Lit & More

Lit & More

March 2, 2019 ·

Q3 Study Guides: A Meaningful AP Test Prep Assignment

AP Classroom & AP Scoring

how to write a q3 essay for ap lit

When April rolls around my AP ® * Lit students begin preparing for the exam, a process which looks different for each teacher. Many students get the most anxiety when it comes to the free response question, an open-ended prompt asking students to analyze any novel or play. I’ve found success in having each student prepare a study guide for five different texts.

* AP® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this website .

Preparation

First of all, students should reflect back on all of the books they have read in preparation for the AP ® Lit exam, both in class and outside of it. This includes both novels and plays, as well as some memoirs, short stories, essays, epics, and other kinds of texts. Each student needs to create a list of five titles to know, inside and out. Here are some of the rules I implement for choosing titles:

  • They must include at least one play (which may be by Shakespeare)
  • They must include at least one gothic novel.
  • They must attempt to include at least two diverse authors, meaning women and minorities.
  • No author should be repeated more than twice.
  • Use titles on the range of accessibility , aiming for more obscure books if possible.

how to write a q3 essay for ap lit

The range of accessibility is a continuum that I designed showing how some works are considered “too accessible” by some readers, meaning that they may be too short, too simple, or frankly too popular. Wonderful but accessible books include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men , and Animal Farm . Students should avoid having titles that all rank low on the continuum and try to put at least one more obscure title on their list. This doesn’t mean a student can’t write about To Kill a Mockingbird . It’s a wonderful novel and contains strong symbols and themes. They should just avoid having multiple titles that are low on the continuum. The same goes likewise for having too many titles from a similar time period or genre.

how to write a q3 essay for ap lit

While it is impossible to hit all of these categories, encourage students to choose title combinations that are:

  • Written by both male and female authors
  • Representing world literature, or works from outside of America or Great Britain
  • Including works by minority authors, including writers of color and Native American authors
  • representing plays, especially those not taught in 9 th or 10 th grade
  • A mixture of short and longer texts
  • A balance of old and newer books, including classics and those published in just the past 10 years.

how to write a q3 essay for ap lit

The Assignment

Once students have chosen their titles, I give them a week or two to prepare their study guides. These study guides need to include the following for each title:

  • The title, author, and year published
  • The setting (both time and place)*
  • A list of characters*
  • A short plot summary*
  • An overview of themes and symbols, each explained in several sentences

*If time is a factor, or students are being crushed under a weight of other work right before AP ® exams, I sometimes allow these items to be taken from an online study website such as SparkNotes or Shmoop. I’d prefer their themes and symbols be written in their own words, but the rest of the information is really for short review right before the exam. If it speeds up the preparation process this is an accommodation that can be made.

In my classes, the study guides are due the Monday of our AP ® Exam week. I look them over and score them quickly, returning them to the students so they can review them. I also make sure that the week of the exam they have no homework from me. I only ask that they read over their five study guides for 5-10 minutes each day, especially right before they go to bed. They usually bring them to school on the day of the AP ® Exam as well, cramming from them right before the doors open.

This study guide assignment has several benefits:

  • It clears up a common problem, when students have to write about a book they’ve read before, but they have forgotten character names or important plot events. By engraining these five stories into their heads, they are readily able to write about them at the drop of a hat.
  • In the five years of doing this assignment, only once has a student had to write about a book that was not on their study guide. Therefore, it takes away much of the panic that students can feel going into Question 3 when they are unsure of what to write.
  • It adds a formative grade into my gradebook during exam time, showing assessment for a practical and meaningful assignment that is not busywork.

Looking for more AP ® Lit test prep materials? Check out my AP ® Lit Test Prep Bundle , or my AP ® Lit Test Prep Bonus Bundle !

Reader Interactions

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March 31, 2021 at 3:45 pm

Do you have a resource created for the activity? Also, I just have to say thank you for sharing your work! I am a first year AP Lit teacher, and the started kit has been a life saver!

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April 1, 2021 at 7:34 pm

Thanks Natalie! I don’t have a resource for this since it would be so customizable based on what plays you choose.

April 2, 2021 at 10:36 am

Thank you! That makes sense! Just curious, is there something that you have them collect at a sixth piece of information? There is a sixth item on the list, but I wasn’t able to find anything about it. I just wanted to be sure that I wasn’t missing an important idea.

April 2, 2021 at 11:01 am

No, that’s likely an error with the WordPress block. It never seems to know when a list stops and will supply extra numbers or bulletpoints even when it’s over!

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how to write a q3 essay for ap lit

Introduction to the

Q3: Open Response Essay

on the AP Lit Exam

Mr. Chilton

Essay Overview

  • 3 essays total
  • 1 “open response” on book of your choice

Q3 Open Response Essay: Overview

  • States a theme or idea
  • Often uses a quote from critic to illuminate / reinforce what it means
  • Choose a work you’ve read before of literary merit
  • Analyze how this theme or idea works in the text you choose
  • And how it affects the work as a whole

Sample from 2008 example:

In some works of literature, childhood and adolescence are portrayed as times graced by innocence and a sense of wonder; in other works, they are depicted as times of tribulation and terror. Focusing on a single novel or play, explain how its representation of childhood or adolescence shapes the meaning of the work as a whole.

  • Question the prompt

“In some works of literature, childhood and adolescence are portrayed as times graced by innocence and a sense of wonder; in other works, they are depicted as times of tribulation and terror. Focusing on a single novel or play, explain how its representation of childhood or adolescence shapes the meaning of the work as a whole.”

What are they asking for? What questions do you need to answer?

In some works of literature, childhood and adolescence are portrayed as times graced by innocence and a sense of wonder ; in other works, they are depicted as times of tribulation and terror . Focusing on a single novel or play, explain how its representation of childhood or adolescence shapes the meaning of the work as a whole .

  • How is childhood and adolescence portrayed?
  • What book best demonstrates how this is portrayed?
  • How knowledgeable/competent do I feel to discuss this book?
  • How is C&A represented in book X as a whole?
  • How does it shape the meaning of the work as whole?

2. The List

Each Q3 prompt has a list of books to choose from.

From the 2008 Q3, it looks like this:

2. The List: Advice

  • Cover it up.
  • Don’t worry about it. If your selection works, it’s icing on the cake.
  • Choose the best book from this criteria:
  • Appropriate to question
  • Literary merit
  • Have meaningful things to say

Biggest Mistake: SUMMARIZING!

  • If you simply summarize, you cannot make higher than a 5. Summarize only as a means to analyze.
  • The reader has read your book. If not, they hand it onto someone who has.
  • They read over 1,000 essays that week, they can sniff plot summary a mile away.

What’s the difference between good and great?

See examples.You guess which score...

AP Score: 3

“A banal analysis of Romeo and Juliet, this essay goes little further than reading the play as just an account of teenage love. Its control of language is questionable, and it is less an analysis than it is a recounting of the sad story of all teens, as represented by one case: “The sad truth is this type of thing happens everyday.”

Summarized Lesson from this essay:

  • Don’t summarize
  • Don’t try to make “universal truths” about the nature of the world from the book
  • Pay close attention to details of the book and stay within the realm of the book

AP Score: 5

This essay chooses an appropriate text, Catcher in the Rye, but deals with it only superficially. Though the student asserts on more than one occasion that Holden Caulfield had a “troubling,” “troublesome,” or “troubled” childhood, no specifics are provided to indicate what was troubled or troubling. It is a shallow and repetitious effort, almost definitive of the superficiality that characterizes an essay with a 5 score. There is a slight discussion of Phoebe and the brother whose death saves Holden’s life, but that too is an underdeveloped detail. The essay’s reasonably good quality of writing keeps it out of the lower half of the scoring range but does not allow it to rise into the upper half.

  • Answer the question of SO WHAT?
  • It’s not good enough to state what happened or even that it had a “huge effect,” you must state how it exactly affects something
  • Be very specific

AP Score: 7

This essay is a competent discussion of the social commentary presented in Golding’s Lord of the Flies. It does well in developing a representation of childhood distorted by circumstances and coherently discusses the contribution of this experience to the meaning of the work as a whole. Although some textual detail is presented, the analysis is less sophisticated and incisive than that of essays in the 9–8 range. The student demonstrates a firm grasp of the novel in general but offers no sparkling insight. Despite its very accurate and thoughtful reflections on human nature and on Golding’s revelation of the dark side of children once they are placed “outside the limits of ‘civilized’ society,” the essay provides only the most obvious observations about the children’s misadventures. This response to the prompt does not exhibit the same level of effective writing as do those in the top category.

  • Use summary as a means to analyze
  • Be clear with your thesis and intentions
  • Get to the point
  • Don’t repeat yourself or have any fluff

Want to see a “ 9 ”?

Google “AP Central Essays Prompts”

Click on samples to and then scroll to last page to get scores and official commentary

Practice on your own!

Use this website: click here → Every AP open response prompt since 1970!

(Or simply Google “AP Literature Open Response Prompts” to find it)

Drill with these and plan out which book you would use and how you would approach it.

  • See other tutorials online
  • See all websites and resources posted on my website under “AP Literature Test Prep”
  • Work hard in class
  • Be present every day
  • Ask Mr. Chilton questions afterwards
  • Work hard on the in-class essays and pester Mr. Chilton as much as possible to improve / question him about your essays
  • Buy and study your own test prep booklet or check one out from Mr. Chilton

PrepScholar

Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, expert's guide to the ap literature exam.

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Advanced Placement (AP)

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If you're planning to take the AP English Literature and Composition exam, you'll need to get familiar with what to expect on the test. Whether the 2023 test date of Wednesday, May 3, is near or far, I'm here to help you get serious about preparing for the exam.

In this guide, I'll go over the test's format and question types, how it's graded, best practices for preparation, and test-day tips. You'll be on your way to AP English Lit success in no time!

AP English Literature: Exam Format and Question Types

The AP Literature Exam is a three-hour exam that contains two sections in this order:

  • An hour-long, 55-question multiple-choice section
  • A two-hour, three-question free-response section

The exam tests your ability to analyze works and excerpts of literature and cogently communicate that analysis in essay form.

Read on for a breakdown of the two different sections and their question types.

Section I: Multiple Choice

The multiple-choice section, or Section I of the AP Literature exam, is 60 minutes long and has 55 questions. It counts for 45% of your overall exam grade .

You can expect to see five excerpts of prose and poetry. You will always get at least two prose passages (fiction or drama) and two poetry passages. In general, you will not be given the author, date, or title for these works, though occasionally the title of a poem will be given. Unusual words are also sometimes defined for you.

The date ranges of these works could fall from the 16th to the 21st century. Most works will be originally written in English, but you might occasionally see a passage in translation.

There are, generally speaking, eight kinds of questions you can expect to see on the AP English Literature and Composition exam. I'll break each of them down here and give you tips on how to identify and approach them.

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"Pretty flowers carried by ladies" is not one of the question types.

The 8 Multiple-Choice Question Types on the AP Literature Exam

Without further delay, here are the eight question types you can expect to see on the AP Lit exam. All questions are taken from the sample questions on the AP Course and Exam Description .

#1: Reading Comprehension

These questions test your ability to understand what the passage is saying on a pretty basic level . They don't require you to do a lot of interpretation—you just need to know what's going on.

You can identify this question type from words and phrases such as "according to," "mentioned," "asserting," and so on. You'll succeed on these questions as long as you carefully read the text . Note that you might have to go back and reread parts to make sure you understand what the passage is saying.

1Comprehension.png

#2: Inference

These questions ask you to infer something—a character or narrator's opinion, an author's intention, etc.—based on what is said in the passage . It will be something that isn't stated directly or concretely but that you can assume based on what's clearly written in the passage. You can identify these questions from words such as "infer" and "imply."

The key to these questions is to not get tripped up by the fact that you are making an inference—there will be a best answer, and it will be the choice that is best supported by what is actually found in the passage .

In many ways, inference questions are like second-level reading comprehension questions: you need to know not just what a passage says, but also what it means.

2inference.png

#3: Identifying and Interpreting Figurative Language

These are questions for which you have to either identify what word or phrase is figurative language or provide the meaning of a figurative phrase . You can identify these as they will either explicitly mention figurative language (or a figurative device, such as a simile or metaphor ) or include a figurative phrase in the question itself.

The meaning of figurative phrases can normally be determined by that phrase's context in the passage—what is said around it? What is the phrase referring to?

Example 1: Identifying

3Identifying_Figurative_Language.png

Example 2: Interpreting

4Interpret_figurative_language.png

#4: Literary Technique

These questions involve identifying why an author does what they do , from using a particular phrase to repeating certain words. Basically, what techniques is the author using to construct the passage/poem, and to what effect?

You can identify these questions by words/phrases such as "serves chiefly to," "effect," "evoke," and "in order to." A good way to approach these questions is to ask yourself: so what? Why did the author use these particular words or this particular structure?

5literary_technique.png

#5: Character Analysis

These questions ask you to describe something about a character . You can spot them because they will refer directly to characters' attitudes, opinions, beliefs, or relationships with other characters .

This is, in many ways, a special kind of inference question , since you are inferring the broader personality of the character based on the evidence in a passage. Also, these crop up much more commonly for prose passages than they do for poetry ones.

6character_analysis.png

#6: Overall Passage Questions

Some questions ask you to identify or describe something about the passage or poem as a whole : its purpose, tone, genre, etc. You can identify these by phrases such as "in the passage" and "as a whole."

To answer these questions, you need to think about the excerpt with a bird's-eye view . What is the overall picture created by all the tiny details?

7Overall_Passage.png

#7: Structure

Some AP Lit questions will ask you about specific structural elements of the passage: a shift in tone, a digression, the specific form of a poem, etc . Often these questions will specify a part of the passage/poem and ask you to identify what that part is accomplishing.

Being able to identify and understand the significance of any shifts —structural, tonal, in genre, and so on—will be of key importance for these questions.

7.1Structure.png

#8: Grammar/Nuts & Bolts

Very occasionally you will be asked a specific grammar question , such as what word an adjective is modifying. I'd also include in this category super-specific questions such as those that ask about the meter of a poem (e.g., iambic pentameter).

These questions are less about literary artistry and more about the fairly dry technique involved in having a fluent command of the English language .

8Nuts_and_Bolts.png

That covers the eight question types on the multiple-choice section. Now, let's take a look at the free-response section of the AP Literature exam.

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Keep track of the nuts and bolts of grammar.

Section II: Free Response

The AP Literature Free Response section is two hours long and involves three free-response essay questions , so you'll have about 40 minutes per essay. That's not a lot of time considering this section of the test counts for 55% of your overall exam grade !

Note, though, that no one will prompt you to move from essay to essay, so you can theoretically divide up the time however you want. Just be sure to leave enough time for each essay! Skipping an essay, or running out of time so you have to rush through one, can really impact your final test score.

The first two essays are literary analysis essays of specific passages, with one poem and one prose excerpt. The final essay is an analysis of a given theme in a work selected by you , the student.

Essays 1 & 2: Literary Passage Analysis

For the first two essays, you'll be presented with an excerpt and directed to analyze the excerpt for a given theme, device, or development . One of the passages will be poetry, and one will be prose. You will be provided with the author of the work, the approximate date, and some orienting information (i.e., the plot context of an excerpt from a novel).

Below are some sample questions from the 2022 Free Response Questions .

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Essay 3: Thematic Analysis

For the third and final essay, you'll be asked to discuss a particular theme in a work that you select . You will be provided with a list of notable works that address the given theme below the prompt, but you can also choose to discuss any "work of literary merit."

So while you do have the power to choose which work you wish to write an essay about , the key words here are "literary merit." That means no genre fiction! Stick to safe bets like authors in the list on pages 10-11 of the old 2014 AP Lit Course Description .

(I know, I know—lots of genre fiction works do have literary merit and Shakespeare actually began as low culture, and so on and so forth. Indeed, you might find academic designations of "literary merit" elitist and problematic, but the time to rage against the literary establishment is not your AP Lit test! Save it for a really, really good college admissions essay instead .)

Here's a sample question from 2022:

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As you can see, the list of works provided spans many time periods and countries : there are ancient Greek plays ( Antigone ), modern literary works (such as Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale ), Shakespeare plays ( The Tempest ), 19th-century English plays ( The Importance of Being Earnest ), etc. So you have a lot to work with!

Also note that you can choose a work of "comparable literary merit." That means you can select a work not on this list as long as it's as difficult and meaningful as the example titles you've been given. So for example, Jane Eyre or East of Eden would be great choices, but Twilight or The Hunger Games would not.

Our advice? If you're not sure what a work of "comparable literary merit" is, stick to the titles on the provided list .

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You might even see something by this guy.

How Is the AP Literature Test Graded?

The multiple-choice section of the exam comprises 45% of your total exam score; the three essays, or free-response section, comprise the other 55%. Each essay, then, is worth about 18% of your grade.

As on other AP exams, your raw score will be converted to a score from 1-5 . You don't have to get every point possible to get a 5 by any means. In 2022, 16.9% of students received 5s on the AP English Literature test, the 14th highest 5 score out of the 38 different AP exams.

So, how do you calculate your raw scores?

Multiple-Choice Scoring

For the multiple-choice section, you receive 1 point for each question you answer correctly . There's no guessing penalty, so you should answer every question—but guess only after you're able to eliminate any answer you know is wrong to up your chances of choosing the right one.

Free-Response Scoring

Scoring for multiple choice is pretty straightforward; however, essay scoring is a little more complicated.

Each of your essays will receive a score from 0 to 6 based on the College Board rubric , which also includes question-specific rubrics. All the rubrics are very similar, with only minor differences between them.

Each essay rubric has three elements you'll be graded on:

  • Thesis (0-1 points)
  • Evidence and Commentary (0-4 points)
  • Sophistication (0-1 points)

We'll be looking at the current rubric for the AP Lit exam , which was released in September 2019, and what every score means for each of the three elements above:

To get a high-scoring essay in the 5-6 point range, you'll need to not only come up with an original and intriguing argument that you thoroughly support with textual evidence, but you’ll also need to stay focused, organized, and clear. And all in just 40 minutes per essay!

If getting a high score on this section sounds like a tall order, that's because it is.

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Practice makes perfect!

Skill-Building for Success on the AP Literature Exam

There are several things you can do to hone your skills and best prepare for the AP Lit exam.

Read Some Books, Maybe More Than Once

One of the most important steps you can take to prepare for the AP Literature and Composition exam is to read a lot and read well . You'll be reading a wide variety of notable literary works in your AP English Literature course, but additional reading will help you further develop your analytical reading skills .

I suggest checking out this list of notable authors in the 2014 AP Lit Course Description (pages 10-11).

In addition to reading broadly, you'll want to become especially familiar with the details of four to five books with different themes so you'll be prepared to write a strong student-choice essay. You should know the plot, themes, characters, and structural details of these books inside and out.

See my AP English Literature Reading List for more guidance.

Read (and Interpret) Poetry

One thing students might not do very much on their own time but that will help a lot with AP Lit exam prep is to read poetry. Try to read poems from a lot of eras and authors to get familiar with the language.

We know that poetry can be intimidating. That's why we've put together a bunch of guides to help you crack the poetry code (so to speak). You can learn more about poetic devices —like imagery and i ambic pentameter —in our comprehensive guide. Then you can see those analytical skills in action in our expert analysis of " Do not go gentle into that good night " by Dylan Thomas.

When you think you have a grip on basic comprehension, you can then move on to close reading (see below).

Hone Your Close Reading and Analysis Skills

Your AP class will likely focus heavily on close reading and analysis of prose and poetry, but extra practice won't hurt you. Close reading is the ability to identify which techniques the author is using and why. You'll need to be able to do this both to gather evidence for original arguments on the free-response questions and to answer analytical multiple-choice questions.

Here are some helpful close reading resources for prose :

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center's guide to close reading
  • Harvard College Writing Center's close reading guide
  • Purdue OWL's article on steering clear of close reading "pitfalls"

And here are some for poetry :

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison's poetry-reading guide
  • This guide to reading poetry at Poets.org (complete with two poetry close readings)
  • Our own expert analyses of famous poems, such as " Ozymandias ", and the 10 famous sonnets you should know

Learn Literary and Poetic Devices

You'll want to be familiar with literary terms so that any test questions that ask about them will make sense to you. Again, you'll probably learn most of these in class, but it doesn't hurt to brush up on them.

Here are some comprehensive lists of literary terms with definitions :

  • The 31 Literary Devices You Must Know
  • The 20 Poetic Devices You Must Know
  • The 9 Literary Elements You'll Find In Every Story
  • What Is Imagery?
  • Understanding Assonance
  • What Is Iambic Pentameter in Poetry?
  • Simile vs Metaphor: The 1 Big Difference
  • 10 Personification Examples in Poetry, Literature, and More

Practice Writing Essays

The majority of your grade on the AP English Lit exam comes from essays, so it's critical that you practice your timed essay-writing skills . You of course should use the College Board's released free-response questions to practice writing complete timed essays of each type, but you can also practice quickly outlining thorough essays that are well supported with textual evidence.

Take Practice Tests

Taking practice tests is a great way to prepare for the exam. It will help you get familiar with the exam format and overall experience . You can get sample questions from the Course and Exam Description , the College Board website , and our guide to AP English Lit practice test resources .

Be aware that the released exams don't have complete slates of free-response questions, so you might need to supplement these with released free-response questions .

Since there are three complete released exams, you can take one toward the beginning of your prep time to get familiar with the exam and set a benchmark, and one toward the end to make sure the experience is fresh in your mind and to check your progress.

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Don't wander like a lonely cloud through your AP Lit prep.

AP Literature: 6 Critical Test-Day Tips

Before we wrap up, here are my six top tips for AP Lit test day:

  • #1: On the multiple-choice section, it's to your advantage to answer every question. If you eliminate all the answers you know are wrong before guessing, you'll raise your chances of guessing the correct one.
  • #2: Don't rely on your memory of the passage when answering multiple-choice questions (or when writing essays, for that matter). Look back at the passage!
  • #3: Interact with the text : circle, mark, underline, make notes—whatever floats your boat. This will help you retain information and actively engage with the passage.
  • #4: This was mentioned above, but it's critical that you know four to five books well for the student-choice essay . You'll want to know all the characters, the plot, the themes, and any major devices or motifs the author uses throughout.
  • #5: Be sure to plan out your essays! Organization and focus are critical for high-scoring AP Literature essays. An outline will take you a few minutes, but it will help your writing process go much faster.
  • #6: Manage your time on essays closely. One strategy is to start with the essay you think will be the easiest to write. This way you'll be able to get through it while thinking about the other two essays.

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And don't forget to eat breakfast! Apron optional.

AP Literature Exam: Key Takeaways

The AP Literature exam is a three-hour test that includes an hour-long multiple-choice section based on five prose and poetry passages and with 55 questions, and a two-hour free-response section with three essays : one analyzing a poetry passage, one analyzing a prose passage, and one analyzing a work chosen by you, the student.

The multiple-choice section is worth 45% of your total score , and the free-response section is worth 55% . The three essays are each scored on a rubric of 0-6, and raw scores are converted to a final scaled score from 1 to 5.

Here are some things you can do to prepare for the exam:

  • Read books and be particularly familiar with four to five works for the student-choice essays
  • Read poetry
  • Work on your close reading and analysis skills
  • Learn common literary devices
  • Practice writing essays
  • Take practice tests!

On test day, be sure to really look closely at all the passages and really interact with them by marking the text in a way that makes sense to you. This will help on both multiple-choice questions and the free-response essays. You should also outline your essays before you write them.

With all this in mind, you're well on your way to AP Lit success!

What's Next?

If you're taking other AP exams this year, you might be interested in our other AP resources: from the Ultimate Guide to the US History Exam , to the Ultimate AP Chemistry Study Guide , to the Best AP Psychology Study Guide , we have tons of articles on AP courses and exams for you !

Looking for practice exams? Here are some tips on how to find the best AP practice tests . We've also got comprehensive lists of practice tests for AP Psychology , AP Biology , AP Chemistry , and AP US History .

Deciding which APs to take? Take a look through the complete list of AP courses and tests , read our analysis of which AP classes are the hardest and easiest , and learn how many AP classes you should take .

Want to build the best possible college application?   We can help.   PrepScholar Admissions combines world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies. We've guided thousands of students to get into their top choice schools, from state colleges to the Ivy League. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit and are driven to get you admitted to your dream schools. Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in:

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

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AP® English Literature

How to approach ap® english literature free-response questions.

  • The Albert Team
  • Last Updated On: February 28, 2023

how to write a q3 essay for ap lit

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What is the Format of AP® English Literature?

What content is covered in the free-response section of ap® english literature.

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How to Prepare for AP® English Literature Free-Response

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Practice Makes Perfect

Focus on critical reading, utilize your syllabus, take notes as you read, carefully consider principal ideas, explore the context, read out loud, reread when necessary, consult your dictionary, thesaurus or encyclopedia, write, review, and rewrite regularly, how to answer ap® english literature free-response questions.

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Outline your essay, write clearly and eloquently, what are ap® english literature free-response questions like.

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How Can I practice AP® English Literature Free-Response?

Looking for ap® english literature practice, interested in a school license​, 2 thoughts on “how to approach ap® english literature free-response questions”.

Are you expected to have read the actual work previously for free response question #1 and #2? (For instance, would the test writers expect you have read Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) for 2016 essay?)

Can you still pull out score 5, even if you haven’t read the work before and write your response solely based on the given passage?

Hi Jen, you would not have had to have read the passage before. You’d be expected to be able to interpret from the passage provided — this is how they assess you on your analysis skills.

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5 Tips for Writing a Great AP Lit Essay

Nervous about the 'free response prompt' on AP Lit? Don't be. We broke it down into manageable steps!

Lisa Speransky

This year, if you’re taking the AP English Literature exam, you’ll be responsible for responding to three questions, which the College Board calls “free response prompts.” First , you’ll write a literary analysis of a poem. Second, you’ll write a literary analysis of a piece of fiction, which could be an excerpt from a play. Third , you’ll analyze a major literary aspect—a theme or a literary device, for example—of a literary work of your choosing.

The last of these prompts attracts perhaps the most attention and, by extension, produces the most anxiety among students. Anyone would admit that such a capacious (‘open, roomy’) question is challenging, especially when a year of AP Lit has taught you to focus on the details of the book you’re reading. And it certainly doesn’t help that this question comes at the very end of the essay, and you and your fingers are about as tired as they could possibly be!

But if you approach the prompt with enthusiasm, it can be the cherry on top of your exam, not the straw that breaks the camel’s back (getting creative with metaphors is always important in AP Lit!).

Here are five tips to help you write a great essay response to the third prompt on the AP Lit exam.

1. Select the perfect work.

Wait a minute—you can write about anything under the sun, as long as the College Board defines it as “a work of literary merit?” How is that even possible? In truth, your evaluators are using this prompt as a way to gauge your analytical abilities no matter the text. You’re not going to be judged for the work you select, as long as it’s substantial enough to ensure your analysis can be rich and meaningful. A good rule to live by: if a work pops into your head and you don’t immediately have at least a few different ideas for how to answer the prompt with it, toss it out of your brainstorming process. You want to find a work that is challenging and complex in order to show that you’re capable of effectively analyzing such works.

You have two main options for selecting the perfect work, both equally effective. The first is probably the most common: choose a book, play, or other literary work you read in AP Lit. Because you read it in class, you will almost surely be familiar with its themes and literary devices. Your second option is to pick a work you’ve read on your own, which could be anything from a novel you adored over summer break or the Shakespeare play you starred in at school. We recommend creating a short list of works you’d like to write about before you take your AP Lit exam, just to have your options at hand. As you’ve learned to do in class, consider each work’s rhetorical situation. This way, if you’re on the fence about whether a work is really “of literary merit,” you can ask your teacher or someone else in the know for an expert second opinion!

2. Practice really does make perfect.

You don’t know what the third free-response prompt will be, but you know that it will be! The College Board’s AP Lit exam page is only one of a gazillion easily accessible resources online that compile prompts from past years and devise hypothetical ones, too. These are great places to look. In the weeks leading up to the exam, we recommend selecting three to seven prompts—the more diverse in content, the better—and practicing with your list of works of literary merit. We recommend practicing with a work no more than two or three times—it’s great to know a text inside and out, but you don’t want to be a one-trick pony in case the prompt on the exam doesn’t lend itself to an essay about that text.

3. Outline, outline, outline!

Whether for AP exams , the SAT , or the ACT , you’ve heard the dictum a million times—outlines make better essays, even when your time feels extremely limited! When it’s time for the test, this can feel a little bit trite, but we challenge you to find one soul in the grand history of the AP English Literature exam who hasn’t benefited from creating even a rough outline. This is the place where your reasoning and organization come alive. We recommend devoting 5-7 minutes to your outline—the lower end if you’re confident you know the text inside and out and just need to nail down your claims and evidence, and the higher end if you need to jog your memory and give your thesis a bit more time to gestate.

What should your outline include? Keep it clear and concise. You definitely want to write your thesis; plan the topics of your body paragraphs, including potential topic sentences; and—a helpful, oft-forgotten third part—remind yourself why the work you’ve chosen is the best for the prompt. This last part won’t be formally integrated into your essay, but it’s extremely helpful as you try to stay focused and pointed while writing what can feel like an impossible broad essay.

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4. Each paragraph is a new opportunity to be creative

The third free-response prompt, and the AP Lit exam in general, is extremely structured. It can feel downright constricting. The little-known truth about the last essay is that it’s the most creative part of the whole exam. You not only get to choose the prompt, but within the roughly five-paragraph structure of the essay you’re penning, you get to be quite creative with what you say in each paragraph. There are so many ways to explain to your readers how, say, a symbol illuminates an important theme in a text. We find this knowledge incredibly liberating; paired wisely with the organization that the outline and the essay require, this creative approach can lead to a top-notch essay.

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5. Proofread, but not just for the sake of proofreading.

We’ve all been there—time is nearly up, you’ve put the period at the end of your conclusion, and now it’s time to make sure you haven’t written an incoherent jumble of nothingness. This is the last, crucial step before handing in your AP Lit exam and never reading again (just kidding!)

Because you’re so exhausted from hours of test-taking, proofreading your third free-response essay can feel like a chore—a hurdle you have to jump to reach the finish line. But it can also be an opportunity to make sure your argument, your analysis, and your claims and evidence are coherent . We don’t mean that you should restructure your thesis—there isn’t time for that, and we’re sure it’s great, anyway!—but we encourage you to make sure that every sentence is as clear, concise, and (reasonably) creative as possible. Proofreading is the time to read every sentence with a fundamental question in the back of your head: What is this sentence doing, and what are the words that form it doing? If something feels like it’s not pulling its weight, don’t hesitate—change or delete it. Now that you’ve nailed the bigger picture, you must demand only the best from the details.

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How to Write the AP Lit Prose Essay + Example

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What’s Covered

What is the ap lit prose essay, how will ap scores affect my college chances.

AP Literature and Composition (AP Lit), not to be confused with AP English Language and Composition (AP Lang), teaches students how to develop the ability to critically read and analyze literary texts. These texts include poetry, prose, and drama. Analysis is an essential component of this course and critical for the educational development of all students when it comes to college preparation. In this course, you can expect to see an added difficulty of texts and concepts, similar to the material one would see in a college literature course.

While not as popular as AP Lang, over 380,136 students took the class in 2019. However, the course is significantly more challenging, with only 49.7% of students receiving a score of three or higher on the exam. A staggeringly low 6.2% of students received a five on the exam. 

The AP Lit exam is similar to the AP Lang exam in format, but covers different subject areas. The first section is multiple-choice questions based on five short passages. There are 55 questions to be answered in 1 hour. The passages will include at least two prose fiction passages and two poetry passages and will account for 45% of your total score. All possible answer choices can be found within the text, so you don’t need to come into the exam with prior knowledge of the passages to understand the work. 

The second section contains three free-response essays to be finished in under two hours. This section accounts for 55% of the final score and includes three essay questions: the poetry analysis essay, the prose analysis essay, and the thematic analysis essay. Typically, a five-paragraph format will suffice for this type of writing. These essays are scored holistically from one to six points.

Today we will take a look at the AP Lit prose essay and discuss tips and tricks to master this section of the exam. We will also provide an example of a well-written essay for review.  

The AP Lit prose essay is the second of the three essays included in the free-response section of the AP Lit exam, lasting around 40 minutes in total. A prose passage of approximately 500 to 700 words and a prompt will be given to guide your analytical essay. Worth about 18% of your total grade, the essay will be graded out of six points depending on the quality of your thesis (0-1 points), evidence and commentary (0-4 points), and sophistication (0-1 points). 

While this exam seems extremely overwhelming, considering there are a total of three free-response essays to complete, with proper time management and practiced skills, this essay is manageable and straightforward. In order to enhance the time management aspect of the test to the best of your ability, it is essential to understand the following six key concepts.

1. Have a Clear Understanding of the Prompt and the Passage

Since the prose essay is testing your ability to analyze literature and construct an evidence-based argument, the most important thing you can do is make sure you understand the passage. That being said, you only have about 40 minutes for the whole essay so you can’t spend too much time reading the passage. Allot yourself 5-7 minutes to read the prompt and the passage and then another 3-5 minutes to plan your response.

As you read through the prompt and text, highlight, circle, and markup anything that stands out to you. Specifically, try to find lines in the passage that could bolster your argument since you will need to include in-text citations from the passage in your essay. Even if you don’t know exactly what your argument might be, it’s still helpful to have a variety of quotes to use depending on what direction you take your essay, so take note of whatever strikes you as important. Taking the time to annotate as you read will save you a lot of time later on because you won’t need to reread the passage to find examples when you are in the middle of writing. 

Once you have a good grasp on the passage and a solid array of quotes to choose from, you should develop a rough outline of your essay. The prompt will provide 4-5 bullets that remind you of what to include in your essay, so you can use these to structure your outline. Start with a thesis, come up with 2-3 concrete claims to support your thesis, back up each claim with 1-2 pieces of evidence from the text, and write a brief explanation of how the evidence supports the claim.

2. Start with a Brief Introduction that Includes a Clear Thesis Statement

Having a strong thesis can help you stay focused and avoid tangents while writing. By deciding the relevant information you want to hit upon in your essay up front, you can prevent wasting precious time later on. Clear theses are also important for the reader because they direct their focus to your essential arguments. 

In other words, it’s important to make the introduction brief and compact so your thesis statement shines through. The introduction should include details from the passage, like the author and title, but don’t waste too much time with extraneous details. Get to the heart of your essay as quick as possible. 

3. Use Clear Examples to Support Your Argument 

One of the requirements AP Lit readers are looking for is your use of evidence. In order to satisfy this aspect of the rubric, you should make sure each body paragraph has at least 1-2 pieces of evidence, directly from the text, that relate to the claim that paragraph is making. Since the prose essay tests your ability to recognize and analyze literary elements and techniques, it’s often better to include smaller quotes. For example, when writing about the author’s use of imagery or diction you might pick out specific words and quote each word separately rather than quoting a large block of text. Smaller quotes clarify exactly what stood out to you so your reader can better understand what are you saying.

Including smaller quotes also allows you to include more evidence in your essay. Be careful though—having more quotes is not necessarily better! You will showcase your strength as a writer not by the number of quotes you manage to jam into a paragraph, but by the relevance of the quotes to your argument and explanation you provide.  If the details don’t connect, they are merely just strings of details.

4. Discussion is Crucial to Connect Your Evidence to Your Argument 

As the previous tip explained, citing phrases and words from the passage won’t get you anywhere if you don’t provide an explanation as to how your examples support the claim you are making. After each new piece of evidence is introduced, you should have a sentence or two that explains the significance of this quote to the piece as a whole.

This part of the paragraph is the “So what?” You’ve already stated the point you are trying to get across in the topic sentence and shared the examples from the text, so now show the reader why or how this quote demonstrates an effective use of a literary technique by the author. Sometimes students can get bogged down by the discussion and lose sight of the point they are trying to make. If this happens to you while writing, take a step back and ask yourself “Why did I include this quote? What does it contribute to the piece as a whole?” Write down your answer and you will be good to go. 

5. Write a Brief Conclusion

While the critical part of the essay is to provide a substantive, organized, and clear argument throughout the body paragraphs, a conclusion provides a satisfying ending to the essay and the last opportunity to drive home your argument. If you run out of time for a conclusion because of extra time spent in the preceding paragraphs, do not worry, as that is not fatal to your score. 

Without repeating your thesis statement word for word, find a way to return to the thesis statement by summing up your main points. This recap reinforces the arguments stated in the previous paragraphs, while all of the preceding paragraphs successfully proved the thesis statement.

6. Don’t Forget About Your Grammar

Though you will undoubtedly be pressed for time, it’s still important your essay is well-written with correct punctuating and spelling. Many students are able to write a strong thesis and include good evidence and commentary, but the final point on the rubric is for sophistication. This criteria is more holistic than the former ones which means you should have elevated thoughts and writing—no grammatical errors. While a lack of grammatical mistakes alone won’t earn you the sophistication point, it will leave the reader with a more favorable impression of you. 

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Here are Nine Must-have Tips and Tricks to Get a Good Score on the Prose Essay:

  • Carefully read, review, and underline key instruction s in the prompt.
  • Briefly outlin e what you want to cover in your essay.
  • Be sure to have a clear thesis that includes the terms mentioned in the instructions, literary devices, tone, and meaning.
  • Include the author’s name and title  in your introduction. Refer to characters by name.
  • Quality over quantity when it comes to picking quotes! Better to have a smaller number of more detailed quotes than a large amount of vague ones.
  • Fully explain how each piece of evidence supports your thesis .  
  • Focus on the literary techniques in the passage and avoid summarizing the plot. 
  • Use transitions to connect sentences and paragraphs.
  • Keep your introduction and conclusion short, and don’t repeat your thesis verbatim in your conclusion.

Here is an example essay from 2020 that received a perfect 6:

[1] In this passage from a 1912 novel, the narrator wistfully details his childhood crush on a girl violinist. Through a motif of the allure of musical instruments, and abundant sensory details that summon a vivid image of the event of their meeting, the reader can infer that the narrator was utterly enraptured by his obsession in the moment, and upon later reflection cannot help but feel a combination of amusement and a resummoning of the moment’s passion. 

[2] The overwhelming abundance of hyper-specific sensory details reveals to the reader that meeting his crush must have been an intensely powerful experience to create such a vivid memory. The narrator can picture the “half-dim church”, can hear the “clear wail” of the girl’s violin, can see “her eyes almost closing”, can smell a “faint but distinct fragrance.” Clearly, this moment of discovery was very impactful on the boy, because even later he can remember the experience in minute detail. However, these details may also not be entirely faithful to the original experience; they all possess a somewhat mysterious quality that shows how the narrator may be employing hyperbole to accentuate the girl’s allure. The church is “half-dim”, the eyes “almost closing” – all the details are held within an ethereal state of halfway, which also serves to emphasize that this is all told through memory. The first paragraph also introduces the central conciet of music. The narrator was drawn to the “tones she called forth” from her violin and wanted desperately to play her “accompaniment.” This serves the double role of sensory imagery (with the added effect of music being a powerful aural image) and metaphor, as the accompaniment stands in for the narrator’s true desire to be coupled with his newfound crush. The musical juxtaposition between the “heaving tremor of the organ” and the “clear wail” of her violin serves to further accentuate how the narrator percieved the girl as above all other things, as high as an angel. Clearly, the memory of his meeting his crush is a powerful one that left an indelible impact on the narrator. 

[3] Upon reflecting on this memory and the period of obsession that followed, the narrator cannot help but feel amused at the lengths to which his younger self would go; this is communicated to the reader with some playful irony and bemused yet earnest tone. The narrator claims to have made his “first and last attempts at poetry” in devotion to his crush, and jokes that he did not know to be “ashamed” at the quality of his poetry. This playful tone pokes fun at his childhood self for being an inexperienced poet, yet also acknowledges the very real passion that the poetry stemmed from. The narrator goes on to mention his “successful” endeavor to conceal his crush from his friends and the girl; this holds an ironic tone because the narrator immediately admits that his attempts to hide it were ill-fated and all parties were very aware of his feelings. The narrator also recalls his younger self jumping to hyperbolic extremes when imagining what he would do if betrayed by his love, calling her a “heartless jade” to ironically play along with the memory. Despite all this irony, the narrator does also truly comprehend the depths of his past self’s infatuation and finds it moving. The narrator begins the second paragraph with a sentence that moves urgently, emphasizing the myriad ways the boy was obsessed. He also remarks, somewhat wistfully, that the experience of having this crush “moved [him] to a degree which now [he] can hardly think of as possible.” Clearly, upon reflection the narrator feels a combination of amusement at the silliness of his former self and wistful respect for the emotion that the crush stirred within him. 

[4] In this passage, the narrator has a multifaceted emotional response while remembering an experience that was very impactful on him. The meaning of the work is that when we look back on our memories (especially those of intense passion), added perspective can modify or augment how those experiences make us feel

More essay examples, score sheets, and commentaries can be found at College Board .

While AP Scores help to boost your weighted GPA, or give you the option to get college credit, AP Scores don’t have a strong effect on your admissions chances . However, colleges can still see your self-reported scores, so you might not want to automatically send scores to colleges if they are lower than a 3. That being said, admissions officers care far more about your grade in an AP class than your score on the exam.

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how to write a q3 essay for ap lit

How to Write the AP Lit Prose Essay with Examples

March 30, 2024

ap lit prose essay examples

AP Lit Prose Essay Examples – The College Board’s Advanced Placement Literature and Composition Course is one of the most enriching experiences that high school students can have. It exposes you to literature that most people don’t encounter until college , and it helps you develop analytical and critical thinking skills that will enhance the quality of your life, both inside and outside of school. The AP Lit Exam reflects the rigor of the course. The exam uses consistent question types, weighting, and scoring parameters each year . This means that, as you prepare for the exam, you can look at previous questions, responses, score criteria, and scorer commentary to help you practice until your essays are perfect.

What is the AP Lit Free Response testing? 

In AP Literature, you read books, short stories, and poetry, and you learn how to commit the complex act of literary analysis . But what does that mean? Well, “to analyze” literally means breaking a larger idea into smaller and smaller pieces until the pieces are small enough that they can help us to understand the larger idea. When we’re performing literary analysis, we’re breaking down a piece of literature into smaller and smaller pieces until we can use those pieces to better understand the piece of literature itself.

So, for example, let’s say you’re presented with a passage from a short story to analyze. The AP Lit Exam will ask you to write an essay with an essay with a clear, defensible thesis statement that makes an argument about the story, based on some literary elements in the short story. After reading the passage, you might talk about how foreshadowing, allusion, and dialogue work together to demonstrate something essential in the text. Then, you’ll use examples of each of those three literary elements (that you pull directly from the passage) to build your argument. You’ll finish the essay with a conclusion that uses clear reasoning to tell your reader why your argument makes sense.

AP Lit Prose Essay Examples (Continued)

But what’s the point of all of this? Why do they ask you to write these essays?

Well, the essay is, once again, testing your ability to conduct literary analysis. However, the thing that you’re also doing behind that literary analysis is a complex process of both inductive and deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning takes a series of points of evidence and draws a larger conclusion. Deductive reasoning departs from the point of a broader premise and draws a singular conclusion. In an analytical essay like this one, you’re using small pieces of evidence to draw a larger conclusion (your thesis statement) and then you’re taking your thesis statement as a larger premise from which you derive your ultimate conclusion.

So, the exam scorers are looking at your ability to craft a strong thesis statement (a singular sentence that makes an argument), use evidence and reasoning to support that argument, and then to write the essay well. This is something they call “sophistication,” but they’re looking for well-organized thoughts carried through clear, complete sentences.

This entire process is something you can and will use throughout your life. Law, engineering, medicine—whatever pursuit, you name it—utilizes these forms of reasoning to run experiments, build cases, and persuade audiences. The process of this kind of clear, analytical thinking can be honed, developed, and made easier through repetition.

Practice Makes Perfect

Because the AP Literature Exam maintains continuity across the years, you can pull old exam copies, read the passages, and write responses. A good AP Lit teacher is going to have you do this time and time again in class until you have the formula down. But, it’s also something you can do on your own, if you’re interested in further developing your skills.

AP Lit Prose Essay Examples 

Let’s take a look at some examples of questions, answers and scorer responses that will help you to get a better idea of how to craft your own AP Literature exam essays.

In the exam in 2023, students were asked to read a poem by Alice Cary titled “Autumn,” which was published in 1874. In it, the speaker contemplates the start of autumn. Then, students are asked to craft a well-written essay which uses literary techniques to convey the speaker’s complex response to the changing seasons.

The following is an essay that received a perfect 6 on the exam. There are grammar and usage errors throughout the essay, which is important to note: even though the writer makes some mistakes, the structure and form of their argument was strong enough to merit a 6. This is what your scorers will be looking for when they read your essay.

Example Essay 

Romantic and hyperbolic imagery is used to illustrate the speaker’s unenthusiastic opinion of the coming of autumn, which conveys Cary’s idea that change is difficult to accept but necessary for growth.

Romantic imagery is utilized to demonstrate the speaker’s warm regard for the season of summer and emphasize her regretfulness for autumn’s coming, conveying the uncomfortable change away from idyllic familiarity. Summer, is portrayed in the image of a woman who “from her golden collar slips/and strays through stubble fields/and moans aloud.” Associated with sensuality and wealth, the speaker implies the interconnection between a season and bounty, comfort, and pleasure. Yet, this romantic view is dismantled by autumn, causing Summer to “slip” and “stray through stubble fields.” Thus, the coming of real change dethrones a constructed, romantic personification of summer,  conveying the speaker’s reluctance for her ideal season to be dethroned by something much less decorated and adored.

Summer, “she lies on pillows of the yellow leaves,/ And tries the old tunes for over an hour”, is contrasted with bright imagery of fallen leaves/ The juxtaposition between Summer’s character and the setting provides insight into the positivity of change—the yellow leaves—by its contrast with the failures of attempting to sustain old habits or practices, “old tunes”. “She lies on pillows” creates a sympathetic, passive image of summer in reaction to the coming of Autumn, contrasting her failures to sustain “old tunes.” According to this, it is understood that the speaker recognizes the foolishness of attempting to prevent what is to come, but her wishfulness to counter the natural progression of time.

Hyperbolic imagery displays the discrepancies between unrealistic, exaggerated perceptions of change and the reality of progress, continuing the perpetuation of Cary’s idea that change must be embraced rather than rejected. “Shorter and shorter now the twilight clips/The days, as though the sunset gates they crowd”, syntax and diction are used to literally separate different aspects of the progression of time. In an ironic parallel to the literal language, the action of twilight’s “clip” and the subject, “the days,” are cut off from each other into two different lines, emphasizing a sense of jarring and discomfort. Sunset, and Twilight are named, made into distinct entities from the day, dramatizing the shortening of night-time into fall. The dramatic, sudden implications for the change bring to mind the switch between summer and winter, rather than a transitional season like fall—emphasizing the Speaker’s perspective rather than a factual narration of the experience.

She says “the proud meadow-pink hangs down her head/Against the earth’s chilly bosom, witched with frost”. Implying pride and defeat, and the word “witched,” the speaker brings a sense of conflict, morality, and even good versus evil into the transition between seasons. Rather than a smooth, welcome change, the speaker is practically against the coming of fall. The hyperbole present in the poem serves to illustrate the Speaker’s perspective and ideas on the coming of fall, which are characterized by reluctance and hostility to change from comfort.

The topic of this poem, Fall–a season characterized by change and the deconstruction of the spring and summer landscape—is juxtaposed with the final line which evokes the season of Spring. From this, it is clear that the speaker appreciates beautiful and blossoming change. However, they resent that which destroys familiar paradigms and norms. Fall, seen as the death of summer, is characterized as a regression, though the turning of seasons is a product of the literal passage of time. Utilizing romantic imagery and hyperbole to shape the Speaker’s perspective, Cary emphasizes the need to embrace change though it is difficult, because growth is not possible without hardship or discomfort.

Scoring Criteria: Why did this essay do so well? 

When it comes to scoring well, there are some rather formulaic things that the judges are searching for. You might think that it’s important to “stand out” or “be creative” in your writing. However, aside from concerns about “sophistication,” which essentially means you know how to organize thoughts into sentences and you can use language that isn’t entirely elementary, you should really focus on sticking to a form. This will show the scorers that you know how to follow that inductive/deductive reasoning process that we mentioned earlier, and it will help to present your ideas in the most clear, coherent way possible to someone who is reading and scoring hundreds of essays.

So, how did this essay succeed? And how can you do the same thing?

First: The Thesis 

On the exam, you can either get one point or zero points for your thesis statement. The scorers said, “The essay responds to the prompt with a defensible thesis located in the introductory paragraph,” which you can read as the first sentence in the essay. This is important to note: you don’t need a flowery hook to seduce your reader; you can just start this brief essay with some strong, simple, declarative sentences—or go right into your thesis.

What makes a good thesis? A good thesis statement does the following things:

  • Makes a claim that will be supported by evidence
  • Is specific and precise in its use of language
  • Argues for an original thought that goes beyond a simple restating of the facts

If you’re sitting here scratching your head wondering how you come up with a thesis statement off the top of your head, let me give you one piece of advice: don’t.

The AP Lit scoring criteria gives you only one point for the thesis for a reason: they’re just looking for the presence of a defensible claim that can be proven by evidence in the rest of the essay.

Second: Write your essay from the inside out 

While the thesis is given one point, the form and content of the essay can receive anywhere from zero to four points. This is where you should place the bulk of your focus.

My best advice goes like this:

  • Choose your evidence first
  • Develop your commentary about the evidence
  • Then draft your thesis statement based on the evidence that you find and the commentary you can create.

It will seem a little counterintuitive: like you’re writing your essay from the inside out. But this is a fundamental skill that will help you in college and beyond. Don’t come up with an argument out of thin air and then try to find evidence to support your claim. Look for the evidence that exists and then ask yourself what it all means. This will also keep you from feeling stuck or blocked at the beginning of the essay. If you prepare for the exam by reviewing the literary devices that you learned in the course and practice locating them in a text, you can quickly and efficiently read a literary passage and choose two or three literary devices that you can analyze.

Third: Use scratch paper to quickly outline your evidence and commentary 

Once you’ve located two or three literary devices at work in the given passage, use scratch paper to draw up a quick outline. Give each literary device a major bullet point. Then, briefly point to the quotes/evidence you’ll use in the essay. Finally, start to think about what the literary device and evidence are doing together. Try to answer the question: what meaning does this bring to the passage?

A sample outline for one paragraph of the above essay might look like this:

Romantic imagery

Portrayal of summer

  • Woman who “from her golden collar… moans aloud”
  • Summer as bounty

Contrast with Autumn

  • Autumn dismantles Summer
  • “Stray through stubble fields”
  • Autumn is change; it has the power to dethrone the romance of Summer/make summer a bit meaningless

Recognition of change in a positive light

  • Summer “lies on pillows / yellow leaves / tries old tunes”
  • Bright imagery/fallen leaves
  • Attempt to maintain old practices fails: “old tunes”
  • But! There is sympathy: “lies on pillows”

Speaker recognizes: she can’t prevent what is to come; wishes to embrace natural passage of time

By the time the writer gets to the end of the outline for their paragraph, they can easily start to draw conclusions about the paragraph based on the evidence they have pulled out. You can see how that thinking might develop over the course of the outline.

Then, the speaker would take the conclusions they’ve drawn and write a “mini claim” that will start each paragraph. The final bullet point of this outline isn’t the same as the mini claim that comes at the top of the second paragraph of the essay, however, it is the conclusion of the paragraph. You would do well to use the concluding thoughts from your outline as the mini claim to start your body paragraph. This will make your paragraphs clear, concise, and help you to construct a coherent argument.

Repeat this process for the other one or two literary devices that you’ve chosen to analyze, and then: take a step back.

Fourth: Draft your thesis 

Once you quickly sketch out your outline, take a moment to “stand back” and see what you’ve drafted. You’ll be able to see that, among your two or three literary devices, you can draw some commonality. You might be able to say, as the writer did here, that romantic and hyperbolic imagery “illustrate the speaker’s unenthusiastic opinion of the coming of autumn,” ultimately illuminating the poet’s idea “that change is difficult to accept but necessary for growth.”

This is an original argument built on the evidence accumulated by the student. It directly answers the prompt by discussing literary techniques that “convey the speaker’s complex response to the changing seasons.” Remember to go back to the prompt and see what direction they want you to head with your thesis, and craft an argument that directly speaks to that prompt.

Then, move ahead to finish your body paragraphs and conclusion.

Fifth: Give each literary device its own body paragraph 

In this essay, the writer examines the use of two literary devices that are supported by multiple pieces of evidence. The first is “romantic imagery” and the second is “hyperbolic imagery.” The writer dedicates one paragraph to each idea. You should do this, too.

This is why it’s important to choose just two or three literary devices. You really don’t have time to dig into more. Plus, more ideas will simply cloud the essay and confuse your reader.

Using your outline, start each body paragraph with a “mini claim” that makes an argument about what it is you’ll be saying in your paragraph. Lay out your pieces of evidence, then provide commentary for why your evidence proves your point about that literary device.

Move onto the next literary device, rinse, and repeat.

Sixth: Commentary and Conclusion 

Finally, you’ll want to end this brief essay with a concluding paragraph that restates your thesis, briefly touches on your most important points from each body paragraph, and includes a development of the argument that you laid out in the essay.

In this particular example essay, the writer concludes by saying, “Utilizing romantic imagery and hyperbole to shape the Speaker’s perspective, Cary emphasizes the need to embrace change though it is difficult, because growth is not possible without hardship or discomfort.” This is a direct restatement of the thesis. At this point, you’ll have reached the end of your essay. Great work!

Seventh: Sophistication 

A final note on scoring criteria: there is one point awarded to what the scoring criteria calls “sophistication.” This is evidenced by the sophistication of thought and providing a nuanced literary analysis, which we’ve already covered in the steps above.

There are some things to avoid, however:

  • Sweeping generalizations, such as, “From the beginning of human history, people have always searched for love,” or “Everyone goes through periods of darkness in their lives, much like the writer of this poem.”
  • Only hinting at possible interpretations instead of developing your argument
  • Oversimplifying your interpretation
  • Or, by contrast, using overly flowery or complex language that does not meet your level of preparation or the context of the essay.

Remember to develop your argument with nuance and complexity and to write in a style that is academic but appropriate for the task at hand.

If you want more practice or to check out other exams from the past, go to the College Board’s website .

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Brittany Borghi

After earning a BA in Journalism and an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa, Brittany spent five years as a full-time lecturer in the Rhetoric Department at the University of Iowa. Additionally, she’s held previous roles as a researcher, full-time daily journalist, and book editor. Brittany’s work has been featured in The Iowa Review, The Hopkins Review, and the Pittsburgh City Paper, among others, and she was also a 2021 Pushcart Prize nominee.

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Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, suggestions for tackling ap lang q3.

I'm having some trouble with the Q3 essay in AP Lang, and I could use some advice. What strategies do you guys use to tackle this part of the exam, and how do you develop your main argument?

When approaching the Q3 essay on the AP Lang exam, it's important to keep a few key strategies in mind. Here's a step-by-step process that should help in tackling this part of the exam:

1. Carefully read the prompt: Take your time to understand what you are being asked to do in the essay. The prompt typically provides a statement or a quotation and asks you to take a position on the topic. Make a note of any particular keywords or phrases that can help guide your argument.

2. Develop a clear thesis: Once you understand the prompt, create a concise thesis statement that clearly reflects your position on the topic. Remember, your thesis should be focused and specific.

3. Plan your supporting points: Before you start writing, it's a good idea to brainstorm 2-3 supporting points that validate your thesis. This will ensure that your argument remains structured and organized throughout the essay.

4. Use evidence: To elevate your Q3 essay, provide specific evidence (literary or historical) to back up your supporting points. Be selective with your examples and ensure they directly relate to your thesis.

5. Address counterarguments: Top-scoring Q3 essays usually address potential counterarguments. By respectfully acknowledging opposing viewpoints and explaining why your argument still holds, you demonstrate a deeper understanding of the topic and give your own view more credibility.

6. Write a strong introduction: Start your essay with a hook that captures the reader's attention and introduce your thesis. Set the stage for the rest of your essay by providing context or a brief preview of your arguments.

7. Develop clear body paragraphs: Organize your essay in a logical manner, with each body paragraph focusing on one supporting point. Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that clearly states the point you'll be making, followed by your evidence and analysis.

8. Write a persuasive conclusion: Sum up your main points and restate your thesis in different words. End your essay by providing a broader perspective on the topic or a call to action.

9. Edit for clarity and style: After completing your essay, proofread it carefully for grammatical or spelling errors. Also, ensure that your essay flows smoothly and that you've used appropriate transitions between paragraphs.

10. Practice, practice, practice: The more you practice writing Q3 essays, the more comfortable and confident you'll feel on test day. Use past prompts from the College Board and read high-scoring sample essays to familiarize yourself with what's expected. You can also ask your teacher if they have any resources that have helped students earn high scores in the past.

By following these steps and dedicating time to practice, you'll be able to enhance your skills in composing a compelling Q3 essay for your AP Lang exam. Finally, if you want further guidance, consider checking out CollegeVine's blog post breaking down how to successfully write this kind of essay: https://blog.collegevine.com/how-to-write-the-ap-lang-argument-essay.

About CollegeVine’s Expert FAQ

CollegeVine’s Q&A seeks to offer informed perspectives on commonly asked admissions questions. Every answer is refined and validated by our team of admissions experts to ensure it resonates with trusted knowledge in the field.

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  22. Suggestions for tackling AP Lang Q3?

    When approaching the Q3 essay on the AP Lang exam, it's important to keep a few key strategies in mind. Here's a step-by-step process that should help in tackling this part of the exam: 1. Carefully read the prompt: Take your time to understand what you are being asked to do in the essay. The prompt typically provides a statement or a quotation and asks you to take a position on the topic.

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