Intro For Ap English Essays

How are the English Literature exams scored?

            The multiple choice section is machine scored. Students receive one point for each correct answer and are penalized a quarter point for each incorrect response. Each essay is read by a different reader. They score essays on a 0-9 point scale. The scores for the multiple choice section (45%) are then combined with the three essay scores. AP final grades of 1-5 are then derived from this composite score. Most scores of 3 will be allowed for credit in Composition I and scores of 4 & 5 will be allowed for credit in Composition II. Individual colleges and universities may vary.

Observations of the Chief Reader:

  • Read each prompt of each question very carefully. Think about the implications of the question, begin thinking about how you will organize your response, and focus on what is asked.
  • Often, students are asked to select a play or a novel to answer a particular question. Make sure they know that the work they have selected should be appropriate to the question asked. See to it that students have a fair range of readings that they feel familiar with, ones with which they can test the implications of the question and make the decision of the appropriateness of the work to the question asked. Without this flexibility they may force an answer that will come across as canned to the AP Reader.
  • Remind students to enter into the text itself, to supply concrete illustrations that substantiate the points they are making. Have them take command of what they are writing with authority by means of direct quotation of pertinent information from the text, always writing into the question and never away from it. Help them to keep their point of view consistent, to select appropriate material for supporting evidence, and to write in a focused and succinct manner.
  • Remind your students that films are not works of literature and cannot be used to provide the kind of literary analysis required on the exam.
  • Advise your students that, when starting an essay, they should avoid engaging in a mechanical repetition of the prompt and then supplying a list of literary devices. Instead, get them to think of ways to integrate the language of literature with the content of that literature, making connections that are meaningful and telling, engaging in analysis that leads to the synthesis of new ideas. Pressure them into using higher levels of critical thinking; have them go beyond the obvious and search for a more penetrating relationship of ideas. Make them see connections that they missed on their first reading of the text.
What AP Readers long to see:

§         Read the prompt. It hurts to give a low score to someone who misread the prompt but wrote a good essay. While readers try to reward students or what they do well, the student must answer the prompt.

§         Do everything the prompt suggests. This one suggested that the student “may wish to discuss” the character’s effect or action, theme, or other character’s development. Most of the top responses discussed the character’s effect in all three areas.

§         Think before you write. Don’t limit yourself to the supplied suggestions. Plan your response. You needn’t outline extensively, but a little organization will help you avoid extensive editing such as crossing out lines or, in some cases, whole paragraphs. It’s no fun for the reader to pick over the remains and try to decipher sentences crammed into the margins.

§         Make a strong first impression. Build your opening response artistically. Don’t parrot the prompt word for word.

§         Begin your response immediately. Don’t beat around the bush with generalizations such as: “There are a great many novels.” Here’s an example of a creative opening that immediately set up a central idea/thesis: “An illuminated photograph of a father who “fell in love with long distance” sits on the mantle of the Wingfield’s apartment in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.

§         Use clear transitions that help the reader follow the flow of your essay. Keep your paragraphs organized; don’t digress.

§         Believe the prompt!! You are proving an assertion, not telling a story.

§         Don’t stick in a canned quote or a critic’s comment if it doesn’t fit. You will get a response, but not the one you want.

§         Write to express, not impress. Keep vocabulary and syntax within your zone of competence. Students who inflate their writing often inadvertently entertain, but seldom explain.

§         Demonstrate that you understand style by showing the reader how the author has manipulated the selection to create a desired effect. This indicates that you are aware of the creative process.

§         Maintain a sense of simplicity. The best student writer sees much, but says it very succinctly.

§         Let your writing dance with ideas and insight. You can get a 6 or 7 with a lock step approach, but the essays that earn 8’s or 9’s expand to a wider perspective.

§         Let you work stand on its own merit. Avoid penning “pity me” notes (“I was up all night,” “I have a cold,” etc.) to the reader. These notes demonstrate only that you did not use all the time you were given to write an effective essay.

§         Avoid the trite. We read so many essays, often poorly written, that we welcomed, even prayed for, a more original choice as long as it was substantial and not too obscure. This is not to say that there weren’t many great essays that used trite expressions. But reading 500 essays that begin with the same adage does wear the reader down.

§         Write legibly! If a reader can’t read half the words, you won’t get a fair reading even if your essay is passed to another reader with keener eyesight.

Classroom Practices Useful for the AP Exam:

Think Aloud: Being Aware of One's Own Thinking

Reading is an active process that engages the mind. The goal is to make you think metacognitively, to get you thinking about thinking, becoming aware of your level of understanding.

Being A Proficient Reader

Proficient readers expect text to make sense, and they know they must make meaning from the text. Such readers persevere even when text is complex, difficult, or inconsiderate.

Proficient readers know how to:

·         activate relevant prior knowledge

·         create visual and other images from texts during and after reading

·         ask questions of the text, the author, and yourself during reading (questions may be literal, inferential, or thematic)

·         draw inferences

·         determine the most important ideas and themes in a text

·         retell and synthesize what has been read

·         use fix-up strategies when comprehension breaks down

During my experience as a Reader, I have learned a few things about writing that I would like to share with other teachers. I hope you’ll find my observations helpful as you think about encouraging your students to do their best on the writing section of the AP English Literature Exam.

Make a plan.

Students should not begin writing until they fully comprehend the prompt and/or the passage. Mere parroting of the prompt often leads to floundering around instead of developing a clear direction. I recommend that you advise your students to write directly on the passage and make quick notes and outlines in the margins. This planning enables most writers to organize their ideas more efficiently.

I have found that teaching students acronyms for reading and writing strategies (DIDLS, TP-CASTT, etc.) can work wonders. (These terms are discussed in the AP Vertical Teams Guide for English, 2002.) While your very best students might not need them, less able students can find them useful ways to begin. I often suggest that my own students not only mark up the passage, but also use the margins to fill in some of the acronym steps. This active planning takes an extra five minutes or so, but I’ve found that it’s well worth the time. Students who fail to read closely frequently wind up paraphrasing rather than analyzing the passages. Planning helps them stay focused.

Begin quickly and directly.

Although AP Readers are instructed to read the entire essay and not to be prejudiced by a weak introduction, a strong opening paragraph can be a real asset to a student’s paper. When answering the free-response part of the AP English Exams, writers should answer the question quickly and avoid beginning with ideas that do not relate directly to the prompt. The following hypothetical introduction for Question 1 on the 2002 AP English Literature Exam provides an example of what not to do:

“All people at some point in time have encountered a great deal of trouble in their lives. I know of so many people who have been embarrassed by parents that will wave at you from across a room. I have a friend who told me that her parents did this very same thing.”

Such generalities often signal a writer’s inability to respond in a thoughtful manner, suggesting that the rest of the paper also may be incoherent or rambling. The Reader might begin to suspect that the student is just trying to bluff his or her way through the question. One-sentence perfunctory introductions—especially ones that repeat the wording of the prompt—also work poorly, suggesting to the Reader that the student isn’t particularly interested or doesn’t care.

I recommend that teachers tell students to create an introduction strong enough to earn a grade of 3 all by itself. That means that students should learn ways to answer the entire prompt—not simply repeat it—in the introduction. This indicates to the Reader that the paper could be heading into the upper-half zone. One way to help students improve their beginning is by providing them with several introductory paragraphs from papers that have earned a wide range of scores and asking them to identify stronger and weaker openings. (Sample papers are available on the Exam homepage for the course.) Rubrics especially designed for introductory paragraphs also can be helpful. After having students collect examples of several strong openings, you may want to ask them to develop their own rubric for introductory paragraphs.

Use paragraphs and topic sentences.

Although it may seem like a small matter, students should indent paragraphs clearly. A paper without indentation or with unclear indentation often confuses a Reader. Paragraphs create the fundamental structure of the essay, and without them good ideas can get muddled. Most essays I’ve seen that do not use paragraphs tend to be full of confused and rambling thoughts.

Many writers find topic sentences a useful tool both for organizing paragraphs and also for helping Readers navigate through the essay.

Use quotations and explain them.

To score at least a 3, students would be wise to make use of pertinent references from the text. Encourage them to use specific quotations to back up their assertions. However, remind them that they must explain their quotes clearly and demonstrate how they are relevant to the question. It is important for young writers to realize that offering long quotes without explanation bogs down the essay and can give the undesirable impression that the student is trying to fill up space rather than answer the prompt!

Create variety.

Short, choppy sentences without variety indicate a student who has little background in grammar and style, perhaps someone who has read and written minimally. Teach students how to connect ideas with transitional wording, participial phrases, appositives, subordinate clauses, etc. I ask my students to imagine children making the same tower or castle each time they played with blocks. They soon would become bored. Likewise, both writers and readers get bored when everything is formulaic, lacking some individual pizzazz! I suggest asking them to experiment with different sorts of syntactical devices to help them develop a sense of style.

Find the right word.

An arsenal of appropriate vocabulary and analytical wording reveals a brilliant mind at work, but writers should make certain that the words fit. Some students stick in big words just to sound scholarly. Ironically, some of their papers score only a 2 because they lack clarity and sometimes say nothing of relevance to the prompt.

I advise my students to use the active voice as much as possible as one remedy for repetition and other superfluous wording. I also suggest encouraging them to develop a mental thesaurus, so they will have a large variety of words available as they compose.


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