AP TEST TIPS
covering four or
– Prose and poetry
• Time limit: 60
• Weight: 45% of
total test score
Free Response Section
– Analysis of a prose passage
– Analysis of a poem
– Open-ended question, usually related to a
• Time limit: 120 minutes to write all three
• Weight: 55% of total score
AP SCORE QUALIFICATION
5 Extremely well qualified
4 Well qualified
2 Possibly qualified
1 No recommendation
AP Exam scores of 5 are equivalent to A grades in the
corresponding college course.
AP Exam scores of 4 are equivalent to grades of A–, B+
and B in college. AP Exam scores of 3 are equivalent to
grades of B–, C+ and C in college.
Multiple Choice Section
• Read instructions carefully, paying
particular attention to critical words like
not, only, except, etc.
• Frequently check to make sure that the
number of the question on your answer
sheet corresponds to the number of the
question in your exam booklet.
– Double check your status about every ten
questions or after each selection.
• Stay aware of the time
Multiple Choice Section
• Multiple-choice scores are based on the number
of questions answered correctly
• Points are not deducted for incorrect answers,
and no points are awarded for unanswered
– Because points are not deducted for incorrect
answers, you should answer all multiple-choice
• On any questions you do not know the answer
to, eliminate as many choices as you can, and
then select the best answer among the
• Q1 = Poetry
• Q2 = Prose
• Q3 = Open-ended
Q1 - Poetry
• Poetry could be anything from the 1600’s
to poets writing today.
(Suggested time—40 minutes. This question
counts as one-third of the total essay section
Read carefully the following poem by Marilyn
Nelson Waniek. Then write an essay analyzing
how Waniek employs literary techniques to
develop the complex meanings that the speaker
attributes to The Century Quilt. You may wish to
consider such elements as structure, imagery,
Q2 - Prose
• Excerpt or cutting from a novel or short
(Suggested time—40 minutes. This question counts as
one-third of the total essay section score.)
In the following passage from Maria Edgeworth’s 1801
novel, Belinda, the narrator provides a description of
Clarence Hervey, one of the suitors of the novel’s
protagonist, Belinda Portman. Mrs. Stanhope, Belinda’s
aunt, hopes to improve her niece’s social prospects and
therefore has arranged to have Belinda stay with the
fashionable Lady Delacour.
Read the passage carefully. Then write an essay in
which you analyze Clarence Hervey’s complex character
as Edgeworth develops it through such literary
techniques as tone, point of view, and language.
Q3 – Open-ended
• Broad question that applies to many
novels and plays.
• Choose a work of literary merit
(Suggested time—40 minutes. This question counts as one-third of
the total essay section score.)
Palestinian American literary theorist and cultural critic Edward Said
has written that “Exile is strangely compelling to think about but
terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a
human being and a native place,between the self and its true home:
its essential sadness can never be surmounted.” Yet Said has also
said that exile can become “a potent, even enriching” experience.
Select a novel, play, or epic in which a character experiences such a
rift and becomes cut off from “home,” whether that home is the
character’s birthplace, family, homeland, or other special place.
Then write an essay in which you analyze how the character’s
experience with exile is both alienating and enriching, and how this
experience illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole. You
may choose a work from the list below or one of comparable literary
merit. Do not merely summarize the plot.
Those who read and score AP essays are
trained to reward students for what they do
well, rather than look for the little “missing
pieces.” They recognize that essays are
unrevised, first drafts. They also realize
students are under great pressure (for
example a student might mix character names in
an otherwise solid essay and not be graded
down.) Don’t worry about perfection. It’s okay
to have cross outs, added sentences, etc. If
you have time, you can reread your essays
and do some editing.
– Show your ability to argue a point
The essay should demonstrate what a student
might do at the end of a college freshman
course. Work to develop an idea and to show
command of the material. Content is
primary. Most AP essay questions ask you to
analyze on a two level system--what did the
author do (in terms of main idea, central
attitude, or basic emotion evoked from the
reader) and how did s/he do it (examining such
elements as imagery, figurative language,
diction, syntax, structure, or style)? Jot notes in
the test booklet to generate ideas.
– Q1 and Q2 write about lit techniques
– Not required in Q3
In a 40-minute situation, you should study the
problem (identify the focus of the question), read
the selection, and start writing within 7 to 10
minutes. Be sure to focus on the question
asked. Don’t bother with a “pretty” introduction,
but do try to make a strong first impression. A
strong opening states the focus of the question
by offering a definitive observation which
emerges from your own thinking. It answers
the entire prompt in one or two sentences. If
you don't know how to start, you can always
parrot the prompt, but do this only if you must.
Examples of Introductions
Printed below is the complete text of a
short story written in 1946 by Katherine
Brush. Read the story carefully. Then
write an essay in which you show how the
author uses literary devices to achieve her
The birthday party by Katherine Brush
gives a brief insightful description of one
nameless couples’ celebratory dinner
date. Though on the surface the story
may seem ordinary and typical, through
Brush’s use of imagery and third-person
objectivity, she creates a very dismal
atmosphere and somber mood.
– Addresses both parts of prompt
• What did she do
• How did she do it
– Could be more clear in discussing purpose
– Unnecessary, but doesn’t hurt essay
Read the following passage from Joyce
Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys
(1996). Then in a well-organized essay,
analyze the literary techniques Oates uses
to characterize the speaker, Judd
Mulvaney. Support your analysis with
specific references to the passage.
Oates has taken to heart the literary axiom show
don’t tell. By writing the story in the first person,
placing Judd Mulvaney as narrator, she gives
the reader direct access to Judd’s thoughts, but
allows for personal interpretations of Judd’s
character. Oates does, however, have her own
vision of Judd; she makes his characteristics
known through the allusions Judd makes, his
thoughts, his observation, and, happily, his own
reflections on his character at that time. The
narrator is, indeed, Judd, but an older Judd
recounting an earlier experience.
* What did she do
• How did she do it
Through dark imagery, Joyce Carol Oates illustrates the
helplessly dread attitude of the young boy, Judd
Mulvaney. In the novel, We Were the Mulvaneys, we
experience the melancholy attitude of Judd in a “sky the
color of lead and the light mostly drained.” In his dreary
nature experience, he explains his fear of death, as well
as his fears of losing the ones he loves to death. He
fears his “helplessly moving forward” and when he
expects comfort from Dad and Mike in their “mud-colored
Ford pickup,” he only depressingly realizes they will die
too. Oates parallels nature with the boy’s life to show
the uneasy character of a boy who seems far too young
to concern himself with death.
* What did she do
• How did she do it
Images may be subject to copyright.
Try to finish strong with a solid ending. If
you are running short of time, leave
something out of the body and move on to
the conclusion. Always deal with
conclusions; it’s your last impression
on the reader.
In responding to the prose and poetry
selections, write one body paragraph
for each major section of the work.
Sections are determined by shifts in
setting, action, or time. Organize around
factors of the piece of literature itself;
show how the speaker’s thoughts
change and move. (If you are unable to
do this, organize around techniques or
devices on which the questions ask you
to focus, items like diction, figurative
• Readers are not looking for a standard
– You might miss the movement of the piece
• Q1 and Q2 – start at the beginning of the
selection and work your way through to
– It’s okay to skip around, but keep coming
– Better to use short paragraphs
Quote words and phrases so they
are integrated within your piece. A
quote of more than one line from the
text is too much. If you need to
reference more than one line, cite
the line numbers.
In writing about the poetry question, direct
your attention to certain elements
addressed in the question. You should
be able to discuss tone, point of view,
imagery, figurative language, structure,
syntax, who the speaker is, and poem’s
impact on the reader.
– Never say “the author felt” or “the author
said.” Instead, refer to the speaker.
• The author is not necessarily the speaker
In writing about prose, you are asked to
deal with some of the same items as in
#7. Sometimes, contrasting passages
are presented. Avoid the traps of
rephrasing or retelling the passage
with quotes, or listing, but not
explaining. Show your thinking.
– Don’t paraphrase – EXPLAIN
– Don’t just retell – EXPLAIN
– Remember, the person reading your
essay will be very familiar with the
passage. You don’t need to tell her what
On question #3 (the open-ended
question), be sure to follow the explicit
directions. Note whether you are to
write about a novel, a play, or either.
Never write about a short story for #3.
– Always choose a work of literary merit
• Not Twilight
• Books you’ve read in your English classes at
MVHS will work
– Have six books in mind when you walk
into the test that you can write about
Remember, you are writing for
someone who is familiar with the
piece of literature.
– They find three people who know your
book well. They score it and take the
– Don’t worry about the reader. Think
that whoever reads your essay knows
the book as well as you do.
• Don’t write “Ceremony is a book about. . .”
Mechanical difficulties reduce the score
only if they hamper communication.
However, something VERY badly written
can only be scored in the bottom half (no
more than 4).
– Watch spelling so you’re communicating in
the English language
– Don’t sweat commas
– Do sweat periods
Be sure to budget your time and write on
all three questions. You may write them in
any order. Remember, you don’t have
time to do rough drafts. Instead, use
some time to generate material (make
notes or an outline) in the test booklet
– Budget 40 minutes per question
• Wear a watch!
• Use all 120 minutes – you can always go back
– You can work in whatever order you want
The length of your answer is no
guarantee of quality.
– QUALITY NOT QUANTITY
– QUALITY NOT QUANTITY
– QUALITY NOT QUANTITY
• Usually, for this class, essays end up
being ¾ to one page single-spaced.
Work for good penmanship. They can’t
score it if they can’t read it.
– Students have had their essays disqualified
because scorers couldn’t read their writing
• This rarely happens, but it’s always a good idea to
make sure to use your best handwriting!
Freudian and religious interpretations usually
don’t score well. Don’t be cynical or
demeaning, be too clever, or write around the
question. Don’t start to preach or offer
applications of the passage’s idea to the world in
– NO: Elizabeth Bennett is really in love with her father.
– NO: If this question weren’t so ridiculous, it might
actually be worth discussing the symbolic elements in
The Scarlet Letter.
– NO: Jake really needs to find God.
– NO: If everyone was more like Hester Prynne, the
world would be a better place.
• Don't write "pity me" notes (such as "I was up
all night" or "My grandma just died.")
– You’ll just end up entertaining the readers
Write to express, not impress.
Keep vocabulary and syntax
within your zone of competence.
Students who inflate their writing
often inadvertently entertain, but
– Use your academic voice
VIP: Very Important Point
• Do not use what you think should
be your academic voice
Rubric: How are essays graded?
• Well-supported interpretation of the
– Make sure to prove your point
– If it’s in the book/passage you don’t have to prove it
– If it’s your assumption, then prove it
• Darcy is arrogant – if Austen writes this it’s good. If she
doesn’t, then prove it.
• Good content, well-written
• Both parts of the question answered
– Essays that answer only one part can only score 4 or