AP English Language FRQs
Imagine you are watching your favorite show one night. All of a sudden your television flashes and shuts off. Try as you might, you can’t get it to work. You decide that you’ll have to go down to the store and pick out a new one.
On the way to the store, you pass a man handing out small cards. The cards say that they are good for up to $1,000 off the purchase of a television from the store. Of course you would take the card and buy the television with it at an incredible discount.
This scenario is similar to the way that AP exams work for college-bound students. Much like the store taking a large part of the cost of a television, colleges will offer credit for students that pass an AP exam. What students don’t often realize is that passing just one AP exam can save you thousands of dollars of tuition costs.
It seems obvious, but you should take the exam seriously. The offer has been made, but it is up to you to accept it. If you do accept, it means you will study harder and prepare yourself so that you can pass. This guide exists to help you seize the opportunity.
In this guide we have compiled the do’s and don’ts of the 2013 AP English Language FRQ section, to provide you with the best information to conquer the exam. As you prepare for the exam, keep a close watch for the best practices for each type of essay, and the things to avoid in your writing.
Let’s break down the test to see how it is scored and what you’re expected to do.
The Free Response Questions (FRQs) are the essay portion of the AP Language exam. The exam itself has two parts; the first is a multiple-choice section, and the second is the FRQs. This guide provides an overview, some strategies, and some examples of the FRQs from the CollegeBoard. There is a guide to the multiple choice here.
The FRQ section has two distinct parts: 15 minutes for reading a set of texts and 120 minutes for writing three essays. The 15 minute “reading period” is designed to give you time to read through the documents for question one and develop a thoughtful response. Although you are advised to give each essay 40 minutes, there is no set amount of time for any of the essays. You may divide the 120 minutes however you want.
The three FRQs are each designed to test a different style of writing. The first question is always a synthesis essay – which is why they give you 15 minutes to read all of the sources you must synthesize. The second essay is rhetorical analysis, requiring you to analyze a text through your essay. The third paper is an argumentative essay.
Each essay is worth one-third of the total grade for the FRQ section, and the FRQ section is worth 55% of the total AP test. Keep that in mind as you prepare for the exam that, while the multiple-choice section is hard, the essays are worth more overall – so divide your study time evenly.
The scale for essay scores ranges from 1-9. A score of 1 suggests your essay is illegible or unintelligible, while a score of 9 is going to reflect the best attributes and aspects of early college-level writing. You should be shooting to improve your scores to the passing range, which is 5 or above. Note that if you are struggling with the multiple choice section, a 9-9-9 on the essays can help make up for it.
The Tale of Three Essays
If you are currently taking an AP class, you have probably experienced the style and formats of the three assignments. You may have learned about the specifics of the different types of essays in class, and you may have already found out which of the three is easiest for you. However, you must possess skill in all three to master the AP test.
The First Essay (Synthesis)
The first essay on the test is the synthesis essay. This essay can be the trickiest to master, but once you do get the hang of it, you will be one step closer to learning the others. The synthesis requires you to read seven texts, which can be poems, articles, short stories, or even political cartoons.
Once you have read and analyzed the texts, you are asked to craft an argument using at least three of the documents from the set. The sources should be used to build and support your argument, and you must integrate them into a coherent whole.
On the 2013 FRQ section of the AP exam, the synthesis essay focuses on the planning and consideration that goes into building a monument. The complete prompt for the section is below:
If we break down the task, it is asking you to use the six sources to create a “coherent, well-developed argument” from your position about the factors a group or agency should consider when memorializing a person in a monument. As you read this, you might have some experience with the topic or have seen monuments in your life. You can use that experience, but your response needs to focus on the given texts.
To find the actual documents you can go here. Taking a look at the documents will provide some context for the essay samples and their scores.
The question is scored on a scale from 1-9, with nine being the highest. Let’s take a look at some examples of student essays, along with comments from the readers – to break down the dos and don’ts of the FRQ section.
You should always strive to get the highest score possible. Writing a high-scoring paper involves learning some practices that will help you write the best possible synthesis essay. Below are two examples taken from student essays.
Create a Clear Thesis
One of the key elements of scoring high on the synthesis essay is to make your argument as clear as possible. Let’s look at the clarity in the example below:
This sample comes from a high scoring essay. In particular, this student makes her argument clear through the thesis she crafts. The language that the student uses makes it clear what she is talking about, “careful consideration of its location, size, material, and purpose can effectively pay homage to the deep sacrifice or honor moments of great achievement”.
In her thesis statement, the student points out the four reasons she will use to make her argument: location, size, material, and purpose. She also drives home the importance of those topics in connection with the overall use of monuments, to “pay homage”.
For the reader of this essay, the student wrote very clear what she will discuss in the essay. The clarity in the thesis makes this essay much easier to read and understand, which will result in more points.
Explain Sources in Detail
Another essential part of scoring well on the synthesis essay is to explain your sources in great detail. The student example below demonstrates the skill:
The student who wrote this essay was able to explain in great detail how the evidence works to support her argument. She can use her writing to examine how location works for or against the value of a monument by illustrating the difference for the reader.
In the case of this paragraph, she shows how a statue of Columbus fits in a park, a lovely scene where it belongs, and how it doesn’t fit with the scenery of an abandoned building or by billboards. The images she creates help to demonstrate her point well.
As you determine which sources to use as evidence, you will want to work on how you will explain or connect the evidence to your main point. You need to have valid reasoning that uses the evidence to drive home the argument.
There are some practices that students should avoid on FRQ 1 of the test. Students who do these things can expect to receive low scores on their essays, and if you wish to score above a five, you should avoid them at all costs.
Don’t Fail to Address the Prompt
One of the biggest mistakes students make is going off topic with the essay. Many students neglect the prompt and instead write around the issue, which results in a very low score. Let’s look at a low-scoring example of writing around the prompt:
This student doesn’t seem to understand the main point of the essay. Instead of explaining what needs consideration when planning a monument, the student goes off on a tangent about how the “government does not need to spend an excessive amount of money on memorials…”
The topic of monument cost could have fit into the prompt, but making it the main issue doesn’t set this essay up to succeed. Instead of addressing the important considerations before erecting a monument, this student has challenged the entire idea of monuments.
In your essay, make sure that you always work to address the prompt. Your score will depend on you arguing the issue presented in the prompt.
Don’t Use Assumptions to Argue
When writing an argumentative essay, it is good practice to focus on facts and evidence and not jump to conclusions. In the example below the student works off of an assumption that isn’t substantiated by the evidence given:
This student makes the assumption early on that “the Lincoln Memorial has no importance to some”. While the evidence used does demonstrate that the memorial can be discounted as “memorial,” it doesn’t show that people don’t think it is important.
The student needs to work towards an understanding that can be proven by the evidence he uses. The lack of proof to demonstrate their point makes their argument weak and accounts for the loss of points.
Always make sure that you can support your reasons and argument with substantial evidence. If the evidence you use doesn’t support what you are saying, you may want to change your argument to be underpinned by the sources.
AP Readers’ Tips:
- Read every text before you start your essay. A common pitfall is that many students do not use enough sources and try to fit them in after the fact.
- Plan ahead. Ensure that you understand what you are going to be saying and how you will incorporate the sources into your writing. You will need at least three sources to get above a 6, so ensure you have at least that many mapped in your plan.
The Second Essay (Rhetorical Analysis)
The second essay on the FRQ section is always a rhetorical analysis essay. This essay will focus on analyzing a text for an important aspect of the writing. In the case of the 2013 FRQ, the analysis was supposed to concentrate on rhetorical strategies:
The prompt asks the reader to carefully read a chapter from Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods and analyze the strategies that he uses to create and argument about the separation of people and nature. Rhetorical strategies include things like the rhetorical appeals and rhetorical devices.
Let’s examine the do’s and don’ts for the second essay.
When analyzing rhetorical strategies, you should pay close attention to the details within the text. The students below use some valuable strategies to enhance their analysis.
Introduce the Topic with Background Knowledge
Background knowledge is one of the most efficient tools to use in the second essay. Students that have background knowledge tend to write much more detailed and meaningful essays. Let’s look at an example below:
In the example above, the student uses her knowledge of ancient Egypt to help explain her argument. The prompt asks students to examine Louv’s argument about humanity’s connection to nature – and the student introduces the topic by explaining how fundamental nature has been to humanity’s development.
The student can use her background knowledge to show that nature was intimately connected to all facets of life in the past. She goes on to explore how that relationship has changed in the present, but the examination helps draw out the comparison and sets her up to explain Louv’s argument.
If you can utilize background knowledge on a topic or argument, you should do it. The use of that knowledge will help shape your essay and can add depth that wouldn’t be accessible otherwise.
Use Direct Evidence from the Text
Using direct evidence from the text works to enhance your writing. Without direct evidence, your reasoning would have nothing to support it. Let’s take a look at how a student did this on the 2013 exam:
In the example above, the student goes into great detail about what Louv says in his story. However, the student also manages to pull direct quotes from the text to support what she is explaining from the text.
The use of direct quotations serves the student well, and she is ultimately able to show exactly what Louv was saying through her use of text. The example helps illustrate her point and supports her argument.
If you utilize direct quotations well it can go a long way towards earning you a nine on the essay. You must learn how to integrate the quotes seamlessly, and how to use them effectively with your reasoning.
Some things to avoid on the literary analysis essay include providing little evidence and adding fluff.
Don’t Write an Argument without Providing Direct Evidence
One way to miss crucial points is to neglect direct evidence in your argument. Just as adding direct evidence makes your argument stronger, choosing to argue without it will make it look weak. Let’s look at one of the examples of this from a student essay:
The student discusses the strategy of using direct quotations but doesn’t offer any examples. In the text, a story is described, but there is no direct quotation showing exactly what was discussed or how the story incorporates quotations.
The student should have added in direct quotations, but he failed to do so at crucial points in the essay. Not addressing the direct quotations makes the work look sloppy and ill-informed. Overall the failure to include examples from the text dropped the grade of the essay immensely.
When analyzing the rhetoric in a passage, it is best to find direct quotations to prove the strategies you are pointing out. Do not mention a strategy if you cannot show how the author used it in the text; otherwise, it seems like you are making it up.
Don’t Add Fluff
Students that have no more to write should stop writing. Adding in useless fluff to pad your essay and make it seem longer will only hurt the overall grade. Here is what some fluff looks like in the second essay:
The student’s sentence adds nothing to the discussion of Louv’s rhetorical strategies. The sentence “…writes a striking piece on the separation between people and nature…” is almost entirely superfluous. There are many other, better ways to explain and introduce the topic.
It is better to write nothing or a very short sentence then to add unnecessary and redundant sentences to your essay. As you are working, make sure that every word counts; you don’t have enough time to spare to write sentences that add nothing to your overall argument.
AP Readers’ Tips
- Pay attention to both the holistic (overall) and analytic (particular) views of the piece. You will need to understand both the text as a whole and the specific parts of the text to analyze it effectively.
- Don’t just analyze the rhetoric used, but instead connect the rhetoric to the specific purpose of the author. This rule applies to any rhetorical analysis essay.
The Third Essay (Argument)
The third and last essay of the FRQ does not respond to a particular text. Instead, the prompt focuses on crafting an argument about a particular issue. Your essay will need to argue a particular position, though most of the questions put forth by the exam will not be simple either/or questions.
Let’s look at the prompt for the third essay from 2013:
Before we get into the do’s and don’ts of the essay, let’s talk about the particular challenge of this task. This particular task would be tough to write about because it deals with the philosophical ideas around the concept of ownership.
Be advised that you need to read the third prompt carefully. It is easy to fall into the trap of writing off-prompt because you misread or do not quite understand what it is asking you to do. In this case, you are asked to explain the relationship between the concept of ownership and sense of self, so an essay that doesn’t address that relationship would be off-task.
Always read the prompt carefully.
A few of the most important things you can do to ensure you score well on the essay include providing strong examples and crafting a strong thesis.
Provide Strong Examples to Substantiate Your Reasoning
There is always a need when arguing to provide strong examples to make your reasons and argument clear. In the student writing below they go to great lengths to provide strong examples of their argument:
The student writes a very thorough explanation of the concept of ownership – explaining how there are varying degrees or definitions of ownership. There can be the ownership of a thing or object, and then there is the ownership of thoughts and ideas.
The student then uses the example of Candide to show how ownership of thoughts or ideas is related to the sense of self –“I’ve added the experience and memory of reading it to my personal concept of myself and my story”. The way that this student connects the concept of ownership to the concept of self is both clear and tangible – leading to a high score.
As you write, be sure to include strong examples that are clearly explained to the reader. The more clarity you have when writing, the easier it will be to understand what you are saying – and the stronger your argument and reasoning will be in the end.
Have a Strong Thesis and a Clear Argument
An excellent essay will have a strong thesis – usually provided in the first paragraph of the essay – that clearly expresses the argument of the author. A strong thesis in a timed essay like those on the AP English Language exam should clearly articulate the claim.
Let’s take a look at one example of how one student articulated her thesis:
The student writes a very strong introduction, but the best part of her intro is the clarity of her thesis. She goes into detail about what it means to own something, defining the concept. She then attaches that to her claim that, “The verb ‘to own’ doesn’t just mean to have something, it means we know something, or that we have made it a part of ourselves”.
The connection between her central argument (that owning things makes them a part of you) and the rest of her essay is established clearly through the rest of her essay. She provides three valid reasons that are fleshed out through each of the paragraphs, and each of those reasons works to establish the claim and thesis she created in the introduction.
As you write, be sure that your thesis is clear. Don’t muddle your writing by failing to establish a strong claim or craft a clear thesis.
If we take a look at the essay samples from 2013, there are few examples that stand out as don’ts. In particular, you should avoid these things.
Don’t Go Off Topic
One of the cardinal sins of essay writing is to go off-topic. Students that fail to address the prompt are sure to get a very low score.
Let’s take a look at a sample from an essay that goes off-topic and fails to adequately address the prompt:
The student does not address the prompt properly in their essay. The student isn’t able to explain clearly what he means by ownership, and while he tries to make a connection between ownership and the sense of self, a strong link is never established.
The most shining example of how this student is seemingly off-task is in his short explanation of how ownership affects character. He says that “ownership is detriment to the person’s objects, it crafts the person’s character” but then goes into no detail about what that means. He then goes on to talk about the sense of self coming from protecting valuables.
This essay dances around the topic but it never quite makes a connection or any sense. Do not make the same mistake. Be sure of what the essay is asking you to write, and always keep on task – working to answer the prompt.
Don’t Give Simple Explanations for the Evidence Used
If you provide evidence from your thinking or the prompt, be sure that you explain it well. A simple explanation for the evidence you use is indicative of poor reasoning or sloppy work. Let’s examine the paragraph below:
The student doesn’t seem quite to understand exactly what Aristotle means in his quote. The student points to not coveting the property of someone else as development of “moral character” but doesn’t go on to explain how it is morality and not merely satisfaction that causes a person not to steal or covet.
The student doesn’t elaborate on how property instills moral character, and he seems not to be able to stick to a single idea of how it teaches things like “responsibility” or “how to be fair” – he simply places these ideas in his writing and hopes that they will stand for themselves. They don’t.
In your writing, you must not only understand what you are using as evidence, but you must also be sure to explain yourself clearly. The essay above could have been spectacular if the student had explained how physical ownership translates to moral development in a clear and logical fashion.
AP Readers’ Tips
- Keep track of all parts of the prompt. One of the easiest ways to drop points is to forget to answer an important aspect of the prompt. In the case of the 2013 prompt, the essay needs to discuss the relationship between ownership and sense of self.
- Try to reference literary examples in your writing. There wasn’t much opportunity to reference readings in the 2013 prompt, but if you can reference the different literature you have read as evidence, it can help boost your scores.
General AP Readers’ Tips
Make a plan. One of the best things you can do for any essay you are writing under a time crunch is to create a thought-out strategy. Sometimes, in the heat of writing, it is easy to forget where we are in our arguments. Having a simple outline can save you from that misfortune.
Answer the question in your introduction, and be direct. This is one of the easiest ways to ensure you get a higher score.
Clearly indent your paragraphs, and ensure that you always have an easy-to-navigate structure. Topic sentences are a must, so make sure those figure into your structure.
Use evidence especially quotes from the texts, and explain what they mean. You need to make an explicit connection between the evidence you use, and how it supports your points.
Part of all great writing is variety. Vary your sentence structures; don’t make all of your sentences short or choppy, but instead try to inject some creativity into your writing. Utilize transitions, complex sentences, and elevated diction in your writing.
Use active voice, and make every word add to the paper as a whole. Avoid fluff; you don’t want your work to look bad because you are trying to pad your word count.
Go Forth and Conquer
Now that you better understand the expectations of the AP Language and Composition FRQ section, you are one step closer to getting your five on the exam. Take what you have learned in this guide, and work on applying it to your writing. So, now it is time to go practice to perfection.
If you have any more tips or awesome ideas for how to study for the AP English Language FRQ add them in the comments below.
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No doubt about it. The AP English Literature and Composition exam is tough. But with a little guidance, some pointers, and a lot of studying, you can conquer it. To do well on the AP English Literature and Composition exam, you’ll need to write competent essays. Specifically, you must write an argument defending your interpretation of the work designated in the Free Response Question section.
The AP English Literature and Composition exam consists of two parts. The first part consists of 55 multiple choice questions worth 45% of the total test grade. This section tests your ability to read and answer questions about drama, verse, or prose fiction excerpts. The second section worth 55% of the total score requires essay responses to three questions, demonstrating your ability to analyze literary works: a poem analysis, a prose fiction passage analysis, and a concept, issue, or element analysis of a literary work.
By the time you take the test, you should know how to write a clear, organized essay that argues a claim. Beginning with a brief introduction that includes the thesis statement, you’ll analyze a poem, prose excerpt, or novel in body paragraphs that support your thesis statement. Pulling quotes and details from the work, you’ll discuss how your support connects with your thesis statement, and then conclude by reiterating the thesis statement without repeating it. Clear organization, specific support, and full explanations or discussions are three critical components of high-scoring essays.
General Tips for the AP English Literature FRQs
Your teacher may have already told you how to approach the essays, but it’s important to keep the following in mind coming into the exam:
- Carefully read, review, and underline key to-do’s in the prompt.
- Briefly outline where you’re going to hit each prompt item–in other words, pencil out a specific order.
- Be sure you have a clear thesis that includes the terms mentioned in the instructions, literary devices, tone, themes, and meaning.
- Include the author’s name and title of the work in your thesis statement.
- Use quotes—lots of them—to exemplify your points throughout the essay.
- Fully explain or discuss how your examples support your thesis. A deeper, fuller, and focused explanation of fewer items is better than a shallow discussion of more items (shotgun approach).
- Avoid vague, general statements for a sharper focus on the work itself.
- Use transitions to connect sentences and paragraphs.
- Write in the present tense with generally good grammar.
- Keep your introduction and conclusion short, and don’t repeat your thesis verbatim in your conclusion.
The previously-released 2013 sample AP English Literature and Composition exam questions, sample responses, and grading rubrics are valuable learning tools. It’s instructive to analyze the three sample essays for each of the three FRQ essays and zero in on the differences between what AP readers deem a high, medium, and low scoring essay. In that way, you’ll know what to do and what to avoid come test time.
Free Response Question #1
The poem for analysis in the 2013 exam was “The Black Walnut Tree” by Mary Oliver. The prompt requires exam takers analyze the following:
- how the poet conveys the relationship between the tree and family
- how the poet’s use of figurative language conveys that relationship
- how other poetic techniques convey that relationship
To model successful strategies, you want to break down the CollegeBoard’s three sample answers: the high scoring (A) essay, the mid-range scoring (B) essay, and the low scoring (C) essay. Together, they’re a road map to a high score on the poetry analysis essay.
Start with a Succinct Introduction that Includes Your Thesis Statement
All three essays identify the title of the poem, though the A model omits the author. All three also mention figurative language and the relationship, touching on the target words in the instructions. However, the A essay, unlike the other two, matches key terms, like ‘figurative language’ with an example of such language, using the term ‘symbolic’. The writer then clarifies that the tree symbolizes family heritage. The thesis is clear at the outset: the poem divides between the figurative and literal representations, the symbol of the tree and the decision to sell the tree. The writer wastes no words and lays out a cohesive claim.
The B essay introduction correctly specifies the figurative language as “metaphor and simile”, but then merely restates the prompt instructions. Claiming the relationship between the tree and family “gives the work its purpose” is vague. What’s the work’s purpose? The reader doesn’t know what the essay sets out to prove.
The third sample lacks a thesis statement and organization. The first two introductory sentences about yards contribute little to focus the writer’s argument. The third sentence is ambiguous and confusing, with the awkward phrases “brought to light,” and “specifically on a particular tree”. The last sentence is vague. The writer defines the relationship between the tree and family as “one of respect”, which is clearly responsive to the prompt but ends with “how they feel about the tree”, which leaves the reader guessing.
In sum, make introductions brief, compact, and precise. Use details from the poem and respond to the instructions. Don’t waste time on sentences that don’t do the work ahead for you, and write a thesis statement.
Use Clear Examples to Support Your Argument Points and Discuss them
The A answer models how to seamlessly weave together assertions, quotes, and discussion in dense paragraphs. Again, economy is critical. Make every sentence count. For example, the topic sentence of the first paragraph claims that the poem is in free verse with “straightforward” language. To prove that statement, the writer supplies quotes, “My mother and I debate/we could sell/the black walnut tree”, etc. Explanation follows that the casual language doesn’t reveal the tree’s symbolism that later appears. This formula–assertion, quote, and explanation–continues throughout the body paragraphs.
Through a methodical process of presenting topic sentences, and then supporting the topic sentences with quotes and discussion that illustrate the quotes, the A writer demonstrates keen analytical and composition abilities. The organized essay proceeds logically from the introduction to the conclusion with well-chosen details to make the student’s points clear. Throughout, transitions, like the words “but suddenly” tie the second and paragraphs together, which clarify the contrasting relationship between the two.
The mid-range sample struggles to maintain clarity and focus. The writer doesn’t stick to the A formula but crafts unclear topic sentences at times and insufficiently explained quotes at others. For example, the third paragraph begins with an incomprehensible fragment of an incomplete thought. The second sentence points out a simile, but the explanation of the figurative language creates a visualization of men is missing. How do “edge” and “trowel” suggest men?
By first summarizing the poem, then jamming the quotes into uneven paragraphs, some with lots of quotes but little discussion, and others with explanation and no quotes, the B argument is hard to follow. The writer does cite “powerful diction” in the third paragraph with appropriate quotes but merely concludes without explaining how the quoted language depicts the tree’s importance. Without a thesis statement guiding the reader and writer along, the essay stumbles between discrete moments of adequate analysis.
Sample C uses quotes throughout to illustrate “figurative language” and “other poetic technique” but neither names the figurative language as similes, metaphors, or symbols nor explains how the quotes support the writer’s conclusions. The paragraphs lack clear topic sentences, transitions, and discussion. They’re merely a string of details.
Write a Brief Conclusion
While it’s more important to provide a substantive, organized, and clear argument throughout the body paragraphs than it is to conclude, a conclusion provides a satisfying ending to the essay and the last opportunity to reinforce the argument points of the preceding paragraphs. If you run out of time for a conclusion because of the thorough preceding paragraphs, that is not as damaging as not concluding or not concluding as robustly as the A essay sample.
The A response uses the conclusion to tie together all the points of the preceding paragraphs: the decision to cut down the tree presented in ordinary language, the switch to figurative language insinuating the symbolic value of the tree as heritage, and the meaning of the author’s switch through the writer’s interpretation. The conclusion is also where the larger themes of the poem–family value, enduring heritage, and intangible wealth–finally appear. The A sample neither repeats the essay instructions, like the C does, nor concludes broadly on points not explicitly covered in the essay, like the B.
Finally, a conclusion compositionally rounds out your essay. You don’t want your reader to struggle with any part of your essay. By repeating recapped points or fleshing them out with insights, you help the reader pull the argument together and wrap up.
Free Response Question #2
The 2013 AP English Literature and Composition exam Prose Analysis, Free Response Question 2, required test takes to read the given passage from D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow and analyze how the author employs literary devices to
- Characterize the woman
- Capture her situation
Whereas the poetry analysis forced writers to tease out meaning from the fewer words comprising a short poem, the prose analysis requires students to focus on broader components, such as character and description, in a larger excerpt.
Introduction and Thesis Statement
The A Essay
The writer packs the first sentence with specific language (“entrapped”, “quotidian”), details (title and author), description (“short-sighted men”), and direction (thesis statement). It succinctly characterizes the woman as desirous of “exploration” and “liberation”, and her environment as rural and mundane to cover the call of the question: the woman and her situation. The introduction ends with the thesis statement that includes the “how” of the question: “rhetorical questions, repetition, and contrasting imagery”. The reader knows from the start that this writer intends to prove the woman’s “novel” desire for the unknown and liberation through these literary devices.
The B Essay
Unlike the economy of the A essay, the B response uses vague language (“wants more”, “what she’s lived through”) and lacks focus. By the end of the introduction, the reader understands the writer will touch on the “contrasting diction” the author uses to compare the men to the women, and the vicar to her husband–but to what end? The main idea unifying the essay is a mystery.
The C Essay
Aside from spelling errors that confuse the reader, the student’s introduction lacks a focus. Besides “the repition [sic] of certain words and phrases”, we know nothing about the literary devices the author uses, the character of the woman, nor her situation. The introduction doesn’t hit the prompt points and merely claims that women and men contrast in the passage. The writer shows a superficial understanding of the meaning and elements contained in the passage.
Exemplification and Discussion in the Body Paragraphs
As promised, the A response dives right into the woman’s character, calling on the “novelty of her sentiments” elicited by the contrasting images of the men and the woman. The word “novelty” nicely connects the introduction, which leaves off with the word “novel”, to the first body paragraph. The topic sentence steers the rest of the paragraph filled with plentiful quoted phrases illustrating the men’s contentment with and “concrete” images of rural life. Using the transition “yet”, the student then contrasts the abstract imagery of the “woman’s desire” as “romantic” and “ideal” or “head-in-the-clouds” and “ethereal”.
Throughout the body paragraphs, the writer demonstrates confidence and control over language, ideas, and composition skills. The student analyzes methodically, pulling out specific words and devices (rhetorical questions, anaphora) to reach complex conclusions synthesized from the passage’s images and language. No statement is left unexplained (“thereby illustrating the woman’s unsatiated thirst”). Each paragraph begins with topic sentences and transition words (Furthermore, also) to coherently connect all paragraphs to the thesis statement.
Since this essay lacks a clear thesis statement, the topic sentence of the first body paragraph is likewise unclear. Why is the writer beginning by characterizing men as happy? What does the men’s happiness support in the introductory paragraph? The student pulls out good quotes to illustrate their contentment and their surroundings, but to an unclear end. There is no transition to signal the switch from their happiness to their surroundings, so the paragraph reads disjointed and unfocused.
The broad language like “intimate”, “personal”, and “unintimate”, which leave the readers scratching their heads to the meaning. The reader must glean the student’s assertion that the narration changes to reflect the author’s attitude toward the men versus the woman through clunky, vague observations (“the men would describe their life just how the narration portrayed it”). That’s not specific enough. In contrast, the A writer uses the terms “concrete” and “visceral” to specify the author’s portrayal of the men.
The C Essay
The description of the men through quoted repetition (“enough”) as content is a good observation. However, it doesn’t support the topic sentence about men’s roles in society. The student over-generalizes the passage to men’s roles in society, not the specific farm men in Lawrence’s novel. Like the C Essay in the poetry analysis above, the writer here pulls evidence from the excerpt, makes conclusions about the evidence, but does not present, explain, further, or support a thesis. The essay is directionless and shows low composition skills in a shallow analysis (men and women are different, and the woman is submissive?).
Only the A essay adequately concludes. The other two end with their last points (B) or Lawrence’s last paragraph (C). The high-scoring A response ties up the essay in a bow with a return to the beginning, repeating the points the writer set out to make in the introduction and carried out in the body paragraphs.
The Free Response Question #3
The year’s Open Question defines a bildungsroman and then asks students to choose a bildungsroman from the provided list or another of the student’s choosing to
- Analyze a “pivotal moment” in the protagonist’s “psychological or moral development”
- Analyze how that moment shapes the meaning of the work
Broader still than both the poetry and prose selections, the open question requires writers to explore big themes of long works through scene and character analysis. The attention to detail, economy, and specificity are also critical to success on this question, despite the broader scope of the work to be analyzed. Writers must resist the temptation to retell the plot of the novel.
Introductions and Thesis Statements
The A Essay
The top essay gets right to work identifying the play, author, characters, and overall one-sentence plot summary as the main character’s “coming-of-age” story. The writer then identifies and locates the pivotal scene, why it’s significant, and its psychological implications (reaching maturity and station in the family). The introduction indisputably covers the prompt in clear, crisp sentences. The first sentence further piques interest with a framing question that the student immediately answers to warm the reader up to the ideas to follow.
The B Essay
Like the B responses of the two prior sections, the introduction lacks a clear direction, and the language is vague and loose. This short introduction locates the novel, author, and overall theme, but doesn’t zero in on a pivotal moment or scene. Without a stated thesis, who knows where this essay will go?
The C Essay
The third introduction merely repeats the definition in the instructions and lacks a thesis statement, scene, or plot clue. “This change” the writer refers to is a mystery as is the character, Scout. This essay could also wind up anywhere, given the scarcity of detail or direction.
Exemplification and Discussion
The A Essay
Like the model essays before it, this sample successfully organizes each paragraph with a clear topic sentence that seamlessly connects with the preceding paragraph (“Before Act III”–the specified moment’s place from the introduction). The next order of business is defining the motivations and dreams of the subject character, Walter, and characterizing his relationship with his family. There’s just enough plot summary to inform the reader and contextualize the points the writer makes about Walter’s changed perspective: not money but principle becomes his priority.
The writer’s sentences are compact and definite, piling on the adjectives and clauses that carry important details along each sentence’s assertion (“Mama who really rules the roost”). The student weaves relevant facts to support the first paragraph’s topic sentence: Walter’s decision changes his family’s attitude toward him. The next sentence packs in details that Mama treated Walter like her child and she was the one in charge (deciding what to buy with the insurance money), effectively dashing Walter’s liquor store dreams. The writer gallops through to the finish line in dense sentences packed with details that prove each paragraph’s topic sentence.
The B Essay
This response contains insights about the facts of the novel and the characters’ actions, particularly Denver’s and Sethe’s, but the essay’s all a jumble. There’s no logical starting place when the student dives into an unspecified scene with general, vague details, such as “releasing her place” in the first body paragraph. “As her world seems to be crashing down” opens the paragraph, and the reader hasn’t a clue what happened to topple the world. The writer provides no context.
Clearly, the writer knows the novel and refers to specific details, such as Sethe’s scars and her relationship to Paul D, but overall, the essay confuses more than it clarifies. The pivotal moment is when Denver realizes what Beloved represents, but Beloved herself is never clearly identified. Facts seem to float unanchored to a plot.
The C Essay
The last example is vague throughout, even more than the B essay. The plot is missing and vague references to “the trial that her father was involved in”, “the world she lived in”, and “why society worked the way it did” don’t help. In fact, the writer’s vague language makes the essay largely incomprehensible, especially at first. The paragraph about hate causing Scout to mature speaks to the prompt vaguely, but the pivotal moment never shows up. The essay reads more like a scattering of plot details.
All three essays conclude, but the first one clearly satisfies the most. Not only does the conclusion restate the salient points and supporting details of the body paragraphs, but it refers to the introduction question and allusion to Langston Hughes’ poem from which the title derives. The writer fluently uses the framing question to answer with the wind-up of the student’s parting remarks: Walter gained happiness and love for the dream (liquor store) deferred. More than merely competent and useful, the writer’s conclusion is artful.
The B and C conclusions, however, open more questions than they resolve since throughout the writings both lack direction and focus.
Write in Complete Sentences with Proper Punctuation and Compositional Skills
As you can see from all nine samples, writing counts–heavily. Though pressed for time, it’s important to write an essay with correctly punctuated sentences and properly spelled words. Fragments and misspelled words cause confusion and weaken your argument. Additionally, sound compositional skills create a favorable impression on the reader.
You want your essay to read like a smooth ride, without speed bumps. Using appropriate transitions or signals (however, therefore) to tie sentences and paragraphs together solidifies relationships between sentences and paragraphs (“also”–adding information, “however”–contrasting an idea in the preceding sentence), making your essay organized and clear.
Starting each paragraph with a clear topic sentence that previews the main idea or focus of the paragraph helps both writer and reader keep track of each part of the argument. Each section furthers your points on the way to convincing your reader of your argument. If one point is unclear, unfocused, or grammatically unintelligible, like a house of cards, the entire argument crumbles. Excellent compositional skills help you lay it all out orderly, clearly, and completely.
So by the time the conclusion takes the reader home, the writer has done all of the following:
- followed the prompt
- followed the propounded thesis statement in exact order promised
- provided a full discussion with examples
- included quotes proving each assertion
- used clear, grammatically correct sentences
- written paragraphs ordered by a thesis statement
- created topic sentences for each paragraph
- ensured each topic sentence furthered the ideas presented in the thesis statement
Have a Plan and Follow it
It takes discipline to lay out an order, a strict time limit for each essay, and stick to them. To score high on the AP Literature and Composition FRQs, practice planning responses under tight time constraints. Write as many practice essays as you can. Follow the same process each time.
First, be sure to read the instructions carefully, highlighting, circling, or underlining the parts of the prompt you absolutely must cover. Then quickly pencil a scratch outline of the order you intend to cover each point in support of your argument. You should write a clear thesis statement, written as a complete sentence, as well as the topic sentences to each paragraph. Then quickly write underneath each topic sentence, the quotes and details you’ll use to support the topic sentences. Then refer to your outline often and follow it faithfully.
Be sure to give yourself enough time to review and revise. Give your essay a brief re-read to catch mechanical errors, missing words, or necessary insertions to clarify an incomplete or unclear thought. With time, an organized approach, and plenty of practice, earning nines on the AP English Literature and Composition FRQs is attainable. Be sure to ask your teacher or consult other resources, like albert.io’s English Literature practice essays, if you’re unsure how to identify poetic devices, prose elements, or just need more practice writing literary analyses.
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