2015 Ap Literature Essays

A lot of students wonder if there’s a specific AP English reading list of books they should be reading to succeed on the AP Literature and Composition exam. While there’s not a designated College-Board AP reading list per se, there are books that will be more useful for you to read than others as you prepare for the exam. In this article, I’ll break down why you need to read books to prepare, how many you should plan on reading, and what you should read—including poetry.

 

Why Do You Need to Read Books for the AP Literature Test?

This might seem like kind of an obvious question—you need to read books because it’s a literature exam! But actually, there are three specific reasons why you need to read novels, poems, and plays in preparation for the AP Lit Test.

 

To Increase Your Familiarity With Different Eras and Genres of Literature

Reading a diverse array of novels, poetry and plays from different eras and genres will help you be familiar with the language that appears in the various passages on the AP Lit exam’s multiple choice and essay sections. If you read primarily modern works, for example, you may stumble through analyzing a Shakespeare sonnet. So, having a basic familiarity level with the language of a broad variety of literary works will help keep you from floundering in confusion on test day because you’re seeing a work unlike anything you’ve ever read.

 

To Improve Your Close-Reading Skills

You’ll also want to read to improve your close-reading and rhetorical analysis skills. When you do read, really engage with the text: think about what the author’s doing to construct the novel/poem/play/etc., what literary techniques and motifs are being deployed, and what major themes are at play. You don’t necessarily need to drill down to the same degree on every text, but you should always be thinking, “Why did the author write this piece this way?”

 

For the Student Choice Free-Response Question

Perhaps the most critical piece in reading to prepare for the AP Lit test, however, is for the student choice free-response question. For the third question on the second exam section, you’ll be asked to examine how a specific theme works in one novel or play that you choose. The College Board does provide an example list of works, but you can choose any work you like just so long as it has adequate “literary merit.” However, you need to be closely familiar with more than one work so that you can be prepared for whatever theme the College Board throws at you!

 

Note: Not an effective reading method.

 

How Many Books Do You Need to Read for the AP Exam?

That depends. In terms of reading to increase your familiarity with literature from different eras and genres and to improve your close-reading skills, the more books you have time to read, the better. You’ll want to read them all with an eye for comprehension and basic analysis, but you don’t necessarily need to focus equally on every book you read.

For the purposes of the student choice question, however, you’ll want to read books more closely, so that you could write a detailed, convincing analytical essay about any of their themes. So you should know the plot, characters, themes, and major literary devices or motifs used inside and out. Since you won’t know what theme you’ll be asked to write about in advance, you’ll need to be prepared to write a student choice question on more than just one book.

Of the books you read for prep both in and out of class, choose four-fivebooks that are thematically diverse to learn especially well in preparation for the exam. You may want to read these more than once, and you certainly want to take detailed notes on everything that’s going on in those books to help you remember key points and themes. Discussing them with a friend or mentor who has also read the book will help you generate ideas on what’s most interesting or intriguing about the work and how its themes operate in the text.

You may be doing some of these activities anyways for books you are assigned to read for class, and those books might be solid choices if you want to be as efficient as possible. Books you write essays about for school are also great choices to include in your four to five book stable since you will be becoming super-familiar with them for the writing you do in class anyways.

In answer to the question, then, of how many books you need to read for the AP Lit exam: you need to know four-five inside and out, and beyond that, the more the better!

 

Know the books. Love the books.

 

What Books Do You Need to Read for the AP Exam?

The most important thing for the student choice free-response question is that the work you select needs to have “literary merit.” What does this mean? In the context of the College Board, this means you should stick with works of literary fiction. So in general, avoid mysteries, fantasies, romance novels, and so on.

If you’re looking for ideas, authors and works that have won prestigious prizes like the Pulitzer, Man Booker, the National Book Award, and so on are good choices. Anything you read specifically for your AP literature class is a good choice, too. If you aren’t sure if a particular work has the kind of literary merit the College Board is looking for, ask your AP teacher.

When creating your own AP Literature reading list for the student choice free-response, try to pick works that are diverse in author, setting, genre, and theme. This will maximize your ability to comprehensively answer a student choice question about pretty much anything with one of the works you’ve focused on.

So, I might, for example, choose:

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare, play, 1605

    • Major themes and devices: magic, dreams, transformation, foolishness, man vs. woman, play-within-a-play

  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte, novel, 1847

    • Major themes and devices: destructive love, exile, social and economic class, suffering and passion, vengeance and violence, unreliable narrator, frame narrative, family dysfunction, intergenerational narratives.

  • The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton, novel, 1920

    • Major themes and devices: Tradition and duty, personal freedom, hypocrisy, irony, social class, family, “maintaining appearances”, honor

  • Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys, novel, 1966

    • Major themes and devices: slavery, race, magic, madness, wildness, civilization vs. chaos, imperialism, gender

As you can see, while there is some thematic overlap in my chosen works, they also cover a broad swathe of themes. They are also all very different in style (although you’ll just have to take my word on that one unless you go look at all of them yourself), and they span a range of time periods and genres as well.

However, while there’s not necessarily a specific, mandated AP Literature reading list, there are books that come up again and again on the suggestion lists for student choice free-response questions. When a book comes up over and over again on exams, this suggests both that it’s thematically rich, so you can use it to answer lots of different kinds of questions, and that the College Board sees a lot of value in the work.

To that end, I’ve assembled a list, separated by time period, of all the books that have appeared on the suggested works list for student choice free-response questions at least twice since 2003.  While you certainly shouldn’t be aiming to read all of these books (there’s way too many for that!), these are all solid choices for the student choice essay.  Other books by authors from this list are also going to be strong choices. It’s likely that some of your class reading will overlap with this list, too.

I’ve divided up the works into chunks by time period. In addition to title, each entry includes the author, whether the work is a novel, play, or something else, and when it was first published or performed. Works are alphabetical by author.

 

Warning: Not all works pictured included in AP Literature reading list below.

 

Ancient Works

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Medea

Euripides

play

431 BC

The Odyssey

Homer

epic poem

(no date)

Antigone

Sophocles

play

441 BC

Oedipus Rex

Sophocles

play

429 BC

1500-1799

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Don Quixote

Miguel de Cervantes

novel

1605

Tom Jones

Henry Fielding

novel

1749

As You Like It

Shakespeare

play

1623

Julius Caesar

Shakespeare

play

1599

King Lear

Shakespeare

play

1606

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare

play

1605

The Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare

play

1605

Othello

Shakespeare

play

1604

The Tempest

Shakespeare

play

1611

Candide

Voltaire

novel

1759

1800-1899

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Emma

Jane Austen

novel

1815

Mansfield Park

Jane Austen

novel

1814

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen

novel

1813

Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte

novel

1847

Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte

novel

1847

The Awakening

Kate Chopin

novel

1899

The Red Badge of Courage

Stephen Crane

novel

1895

Bleak House

Charles Dickens

novel

1853

David Copperfield

Charles Dickens

novel

1850

Great Expectations

Charles Dickens

novel

1861

Oliver Twist

Charles Dickens

novel

1837

A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens

novel

1859

Crime and Punishment

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

novel

1866

Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert

novel

1856

Jude the Obscure

Thomas Hardy

novel

1895

The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy

novel

1886

Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Thomas Hardy

novel

1891

The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne

novel

1850

A Doll’s House

Henrik Ibsen

play

1879  

The American

Henry James

novel

1877

The Portrait of a Lady

Henry James

novel

1881

Moby-Dick

Herman Melville

novel

1851

Frankenstein

Mary Shelley

novel

1818

Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy

novel

1877

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain

novel

1885

The Queen of AP Literature surveys her kingdom.

 

1900-1939

Title

Author

Genre

Date

My Ántonia

Willa Cather

novel

1918

The Cherry Orchard

Anton Chekhov

play

1904

Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad

novel

1902

Sister Carrie

Theodore Dreiser

novel

1900

Murder in the Cathedral

T.S. Eliot

play

1935

Absalom, Absalom!

William Faulkner

novel

1936

As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner

novel

1930

Light in August

William Faulkner

novel

1932

The Sound and the Fury

William Faulkner

novel

1929

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

novel

1925

A Passage to India

E.M. Forster

novel

1924

The Little Foxes

Lillian Hellman

play

1939

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston

novel

1937

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

novel

1931

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

James Joyce

novel

1916

Billy Budd

Herman Melville

novel

1924

Major Barbara

George Bernard Shaw

play

1905

The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck

novel

1939

The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton

novel

1920

Ethan Frome

Edith Wharton

novel

1911

The House of Mirth

Edith Wharton

novel

1905

Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf

novel

1925

1940-1969

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe

novel

1958

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee

play

1962

Another Country

James Baldwin

novel

1962

Waiting for Godot

Samuel Beckett

play

1953

The Plague

Albert Camus

novel

1947

Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison

novel

1952

Lord of the Flies

William Golding

novel

1954

A Raisin in the Sun

Lorraine Hansberry

play

1959

Catch-22

Joseph Heller

novel

1961

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’ s Nest

Ken Kesey

novel

1962 

A Separate Peace

John Knowles

novel

1959

To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee

novel

1960

The Crucible

Arthur Miller

play

1953

Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller

play

1949

House Made of Dawn

N. Scott Momaday

novel

1968

Wise Blood

Flannery O’Connor

novel

1952

1984

George Orwell

novel

1949

Cry, the Beloved Country

Alan Paton

novel

1948

All the King’s Men

Robert Penn Warren

novel

1946

The Chosen

Chaim Potok

novel

1967

Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys

novel

1966

The Catcher in the Rye

JD Salinger

novel

1951

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Tom Stoppard

play

1966

Cat’s Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut

novel

1963 

The Glass Menagerie

Tennessee Williams

play

1945

A Streetcar Named Desire

Tennessee Williams

play

1947

Black Boy

Richard Wright

memoir

1945

Native Son

Richard Wright

novel

1940

 


Don't get trapped in a literature vortex!

 

1970-1989

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Bless Me, Ultima

Rudolfo Anaya

novel

1972

The House on Mango Street

Sandra Cisneros

novel

1984

“Master Harold” . . . and the boys

Athol Fugard

play

1982

M. Butterfly

David Henry Hwang

play

1988

A Prayer for Owen Meany

John Irving

novel

1989

The Woman Warrior

Maxine Hong Kingston

memoir

1976

Obasan

Joy Kogawa

novel

1981

Beloved

Toni Morrison

novel

1987 

The Bluest Eye

Toni Morrison

novel

1970

Song of Solomon

Toni Morrison

novel

1977 

Sula

Toni Morrison

novel

1973

Jasmine

Bharati Mukherjee

novel

1989

The Women of Brewster Place

Gloria Naylor

novel

1982

Going After Cacciato

Tim O’Brien

novel

1978

Equus

Peter Shaffer

play

1973

Ceremony

Leslie Marmon Silko

novel

1977

Sophie’s Choice

William Styron

novel

1979

The Color Purple

Alice Walker

novel

1982

Fences

August Wilson

play

1983

The Piano Lesson

August Wilson

play

1987

1990-Present 

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Reservation Blues

Sherman Alexie

novel

1995

The Blind Assassin

Margaret Atwood

novel

2000

Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood

novel

2003

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Kim Edwards

novel

2005

Cold Mountain

Charles Frazier

novel

1997

Snow Falling on Cedars

David Guterson

novel

1994

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini

novel

2003

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Khaled Hosseini

novel

2007

Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro

novel

2005

The Poisonwood Bible

Barbara Kingsolver

novel

1998

The Namesake

Jumpa Lahiri

novel

2004

All the Pretty Horses

Cormac McCarthy

novel

1992

Atonement

Ian McEwan

novel

2001

Native Speaker

Chang Rae-Lee

novel

1995

The God of Small Things

Arundhati Roy

novel

1997

A Thousand Acres

Jane Smiley

novel

1991

The Bonesetter’s Daughter

Amy Tan

novel

2001

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

David Wroblewski

novel

2008

 

Don't stay in one reading position for too long, or you'll end up like this guy.

 

An Addendum on Poetry

You probably won’t be writing about poetry on your student choice essay—most just aren’t meaty enough in terms of action and character to merit a full-length essay on the themes when you don’t actually have the poem in front of you (a major exception being The Odyssey). That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be reading poetry, though! You should be reading a wide variety of poets from different eras to get comfortable with all the varieties of poetic language. This will make the poetry analysis essay and the multiple-choice questions about poetry much easier!

See this list of poets compiled from the list given on page 14 of the AP Course and Exam Description for AP Lit, separated out by time period. For those poets who were working during more than one of the time periods sketched out below, I tried to place them in the era in which they were more active.

I’ve placed an asterisk next to the most notable and important poets in the list; you should aim to read one or two poems by each of the starred poets to get familiar with a broad range of poetic styles and eras.


14th-17th Centuries

  1. Anne Bradstreet
  2. Geoffrey Chaucer
  3. John Donne
  4. George Herbert
  5. Ben Jonson
  6. Andrew Marvell
  7. John Milton
  8. William Shakespeare*


18th-19th Centuries

  1. William Blake*
  2. Robert Browning
  3. Samuel Taylor Coleridge*
  4. Emily Dickinson*
  5. Paul Laurence Dunbar
  6. George Gordon, Lord Byron
  7. Gerard Manley Hopkins
  8. John Keats*
  9. Edgar Allan Poe*
  10. Alexander Pope*
  11. Percy Bysshe Shelley*
  12. Alfred, Lord Tennyson*
  13. Walt Whitman*
  14. William Wordsworth*

 

Early-Mid 20th Century

  1. W. H. Auden
  2. Elizabeth Bishop
  3. H. D. (Hilda Doolittle)
  4. T. S. Eliot*
  5. Robert Frost*
  6. Langston Hughes*
  7. Philip Larkin
  8. Robert Lowell
  9. Marianne Moore
  10. Sylvia Plath*
  11. Anne Sexton*
  12. Wallace Stevens
  13. William Carlos Williams
  14. William Butler Yeats*

 

Late 20th Century-Present

  1. Edward Kamau Brathwaite
  2. Gwendolyn Brooks
  3. Lorna Dee Cervantes
  4. Lucille Clifton
  5. Billy Collins
  6. Rita Dove
  7. Joy Harjo
  8. Seamus Heaney
  9. Garrett Hongo
  10. Adrienne Rich
  11. Leslie Marmon Silko
  12. Cathy Song
  13. Derek Walcott
  14. Richard Wilbur

 

You might rather burn books than read them after the exam, but please refrain.

 

Key Takeaways

Why do you need to read books to prepare for AP Lit? For three reasons:

  1. To become familiar with a variety of literary eras and genres
  2. To work on your close-reading skills
  3. To become closely familiar with four-five works for the purposes of the student choice free-response essay analyzing a theme in a work of your choice.

How many books do you need to read? Well, you definitely need to get very familiar with four-five for essay-writing purposes, and beyond that, the more the better!

Which books should you read? Check out the AP English Literature reading list in this article to see works that have appeared on two or more “suggested works” lists on free-response prompts since 2003.

And don’t forget to read some poetry too! See some College Board recommended poets listed in this article.

 

What's Next?

See my expert guide to the AP Literature test for more exam tips!

Taking other APs? Check out our expert guides to the AP Chemistry exam, AP US History, AP World History, AP Psychology, and AP Biology. 

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

 

AP English Literature FRQs

We understand the apprehension you may feel thinking about the AP English Literature FRQ portion. We’ve all been through it. Students experienced the same fear in 2015, but we have proof that they made it out the other side. We find that looking at their successes and failures can help calm nerves and teach us what to avoid and what to implement into our own writing tool box.

In 2015, 401,076 students took the AP English Literature and Composition test. Only 30,347 scored a 5, which equates to only 7.6%. In this blog we’re going to unlock the secrets of the 7.6% so you, too, can be in that minority when you take the test.

We’ll go through, question by question, actual prompts and essays from the 2015 test along with comments and tips from actual graders. We’ll leave you with a great game plan for your own test so when you open that first page you’re prepared and ready. We’d love for you to follow along with us at the CollegeBoard website.

2015 FREE RESPONSE QUESTION #1:

Remember that you can tackle the AP English Literature FRQs in any order you desire. Create a game plan for yourself that will make you feel confident and prepared when you open that packet the day of the test.

The first question is hard. Why? Because poetry is hard. The language is often less accessible, the devices more subtle, and the meaning more complex than it appears at first glance. Historically, the lowest-scoring question on the AP English Literature FRQ section is the first. And 2015 was no different.

As we go through what to implement in your essay and what to avoid, think about when in the order of questions you’d like to conquer poetry. Are you the type that likes to climb the highest mountain first and then coast down the rest of the way? Or do you prefer to gain confidence with the smaller beasts before facing that final foe? The choice is all yours.

The Prompt

If you’re not reading the prompt first, you’re basically driving without directions and hoping you somehow stumbled into the right place. The prompt is your guide. Read it! And read it first.

For the 2015 AP English Literature FRQ, the poetry excerpt included both the unfamiliar and the familiar. The poem was written in the 20th century so the language was easier to understand for the test takers. But the writer was from the Caribbean, a place with a culture and history most test-takers wouldn’t be expert on. This means the test-taker had to focus the analysis solely on the text itself. This is good to note: in the first question always focus on the text. The test takers want to see your command of poetic devices in the poem.

As a quick side note, we knew it was a 20th century poet because of the copyright information at the bottom of the page. Think of it like a P.S. Prompt.

One final point before we dive into examples. We always like to underline what exactly the prompt says that needs to be answered. In this case there were two components and missing one because you didn’t fully read the prompt would be devastating to your score. The prompt says, “discuss the speaker’s recollection AND analyze how Walcott uses poetic devices to convey the significance of the experience”. Underline them both. Answer them both.

The Good

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

Make a Point

Answering the prompt could be done by saying the author uses alliteration, imagery, and sensory details to convey the significance of the experience. However, what makes a 9 is going one step further. To say the experience is significant to the author is rather obvious. In fact, it’s stated quite clearly in the prompt itself. What makes a 9 is arguing what exactly that significance is in the poem. This example focuses on how it brought the narrator closer to his brother. Test-graders were particularly impressed by this argument.

So when you’re taking your test, think about taking that one extra step. Not only will it help make a great first impression on your grader, but it will help focus the rest of your essay. Instead of writing about the ambiguous “significance”, this example wrote about how the poem impacted the author’s relationship with his brother.

Don’t be afraid to make a point.

Focus on Connotation over Denotation

In case you haven’t heard these terms yet, let’s take just a moment to go over them together and then see how it makes a huge difference in your essay. The best way to think about denotation is the dictionary definition of a word. (In fact, we use the alliteration to help us remember which is which!) Connotation is a little trickier to understand. It’s the meaning or association of the word in that specific instance within the text.

Let’s look at the above example to help us see the difference. The test taker points to “dasheen leaves” in the poem. The denotation of dasheen leaves would be the definition you see if you were to look it up in a dictionary. But dasheen leaves in this poem connote “the thrill of independence and danger”. This is analysis.

Ask yourself during the poetry section: what does this imply? What tone does it convey? Why this word over another?

The Bad

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

Just Restate the Prompt

Consider the difference between this thesis and the one we showed you above that scored a 9. Whereas the 9 thesis built on the prompt and made a specific argument, this thesis merely restates the prompts with slightly different wording. “Special” replaces “significant”. Instead of detailing the different poetic devices, this essay keeps it vague and unclear.

Starting out strong is a great way to set yourself up for success. When writing your own thesis remember not to just rewrite the prompt. Expand upon the question, make your own argument, and be specific about what evidence you will be using to support that claim.

Misunderstand the Poetic Devices

With standardized tests we all fear the same words: choose the most correct answer. Unfortunately, a most correct answer exists in the AP English Literature FRQ section as well. In the above example, the line used by the test taker does included alliteration. However, this is not the most correct answer. The graders indicated that this was figurative language meant to create a metaphor for the reader, not a feeling of shivers. Especially with easily identifiable devices, like alliteration, make sure you ask yourself if it’s serving a larger purpose in the text as a different device.

Don’t just jump on the first correct answer. Find the most correct answer and you’ll see your score jump.

The Ugly

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

Simply Summarize the Poem

Nothing will lose you points faster than simply summarizing the events of the poem. Graders of the AP English Literature FRQ can sniff out summaries like hounds. If it is not directly answering the prompt, leave it out. And one thing you can be sure of is that you will never be asked on a Free Response Question, ever, is to summarize.

Impress the graders with everything you know about poetic devices. Don’t bore them with summaries of a poem they themselves read and reread and reread again. Trust us, they already know what the poem’s about.

Don’t Analyze

Beware lists. Look at the example above. That is a list. If you find yourself writing a sentence if your essay and it’s starting to look like a grocery list, you’re probably missing some analysis. This is similar to summarizing really, but worse. Instead of re-wording the poem, this sentence simply rewrites the words.

Now don’t get us wrong. Citing direct quotes from the text is a fantastic idea. But it needs to be followed by analysis. What poetic device is being used in the text? How does that impact the work? How does it show the specific significance of the experience to the narrator? In other words, why? Why is it there.

Tips from the Graders:

  1. Move from denotative to connotative meanings. To do this, push beyond the dictionary definition of a word and instead prove to the grader that you understand how that word is used in the specific text.
  2. While close reading is important and citing specific lines is key, don’t forget the work as a whole. Make sure to explain how your examples impact the rest of the text.

2015 FREE RESPONSE QUESTION #2:

The Prompt

Early on in the article, we described the prompt as the guide for your journey through the excerpt you are about to read. In the 2015 AP English Literature FRQ #2, the prompt gave extra helpful guidance that any test taker would have been smart to heed. Whenever a prompt says, “You may wish to consider” read that as “You should definitely consider”. The 2015 prompt pointed the test takers to three types of literary devices to use in analyzing the author’s depiction of the impact of the environment on the two children in the excerpt: tone, imagery, and selection of point of view.

While these may not always be a part of the prompt, if you see them on your test we suggest marking the excerpt with a shorthand for the indicated devices. In this case we may suggest “T” for tone, “I” for imagery, and “POV” for selection of POV. While you can certainly veer from the path, it’s a good idea to use these as a framework for your essay.

If this proves anything, it proves that the test takers want you to succeed. Sometimes it’s hard to remember when you see large chunks of literature to decipher and analyze. But keep it in mind. And take the guide’s help.

The Good

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

Sustain Your Ideas Throughout the Essay

The test taker makes the point in the opening paragraph that the environment impacts Karl’s emotions and then continues and expands upon that, throughout the entirety of the essay. The above example is from the final paragraph of the essay.

Think of your argument, which you state clearly and elegantly in your first paragraph, as a string that you weave throughout your essay. Each and every paragraph adds a bead of evidence to that string and you end with a knot that holds everything together.

Pay Attention to what isn’t Written

A great tool in analyzing literature is to ask yourself: why wasn’t this written in a different way? There are infinite numbers of ways to write and the author of each piece chose a particular way in order to convey a meaning.

In this example, the test taker noted how the environment was described broadly, when it could have been described using “individual characteristics”. From this, the essay made an argument. If you find yourself confused on a passage, consider what the author could have written, but didn’t. And why?

The Bad

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

Hold the Gavel

Your job in the AP English Literature FRQ portion is to analyze literature using the devices you’ve been learning and practicing. Think of yourself more as an investigator, not a judge. You look at the clues, draw connections, and put together theories.

The above shows an example of a judge. It casts an indictment on the morality and personality of the characters. If you ever find yourself writing that a character is good or bad in a certain way, you’re being a judge.

Throw away the gavel and pick up the magnifying glass.

The Ugly

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

Speculate, don’t Analyze

We think of the difference this way:

Analyzing uses the text as evidence. Speculation uses your own thoughts and opinions as evidence.

If you stick to the text, you’ll avoid this point killer. If you’re still struggling seeing when you’re speculating, look out for the word “seem” in your essay. Put that word on your never-ever-ever use list and you should do better at avoiding speculation. Replace it with instead a specific line from the text.

Write Unclearly

We understand that the AP English Literature FRQ can be very stressful. It’s timed. There’s a lot of pressure to show everything you’ve learned all year. And if you have a lot of great ideas you’re often in a rush to get them all down. But never sacrifice your writing. If a grader can’t understand what you wrote, it doesn’t matter how great of a point you meant.

The best way to practice writing clearly and quickly is to take practice tests, and lots of them.

Tips from the Graders:

  1. Organize your essay in a logical, effective way. Think of each paragraph building on your argument. An easy way to see if your argument is building throughout your essay is to reorder your paragraphs. If it still makes sense, then you need to work on organizing your argument. Aim for building blocks, not separate, disjointed pieces.
  2. Avoid a reading of the passage that is “too neat”. This means if your reading has no complexities, paradoxes, or contradictions, it’s probably wrong.

2015 FREE RESPONSE QUESTION #3:

Whether you’re writing this question first or last, enjoy it. It’s your chance to show off all you’ve learned during the year and is almost always the highest scoring of the three.

The Prompt

It is rare for the prompt of the third FRQ to have only one question for you to answer. In the case of the 2015 AP English Literature FRQ #3, it asked the test takers to analyze “how cruelty functions in the work as a whole” and “what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim”. When you take your exam make sure you read the third prompt carefully so you catch all the different components you’re asked to answer. Otherwise you’ll lose points unnecessarily.

Let’s take a look at how your peers tackled this prompt: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

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

Go Below the Surface

Many weaker essays focused on a single effect of cruelty in a piece of literature. What impressed the test takers with this response was acknowledgement that cruelty had two different effects on characters. This showed a strong grasp of the material and the complexities involved. When writing your essay ask yourself: can I dive deeper into this question?

This also starts with your reading throughout the school year. Pay attention to the different layers in your literature, because it will get you more points than skimming the surface on the AP English Literature FRQ.

Articulate Your Ideas Clearly

We mentioned earlier that poor writing can result in losing points. But the opposite is also true. Practice your writing, improve your vocabulary, and hone your syntax and demonstrate it on your essays. It could mean the difference between a 7 and 8, or even an 8 and a 9.

The Bad

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

Describe the Plot

If your response on the AP English Literature FRQ could easily be found on a summary SparkNotes or CliffNotes or any other “notes”, then you’re describing. Trust us, the graders know the plots of most, if not all, of the pieces of literature you’ll be writing about. That’s not why they’re there. They’re there to see your interesting and insightful analysis of that literature. Wow them with something they hadn’t considered before. Take that as your challenge.

Description is a waste of words you could be using to earn points. Don’t waste your words.

Don’t Develop Your Claim

Starting well will earn you a six. Ending well will earn you a nine. The test takers noted that this essay began strongly with the above thesis. But it failed to develop it throughout the essay. Remember what we said about the string that you weave through the essay? This is an example of gathering all the string and not using it. The beads go everywhere and you’re left with a mess.

Your last paragraph is the final impression on the grader. Use it as an opportunity to show all the work you did in the rest of your essay. And don’t forget it!

The Ugly

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

Ignore the Greater Context of the Work

These great works of literature were not written in a vacuum. And while you don’t need to provide your test grader with a history lesson, it’s important to acknowledge the political, historical, and social factors at play in a work. If you do ignore it you’ll end up with overly simplified arguments like the one above, which quite misses the complex point of To Kill a Mockingbird.

When you’re reviewing the literature you’ve studied before the test, take a minute to refresh yourself not just on plot, theme, and character, but also the greater context.

Tips from the Graders:

  1. Prepare.It sounds simple, but the graders saw a lot of students who didn’t know the basics of a work they used. Make sure you know the correct book title, author name, character names, and a general idea about the theme of the book.
  2. Remember the time and place of a novel. As we also mentioned, the graders wanted to see the test takers hone in on the cultural and historical aspects of a piece of literature.

Now it’s Your Turn

You’ve now gone over the successes and failures of the 2015 AP English Literature FRQ portion of the exam. But what do you do with all this new information?

We recommend putting it to the test right away. Carve out some time, set up a timer, and take the 2015 test yourself. Try to avoid the mistakes that lost your peers points and try to implement a few new tricks you learned from those stellar 9’s. Use the CollegeBoard website to score yourself and make a list of things you did well and things you want to improve on.

Do you have any good, bad, or ugly to share with us from your experiences practicing? Tell us in the comments below!

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