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Ap Lit Essay 2014

AP English Literature FRQs

If you were out on a hike and someone coming down stopped to tell you that the path to the right was flooded, would you make sure to avoid that path? If you walked on and another hiker said a mountain lion was spotted up ahead, would you find another way?

Of course.

And if you were about to take an exam and previous test takers showed up at your door offering to tell you how it went, would you take their advice?

Well, that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to heed the warnings, follow the good advice, and find the best path to make your way through the AP English Literature FRQ portion. We’ll look at actual prompts and essays from the 2014 exam along with the graders’ comments and tips. We’ll look at the good, the bad, and the ugly, because we can learn from all three.

We understand that this test may be intimidating to you right now. But as we go through each of the three questions, you’ll see you’re not alone. Students came before you and survived. And by looking at their successes and failures, you, too, will survive. At the end of this journey together, we’ll leave you with ways to improve your writing for a higher score and a list of errors to avoid losing points. If you’d like to, follow along with us on the CollegeBoard’s website.

2014 Free Response Question #1:

Most students open the first page of the AP English Literature FRQ portion and panic. The poetry question often strikes fear in even the most steely of test takers. Almost across the board this question scores the lowest of the three. But not in 2014.

In 2014, the first question averaged 4.16, ranking ahead of the second question. Let’s go through what test takers did right to conquer the shiver-inducing first FRQ.

The Prompt

First thing’s first. This should go without saying, but always read the prompt. And always read it first. In fact, read it twice, if not three times. We’ll discuss why.

We like to approach the prompt like a detective in search of clues. These clues will help you tackle the poem lying in wait for you. In the case of the 2014 AP English Literature FRQ #1, we learned the time period (sixteenth century) and the nationality of the poet (English). You may not necessarily see those clues on your exam, but if you do, take a moment to go through the file system in your mind. What do you know about England in the sixteenth-century? What other English poets did you read? What tools did you learn while studying similar poems? Maybe one of those will apply to this poem.

If you’re lucky enough to get a prompt that suggests specific devices to consider, like the 2014 exam did, don’t discard them. In this case, the devices were form, diction, and imagery. If we were taking this test we might read the poem and mark “F” for examples of form, “D” for diction, and “I” for imagery. Then we’d use these to create an organized outline. From there it’s only a matter of writing a strong thesis and you’re on a great track.

Let’s now look at what else we can do to gain points and avoid losing them!

The Good

The Good shows what we should do to score 9’s.

Find the Complexities

If your interpretation of the poem in the first part of the AP English Literature FRQ seems too easy, it probably is. Think about the poem as anything with layers – a cake, an onion, whatever you wish. But if you haven’t peeled anything back you’re most likely missing a deeper meaning or complexity.

The test graders were impressed with how this essay pointed out the paradox within the text. Don’t be afraid to note, as this test taker did, inherent confusions in a poem. It’s an opportunity to explain that confusion, which shows that you’re diving deeper. Always dive deeper!

Explain HOW Poetic Devices are Used

Merely identifying alliteration, rhyme scheme, or imagery is not enough to score a 9 on the AP English Literature FRQ. What the graders want to see is that you have an understanding of how that poetic device is used within the text.

Take the above as a great example of that. It references a specific line and explains how it is used. “Proves” is a great word to use. Also think about using “shows”, “demonstrates”, and “reveals”.

The Bad

The Bad shows us what we can avoid doing to go from 6 to a 9.

Be Formulaic and Repetitive

There is a difference between a well-organized essay and a formulaic essay. One scores a 9 and one scores a 6. Follow a structure like this: an opening paragraph with a thesis, then three paragraphs each with an argument that builds, and then a strong final paragraph. Beyond that, each essay should be organic, not formulaic.

Also, your three paragraphs needs to have different arguments, preferably ones that build upon one another. They should not be three different ways of saying the same argument.

Use Unfocused Language

The above sentence is hard to decipher much meaning from. And with hundreds of essays to grade a day, you can bet the the test grader didn’t have time to reread it to find out what the test taker meant to say.

Remember that what is on the page is what the readers read. They won’t know what you were trying to write. Even if it means slowing down, make sure your essay is focused and clear so you don’t lose points unnecessarily.

The Ugly

The Ugly shows us what to avoid at all costs. The Ugly are point killers.

Get Out That Label Maker

While this essay correctly labeled the structure of the poem as a Shakespearean sonnet, it does not take it the one step further and explain how that structure is used or what it tells us about the speaker. Compare this poorly-scoring example from the one above. Do you see any of the words we suggested to help you show how poetic devices are used?

“Prove”? “Show”? “Demonstrates”? “Reveals”?

Simply labeling poetic devices not only does not answer the prompt, but fails to show any mastery of those devices.

Tips from the Graders:

  1. Stay focused on the prompt, and only the prompt. Graders of the 2014 AP English Literature FRQ found that many students included extraneous points. Write a strong argument that answers that prompt and make every sentence further that argument.
  2. Focus on the difference between analysis and summary. Summaries or paraphrases should never be used on the FRQ portion. Analysis is key.

2014 Free Response Question #2:

If given the choice between analyzing poetry or prose, which would you choose? Given the historically higher scores on the prose question, most would avoid poetry. However, on the 2014 AP English Literature FRQ portion is was the second question, the prose section, that scored the lowest. Let’s dive into what they found so challenging and learn from their mistakes.

The Prompt

It seems at first that we’re off to a good start. This prompt also includes some great clues on how to score the most points on your essay. It suggested that test takers consider point of view, selection of detail, and imagery to analyze “how the author reveals the character of Moses”.

Often in the prompt of the second free response question, you’ll see context for the excerpt you’re asked to analyze. For the 2014 free response question the students were only told it was from a novel called The Known World by Edward P. Jones and nothing more. But think about this: not receiving a clue about context is in itself a clue about context. If you don’t receive context in the prompt, as is the case here, this means that all the context you’ll need to answer the prompt is within the text. So don’t worry if you don’t see information about the text. You’ll have everything you need.

An easy way to focus in on what the prompt wants is to reword this as a question. In this case, we would ask ourselves: how does the author reveal the character of Moses? Remember, you’re making an argument.

Let’s see what arguments the 2014 test takers made and how we can improve upon their efforts.

The Good

The Good shows what we should do to score 9s.

Use Logical Structure for Your Essay

Remember what we said earlier about how there is a difference between a well-structure essay and a formulaic one? Here is a perfect example of that. Most students used a formula of simply point one, point two, point three. The test takers were impressed that this essay decided to order the body paragraphs by the chronology found in the excerpt. It helped the test taker build on their argument logically and resulted in a high score.

When you’re taking your test, make sure you take a few minutes before you start writing to outline your essay. Look it over and see if the argument flows logically. If it doesn’t, pausing for a moment to rearrange will make a huge difference in your score.

Create a Compelling Conclusion

The test takers found this essay’s thesis in the first paragraph particularly compelling : “the power of nature overwhelms [Moses’] bond with his fellow man”. However, what earned this test taker a high score was the above conclusion.

Practice managing your time so you always have time for a strong, well articulated conclusion. Many students run out of time and rush a conclusion, or exclude it altogether. Without a strong conclusion it’s hard to score above a 6.

The Bad

The Bad shows us what we can avoid doing to go from 6 to a 9.

Write Colloquially

When you’re talking with your friends we’re perfectly fine with you say “… he is getting some sort of insane high…” But as much as the test graders of the AP English Literature FRQ want you to succeed, they are not your friends. Remember that you’re supposed to be demonstrating college level writing and composition.

Keep your writing formal. The only “insane high” on your test should be your score.

Use Superlatives

This quite simply is a lazy way of writing. Try to avoid superlatives in your writing as a general rule, because they don’t mean anything. Think about it. What does it matter that the last paragraph is the most intense? Perhaps instead the test taker should have explained how the structure of the excerpt used increasingly tense diction to show the growing paranoia of the speaker.

Generalities and superlatives don’t add to your argument. So they won’t add to your score.

The Ugly

The Ugly shows us what to avoid at all costs. The Ugly are point killers.

Interpret Figurative Language Literally

Earlier we talked about finding the complexities in the literature you’re asked to analyze on the AP English Literature FRQ. This is an example of ignoring the complexities. This test taker unfortunately read this image as literal when the graders pointed out that it was actually figurative. Not only did this mean the test taker misidentified a literary device, but they also failed to understand the deeper meaning. These in combination result in an ugly score.

Practice identifying when speakers use literal versus figurative language so you can spot it on your test.

Create a Poor First Impression

A bad first paragraph, and more specifically, a bad thesis, is the equivalent of tying your ankles together before a race. Sure, you could still finish, but you probably won’t finish near the top and you’re just making it unnecessarily hard on yourself. If you practice only one thing before your exam, practice strong thesis statements.

Tips from the Graders:

  1. Work on finding more complexity in character analysis. The graders found that many students failed to see the different layers of the characters. A lot of essays included simple statements about the character’s personality or morality instead of complex analysis.
  2. Connect the literary devices to meaning within the passage. Do not just identify the literary device. The author used that device for a reason. Discover why and then write about it.

2014 Free Response Question #3:

The final question of the AP English Literature FRQ portion offers the most freedom in your answer. But many test-takers make the mistake of losing their focus and writing less tightly or formally. Remember that even this last question needs a strong argument, specific textual evidence, and a well-organized, eloquently written essay.

Don’t lose easy points on what should be the easiest question.

The Prompt

The 2014 AP English Literature FRQ #3 had many different components and many students missed a part and in turn failed to completely answer the prompt. An essay that does not fully answer the prompt, no matter how well-written otherwise, cannot earn all the points available. So when you see a prompt with multiple parts, we suggest writing them out in the margin to help organize yourself. Underline each part, circle it, or put a star next to it. Do whatever helps you visualize everything you need to hit.

We all know the first and last lines are the most important. The very last line of this prompt stated: Do not merely summarize the plot. It’s last, because it’s the greatest point killer. It’s last, because it’s a very common mistake. It’s last, because if you read the whole prompt it will be in the forefront of your mind. And that’s yet another reason to always read the whole prompt every time.

The Good

The Good shows up what we should do to score 9’s.

Dive Deeper

The graders were impressed with how this test-taker discussed multiple forms of sacrifice in selected literature. The above shows a focus on the sacrifice of health and safety, but the essay also went on to detail sacrifice of prosperity and, ultimately, life itself. This time of analysis goes above and beyond what the prompt calls for and the graders rewarded the test-taker’s efforts.

Especially in the final question of the AP English Literature FRQ, where everyone across the board scores higher, it’s important to find a way to distinguish yourself for those coveted 9’s. Dive deeper. Find just one more level to explore. Always push.

Start Strong

The best way to set your essay up for success is a strong opening paragraph and thesis. The test takers were impressed with this essay’s clear argument. We said starting poorly is like tying your ankles together. Well, starting strongly is like racing downhill.

The Bad

The Bad shows us what we can avoid doing to go from 6 to a 9.

Write Your Own Prompt

This essay focused primarily on a character’s magnanimity in the face of mistreatment, when the prompt asked for an analysis of a character’s sacrifice. It notes how Jane can forgive even after being treated so poorly, which may be true, but it does not directly answer the prompt.

No matter how eloquent, well argued, or thoroughly evidenced, if your essay doesn’t answer the prompt, it cannot score in the upper third.

Include Unnecessary Information

Similar to the point we made above, this is an example of extraneous information that does not add to any argument. This shows a lack of focus and a poor grasp of both the piece of literature and the themes within it. Especially on a timed test, every sentence, if not every word, needs to work hard for you. Every sentence needs to go toward furthering your argument with the best evidence from the text.

The Ugly

The Ugly shows us what to avoid at all costs. The Ugly are point killers.

Demonstrate a Lack of Control Over College Level Composition

The above example contains multiple spelling errors, unclear prose, and incorrect grammar. Not only does this reflect poorly on the essay, but it makes it much more difficult for the grader to understand the meaning hidden underneath the mistakes.

Imagine that you yourself are a grader of the AP English Literature FRQ. You’ve been grading all day and come upon the above sentences. How much patience would you have to wade through that prose?

We understand the test is timed and this can add a lot of pressure to write quickly. But remember not to sacrifice clarity and accuracy.

Tips from the Graders:

  1. Don’t forget about the historical and cultural context of the novel or play that you decide to write on for the third question of the AP English Literature FRQ. Ignoring it can lead to oversimplification and even misunderstanding of plot and themes.
  2. Organize your essay in the most effective way. The graders encouraged test takers to consider ordinal, chronological, or climactic ordering, even on a timed five paragraph essay.

Now it’s Your Turn

We believe that one of best ways to improve your writing and analyzing skills is to take practice test after practice test. And yes, after practice test. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it’s a lot of work. But nothing is better at seeing where your weaknesses are so you can strengthen them.

Now that you’ve taken a look at previous AP English Literature FRQ takers’ weaknesses, it’s the perfect time to take the test yourself. If you’re up for the challenge, set up conditions that will mirror those you’ll have on the day of your test. Clear your desk, turn off the tv and take off the headphones, and lock the door. The only reason your cell phone should be on is to use as a timer. Take it seriously and write with everything we’ve gone over together in mind.

Then take a look at the grading criteria, read the graders’ comments, and see how you’d stack up. Did you fall into any of the traps the 2014 students fell into? Did you use all the tips we learned from those who scored those 9’s? What areas can you improve on? And more importantly, how will you improve those areas?

Tell us 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:

  1. Carefully read, review, and underline key to-do’s in the prompt.
  2. Briefly outline where you’re going to hit each prompt item–in other words, pencil out a specific order.
  3. Be sure you have a clear thesis that includes the terms mentioned in the instructions, literary devices, tone, themes, and meaning.
  4. Include the author’s name and title of the work in your thesis statement.
  5. Use quotes—lots of them—to exemplify your points throughout the essay.
  6. 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).
  7. Avoid vague, general statements for a sharper focus on the work itself.
  8. Use transitions to connect sentences and paragraphs.
  9. Write in the present tense with generally good grammar.
  10. 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

A Essay

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.

B Essay

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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