a very eloquent ex-slave Frederick Douglass spoke on behalf of his race, expertly manipulating his words into an extremely effective weapon. Douglass’s mastery of language earned him great respect, an invitation to the White House, and the ear of the American public. In the mid-1900s, people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X continued Douglass’s legacy through their own communication and speaking skills. These public figures and artists illustrate that those who can speak and write well readily earn people’s respect, thus developing their own individuality and ability to fight for the success of their cause.
I have a very good friend who speaks really well. He is an example of how speaking correctly can lead to bigger and better things. He was always using words such as “like,” “you know,” “ain’t.” We all use these words when we talk to each other, but our teachers always tell us that adults in the business world don’t like us to use slang like this. So, when my friend set up an appointment to interview for a summer job, we all told him not to use these words. He shrugged it off and didn’t listen to us, and he didn’t get the job. The second job he went to interview for was different. He didn’t use those words, and he got the job. This goes to show that language can be the key to success.
So, which one did you pick as the AP English paragraph? We were fairly certain that you’d choose A. Now, here is the difficult part. Why did you pick it as the AP sample? Quickly list three reasons.
Do your reasons include any of the following?
_____ clear thesis
_____ diction (word choice)
_____ sentence variety
_____ examples and details
_____ syntax (sentence structure)
_____ topic adherence
You may not have used our exact words, but you probably did identify a couple of these points. Good, you DO know what an upper-level essay is. Now our job, and yours, is to provide opportunities for you to practice and develop the knowledge, skills, and techniques that will allow you to write a variety of successful AP English essays consistently.
What Actually Is an AP English Essay?
The College Board directly states that one of the goals of an AP English course is to have students become “practiced, logical, and honest writers.” In other words, the AP English student is expected to read, think, plan, write, and revise so that the ideas presented are clear, appropriate, and effective for the chosen purpose and audience.
In general, an AP English essay will demonstrate the writer’s ability to do the following:
1. Think through an idea.
2. Plan the presentation of his or her own claim (thesis, assertion, main point).
3. Draft a text that is logically organized to effectively support the writer’s idea(s) and purpose.
The AP English student must be able to write a well-developed, timed essay, which is most often a critical analysis, argument, or exposition in response to a specific prompt. Those who create AP English courses and exams also expect the student writer to use the elements of syntax, diction, and rhetoric appropriate to the writer’s purpose and audience.
Specifically, the student who elects to take the AP English Language or Literature exam in May will be required to do the following:
What’s the Difference Between the AP English Language and the AP English Literature Essays?
Basically, the AP English Language course concentrates on reading prose from various time periods, written to achieve many different purposes. The emphasis is on writing expository, analytical, and argumentative essays.
In general, Language essays are based on nonfiction works. You may be asked to do any of the following:
• Identify the author’s purpose.
• Identify the audience.
• Identify and analyze the rhetorical strategies and/or language resources used by the author to achieve his or her purpose.
• Defend, refute, or qualify the author’s position on a given subject.
• Create a synthesis essay.
In contrast, AP Literature students read a wide range of literary works of differing genres, and the assigned essays require the writer to focus on a given piece of literature, be it prose, poetry, or drama. The emphasis is on writing analytical, expository, and argumentative essays based on the literature.
Most often, literature essays are based on prose and poetry, although selections from drama may be included. For each, you may be asked to do any of the following:
• Analyze the techniques the author uses to produce a particular effect, reveal a character, develop a concept, etc., in the work.
• Compare and contrast two pieces of literature.
• Compose an essay based on a given topic that must be supported with specific references to a full-length literary work of your choice.
As we progress through this text, we look carefully at the various essay formats and requirements of each course.
What Are the Expectations of the AP English Essay?
Before addressing this question, it is important to define two terms used throughout this book. The first is PROMPT. A prompt is the professional word that indicates the “question” on which your instructor or exam creator requires you to base an assigned essay. It is your essay assignment. The second is RUBRIC. A rubric is the professional word for a set of rating standards employed by the reader(s) of a given essay.
In Chapter 5 we work with the process of reading and working the essay prompts. Right now, let’s take a close look at rubrics used for evaluating an AP English essay. For both Language and Literature the highly rated essays are assigned either a 9 or an 8. The middle-range essays receive anywhere from 7 to 5. (There are rare instances when a 7 could be said to be in the high range.) Those essays rated 4 to 1 are considered low range.
It is important to note that AP English essays on the AP exam are rated with numbers ranging from 9 to 1 for each of the exam’s three essays. The AP English essays are also characterized as high, middle, and low range. With a specific formula, these scores are combined with the multiple choice score, and converted into an overall rating of the complete exam that ranges from 5 to 1.
A generic set of AP Language rubrics would look like this:
A 9 essay has all the qualities of an 8 essay, and the writing style is especially impressive, as is the analysis of the specifics related to the prompt and the text.
An 8 will effectively and cohesively address the prompt. It will analyze and/or argue the elements called for in the question. And, it will do so using appropriate evidence from the given text. The essay will also show the writer’s ability to control language well.
A 7 essay has all the properties of a 6, only with a more complete, well-developed analysis/argument or a more mature writing style.
A 6 essay adequately addresses the prompt. The analysis and/or argument is on target and makes use of appropriate specifics from the text. However, these elements are less fully developed than scores in the 7, 8, 9 range. The writer’s ideas are expressed with clarity, but the writing may have a few errors in syntax and/or diction.
A 5 essay demonstrates that the writer understands the prompt. The analysis/argument is generally understandable but is limited or uneven. The writer’s ideas are expressed clearly with a few errors in syntax or diction.
A 4 essay is an inadequate response to the prompt. The writer’s analysis/argument of the text indicates a misunderstanding, an oversimplification, or a misrepresentation of the given passage. The writer may use evidence that is inappropriate or insufficient to support the analysis/argument.
A 3 essay is a lower 4 because it is even less effective in addressing the prompt. It is also less mature in its syntax and organization.
A 2 essay indicates little success in speaking to the prompt. The writer may misread the question, only summarize the passage, fail to develop the required analysis/argument, or simply ignore the prompt and write about another topic. The writing may also lack organization and control of language and syntax. (Note: No matter how good the summary, it will never rate more than a 2.)
A 1 essay is a lower 2 because it is even more simplistic, disorganized, and lacking in control of language.
Although similar, there are specific differences between the Literature and Language rubrics. Here is a generic set of rubrics for an AP English Literature essay.
A 9 essay has all the qualities of an 8 essay, and the writing style is especially impressive, as is the relationship between the text and the subtext and the inclusion of supporting detail.
An 8 essay will effectively and cohesively address the prompt. It will refer to the appropriate text and provide specific and relevant references from the text to illustrate and support the writer’s thesis as related to the prompt. The essay will indicate the writer’s ability to perceive the relationship between text and subtext in a clear and mature writing style.
A 7 essay has all the properties of a 6, only with more well-developed analysis/discussion related to the prompt or a more mature writing style.
A 6 essay adequately addresses the prompt. The analysis/discussion is on target and makes use of appropriate references from the chosen literary work to support the thesis. However, these elements are less fully developed than scores in the 7, 8, or 9 range. The writer’s ideas are expressed with clarity, but the writing may have a few errors in syntax and/or diction.
A 5 essay demonstrates that the writer understands the prompt’s requirements. The analysis/discussion of the text and how it relates to the prompt is generally understandable, but it is limited or uneven. The writer’s ideas are expressed clearly with a few errors in syntax and/or diction.
A 4 essay is an inadequate response to the prompt. The writer’s analysis/discussion of the text and how it relates to the prompt indicates a misunderstanding, an oversimplification, or a misrepresentation of the chosen literary work. The writer may use evidence that is inappropriate or insufficient to support his or her thesis.
A 3 essay is a lower 4 because it is even less effective in addressing the text and how it relates to the prompt. It is also less mature in its syntax and organization.
A 2 essay indicates little success in speaking to the prompt. The writer may misread the question, choose an unacceptable literary work, only summarize the selection, fail to develop the required analysis, or simply ignore the prompt and write about another topic altogether. (Note: No matter how good the summary may be, it will NEVER rate more than a 2.)
A 1 essay is a lower 2 because it is even more simplistic, disorganized, off topic, and lacking in control of language.
Although each essay is rated on a scale of 9 to 1, your final AP English exam score is going to be a 5, 4, 3, 2, or a 1. If you’d like to transpose these numbers into letter grades, you could use the following as a guide.
So, if you receive a 7 on an AP English essay, you can think of it in terms of receiving a letter grade of B+ or an A−.
Is It Difficult to Write an Effective AP English Essay?
When we watch an athlete jumping hurdles, skiing down a precipitous slope, winning at Wimbledon, hitting a home run, or completing the marathon, we often say, “Wow, that sure looks easy.” When we go to an art gallery and see a photograph by Ansel Adams or Annie Leibowitz or a painting by Pablo Picasso, we often hear people say, “I can do this. There’s nothing to it.”
However, doing something well is not always easy.
What is done well “appears” smooth and effortless. However, the observer is unaware of the hours, days, months, and sometimes years of practice, rehearsal, editing, and “tweaking” that go into the event or presentation.
The same is true of writing. Your favorite novelists, journalists, poets, playwrights, song writers, screenwriters, and essayists work their way through a process of observing, thinking, planning, prewriting, writing, and revision. Once their final draft is presented, you read it as a smooth, seamless piece of work. Try not to think of writing in terms of difficulty. Think of it as an ongoing process that becomes clearer and smoother with practice. Easy!