5 Steps to a 5: Writing the AP English Essay (2016)

Step 3. Develop Strategies for Success

Chapter 6. Reading and Working Different Types of AP English Prompts

IN THIS CHAPTER

Summary: Clarify the expectations of the AP English essays with regard to analysis and argumentation

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Key Ideas

image Review the specific vocabulary related to the AP English essay prompts

image Practice deconstructing AP English essay prompts

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“Do not open the mouth until the brain is in gear.”

(A.A.)

The same also could be said for those preparing to write an AP English essay. Do not write your AP English essay until your brain is in gear. Getting your brain in gear starts with deconstructing the prompt.

Continuing with our personal training metaphor, if you have a personal physical trainer, he or she has carefully prepared a specific routine that tells you what to do when you go to the gym for your workout. It clearly states the exercise, the number of repetitions, and the number of sets. To ignore these instructions is to place your physical well-being in jeopardy. The same principle holds true for addressing the AP English essay prompt. It doesn’t matter if it’s a prompt for a Literature essay or for a Language essay; each assumes that you will read both the prompt and the given text carefully. The expectation is that you will recognize and pay attention to key terms. Not only are you to recognize these important words, but you are also to have a working familiarity with them. These are the keys to planning and writing your AP English essay.

Key Words and Phrases

If you are like most of our students, your first question will probably be, “Okay, but just what are these key words or phrases?” The “key words and phrases” are all related to the two general purposes emphasized by both AP English courses: analysis and argumentation, and they are examined in Chapters 23, and 4 of this book. If you have skipped any of these sections, you should go back and make certain you are familiar with the material covered in each of these three chapters. For a really quick review, go to the chart at the end of Chapter 4.

Throughout this chapter, and the ones to follow in this section of the book, we not only give you formats, ideas, activities, and thought-provoking questions to consider, but we also model the process for you with actual student samples and commentary on them.

What Constitutes an AP English Prompt?

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Remember, a prompt is just that, a suggestion, or hint, or timely instruction as to what is expected of you as a writer in a specific circumstance. As we have said before, the two major writing tasks that AP English courses are preparing for are: (1) analysis of text, and (2) argumentation. Therefore, AP English essay prompts are aimed at developing and evaluating your skills in writing the essay of analysis or a clearly presented and supported argument.

Generally, you could say that the AP English prompt is made up of THREE parts:

Subject + Verb + Object. Sound familiar? You’re right; it looks like the basic components of a sentence. And, if you keep this idea in mind, you’ll not easily forget to look for each of these three parts when you begin to deconstruct any given prompt.

•  The Subject refers to the given text on which both the prompt and your essay are based. For example:

_____ Read the following passage from . . .

_____ In her book, the author makes the following observation about . . .

_____ In the following passage, the speaker discusses . . .

_____ Read the following poem . . .

_____ Read the following short story . . .

_____ Writers often highlight . . .

_____ The author wrote . . .

_____ Read the following texts relating to a given topic . . .

•  The Verb specifically tells you what to do with the given text. For example:

_____ Analyze the rhetorical techniques or strategies . . .

_____ Defend, challenge, or qualify the writer’s ideas . . .

_____ Analyze how the poet uses imagery . . .

_____ Analyze how the author uses literary techniques or devices . . .

_____ Choose a literary work and show how . . .

_____ Discuss the poem’s controlling metaphor . . .

_____ Explain how . . .

_____ Other verbs that could be used include: compare, contrast, evaluate, explain, justify, relate, describe, identify and discuss, identify and explain.

_____ Take a position . . .

•  The Object is the goal. It makes it clear what the overall purpose of your essay is to be. For example:

_____ . . . Two conflicts within one character illuminating the meaning

_____ . . . Reveals the speaker’s response to . . .

_____ . . . Author’s rhetorical purpose in the passage as a whole . . .

_____ . . . Author’s exploration of . . .

_____ . . . Expression of the attitude of the speaker . . .

_____ . . . Revelation of character . . .

_____ . . . Retelling of an experience . . .

_____ . . . Support your position by synthesizing at least three of the given sources . . .

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A fourth component of an AP prompt that must be considered is the recognition of key words and phrases. These are clues that let you know what the creator of the prompt is looking for in the organization and structure of your presentation. For example:

• Consider such stylistic devices as: diction, imagery, syntax, pacing, structure, tone and selection of detail.

• Using your own knowledge and experiences or readings . . .

• Choose a suitable literary work . . .

• Choose a work of literary merit . . .

• Consider formal elements such as structure, syntax, diction and imagery . . .

• Consider literary elements such as point of view, selection of detail, figurative language . . .

• Consider such poetic elements as imagery, metaphor, rhythm, form and rhyme . . .

A fifth and final component that many prompts contain is the inclusion of incidental data. These are remarks that are made about the given text that can often prove to be quite helpful in both your understanding and analysis of the text. Pay attention to such information as titles, author’s name, date of publication, the genre of the text, and any other background that the test maker provides. If the information is given to you, it must be important in your consideration of the text and the preparation of your essay. When synthesizing sources, make sure to provide adequate and appropriate attribution.

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When a prompt reads “such as,” you can choose from among the ideas presented, or you can choose to develop your own ideas, strategies and devices. But, be aware that you must adhere to the requirements dictated by the prompt. If it asks for more than one item, you cannot develop only one. No matter how well you develop this one idea, it will fall short of the basic requirements of the prompt.

Once you know what is expected, you will be able to

• Read in a more directed manner;

• Be sensitive to those details that will apply;

• Write an essay that adheres to the given topic.

Workout 1

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The following are two AP English prompts from past exams. Using your “prompt deconstructing” knowledge, carefully read and notate each prompt and answer the questions that follow.

A. In the following passage from a letter to her daughter, Lady Wortley Montague (1689–1762) discusses the education of her daughter. Read the passage carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze how Lady Montague uses rhetorical strategies and stylistic devices to convey her views about the role of knowledge played in the lives of women of her time. (AP Language, 1996)

1. Highlight the subject of the prompt.

2. Underline the key verb(s) of the prompt.

3. Bracket the object/goal of the prompt.

4. The topic of the letter is ______________________________.

5. The letter is one that is written from a ______________ to her ______________.

6. The historical context is the _____fifteenth to sixteenth, _____sixteenth to seventeenth, _____seventeenth to eighteenth centuries.

7. Will the time period play a necessary role in how the writer addresses the text? _____yes _____no

8. Can the writer choose to address ONLY rhetorical strategies? _____yes _____no

9. Can the writer choose to compose an essay about his/her views concerning knowledge and education? _____yes _____no

Check your responses with ours. The subject of the prompt is clearly Lady Montague’s letter to her daughter, and the key verb is analyze. The object/goal of this analysis is the use of rhetorical strategies and stylistic devices. The topic of the letter written from a mother to her daughter is the education of young women. The historical context of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would have no real bearing on how the writer addresses the analysis of the text. The prompt makes it clear that the writer must address BOTH rhetorical strategies and stylistic devices. Because this is an essay of analysis, the writer DOES NOT discuss his or her personal views about knowledge and education.

B. Carefully read the following passage from George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch (1871). Then write an essay in which you characterize the narrator’s attitude toward Dorothea Brooke and analyze the literary techniques used to convey the attitude. Support your analysis with specific references to the passage. (AP Literature, 1998)

1. Highlight the subject of the prompt.

2. Underline the key verb(s) of the prompt.

3. Bracket the object/goal of the prompt.

4. For this prompt, is it important to pay close attention to the time period of the novel’s setting? _____yes _____no

5. Is the writer expected to address all of the possible literary techniques in this passage? _____yes _____no

6. Based on the demands of the prompt, can the essay be an abstract discussion? _____yes _____no

7. Based on the demands of the prompt, can the writer discuss his or her own attitude toward Dorothea? _____yes _____no

Compare your responses with ours. The subject of this prompt is George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, and the key verbs are characterize and analyze. The narrator’s attitude toward Dorothea Brooke and the literary techniques used to convey the attitude are the two objects/goals of the key verbs. Even though the date of the novel is provided, it is not important to the type of analysis demanded by the prompt. If the test makers wanted the writer to address all of the possible literary techniques used in the passage, they would have specified ALL. Based on a careful reading and deconstruction of the prompt, the writer should be able to clearly see that an abstract discussion will NOT meet the basic requirements, and neither will a discussion of the writer’s personal attitude toward Dorothea.

Workout 2

Carefully read and notate each of the following prompts and answer the questions that follow.

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A. The following passage is in the introduction to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Why We Can’t Wait, a book that describes the social conditions and the attitudes of many black Americans in the 1960s. After reading the passage carefully, write an essay that describes the rhetorical purpose of the passage and analyzes its stylistic, narrative, and persuasive devices. (AP Language, 1989)

1. Highlight the subject of the prompt.

2. Underline the key verb(s) of the prompt.

3. Bracket the object/goal of the prompt.

4. The historical context is _____________________________________________.

5. The writer needs to recognize the author’s _______________________________.

6. The two key verbs in this prompt are _______________ and ________________.

7. The three devices that must be addressed are _______________, _________________, and _____________________.

8. Does the prompt allow the writer to choose from among these three devices? _____yes _____no

B. Read the following two poems carefully, noting that the second includes an allusion to the first. Then write a well-organized essay in which you discuss their similarities and differences. In your essay, be sure to consider both theme and style. (AP Literature, 1988)

1. Highlight the subject of the prompt.

2. Underline the key verb(s) of the prompt.

3. Bracket the object/goal of the prompt.

4. The primary strategy demanded for your essay is _____cause/effect, _____argument, _____contrast/comparison, _____description, _____narration.

5. The major clue given to the writer in this prompt is that poem no.2 contains an ____________ to poem no. 1.

6. Can the writer choose to write about only theme or only style? _____yes _____no

(You can find the answers to these questions in Appendix IV.)

Workout 3

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As we progress through the book, we will begin addressing two specific essay prompts, one for Language and one for Literature. For each, we deconstruct the prompt, notate the text, plan the essay, and write each section of the presentation. In many situations, we will be using actual student-written material.

Let us introduce you to our two sample prompts.

English Language and Composition

In “A Presidential Candidate,” Mark Twain makes his own “modest proposal.” Carefully read the text and identify the author’s purpose. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze Twain’s use of rhetorical devices and strategies to achieve his purpose and create humor. You may wish to consider such items as diction, selection of detail, irony, and tone.

Here’s what a deconstruction of this prompt would look like:

English Language and Composition

In “A Presidential Candidate,” Mark Twain makes his own “modest proposal.” Carefully read the text and identify the author’s purpose. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze Twain’s [use of rhetorical devices and strategies to achieve his purpose and create humor.] You may wish to consider such items as diction, selection of detail, irony, and tone.

1. The subject is Mark Twain’s “A Presidential Candidate.”

2. The key verbs are identify, analyze.

3. The object/goal is the purpose and humor and how it is achieved and created.

4. As I read the text, I will pay close attention to diction, selection of detail, irony, and tone, although I could have chosen others.

English Literature and Composition

In “Dover Beach,” Matthew Arnold presents an argument for fidelity and love. In a well-developed essay, discuss the techniques Arnold employs to develop his persuasive poem. Refer to such tools of the poet’s craft as diction, organization, meter, poetic devices, and imagery.

Here’s what a deconstruction of this prompt would look like.

English Literature and Composition

In “Dover Beach,” Matthew Arnold presents an argument for fidelity and love. In a well-developed essay discuss the [techniques Arnold employs to develop his persuasive poem.] Refer to such tools of the poet’s craft as diction, organization, meter, poetic devices, and imagery.

1. The subject of this prompt is Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach.”

2. The key verb is discussed.

3. The object/goal is the development of the argument.

4. As I read the poem, I want to pay close attention to poetic form, imagery, figurative language, and rhetorical strategies, or others.

After the careful reading and deconstruction of the prompt, the writer is now ready to move on to the prewriting and planning of the essay.