AP English Language and Composition: Pace Your Essay Writing

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CliffsNotes AP English Language and Composition With an average time of only 40 minutes per essay for your AP English Language and Composition exam, you should divide your time as follows.
  1. Spend about 10 minutes reading the topic and the passage carefully and planning your essay. This organizational time is crucial to producing a high-scoring essay. Consider following these steps:

    • Read the topic's question carefully so that you know exactly what you're being asked to do.

    • Read the passage carefully, noting what ideas, evidence, and rhetorical devices are relevant to the specific essay prompt.

    • Conceive your thesis statement, which will go in your introductory paragraph.

    • Organize your body paragraphs, deciding what evidence from the passage you'll include (using multiple passages in the synthesis essay) or what appropriate examples you'll use from your knowledge of the world.

  2. Take about 25 minutes to write the essay. If you've planned well, your writing should be fluent and continuous; avoid stopping to reread what you've written. In general, most high-scoring essays are at least two full pages of writing.

  3. Save about 5 minutes to proofread your essay. This allows you time to catch the "honest mistakes" that can be corrected easily, such as a misspelled word or punctuation error. In addition, this time lets you set the essay to rest, knowing what you've written, so that you can go on to the next topic and give it your full attention.

Writing the Essay

A traditional essay includes an introduction, body, and conclusion. The body should be made up of several paragraphs, but the introduction and conclusion require only one paragraph each.

In your introduction, make sure that you include a strong, analytical thesis statement, a sentence that explains your paper's idea and defines the scope of your essay. Also, be sure that the introduction lets the reader know that you're on topic; use key phrases from the question if necessary. The introductory paragraph should be brief-only a few sentences are necessary to state your thesis. Definitely try to avoid merely repeating the topic in your thesis; instead, let the thesis present what it is that you will specifically analyze.

The body paragraphs are the heart of the essay. Each should be guided by a topic sentence that is a relevant part of the introductory thesis statement. For rhetorical analysis essays, always supply a great deal of relevant evidence from the passage to support your ideas; feel free to quote the passage liberally. In your argument essays, provide appropriate and sufficient evidence from the passage(s) and your knowledge of the world. Prove that you are capable of intelligent "civil discourse," a discussion of important ideas. However, always be sure to connect your ideas to the thesis. Explain exactly how the evidence presented leads to your thesis. Avoid obvious commentary. A medium- to low-scoring paper merely reports what's in the passage. A high-scoring paper makes relevant, insightful, analytical points about the passage. Remember to stay on topic.

Your conclusion, like your introduction, shouldn't be longwinded or elaborate. Do attempt, however, to provide more than mere summary; try to make a point beyond the obvious, which will indicate your essay's superiority. In other words, try to address the essay's greater importance in your conclusion. Of course, you should also keep in mind that a conclusion is not absolutely necessary in order to receive a high score. Never forget that your body paragraphs are more important than the conclusion, so don't slight them merely to add a conclusion.

Remember to save a few minutes to proofread and to correct misspelled words, revise punctuation errors, and replace an occasional word or phrase with a more dynamic one. Do not make major editing changes at this time. Trust your original planning of organization and ideas, and only correct any obvious errors that you spot.

Considering Different Essay Types

In your argumentation essays, which include the synthesis essay based on multiple passages and argument essay based on one passage, you want to show that you understand the author's point(s) and can respond intelligently. Comprehending the author's point involves a three-step process: (1) clarifying the claim the author makes, (2) examining the data and evidence the author uses, and (3) understanding the underlying assumptions behind the argument. The first two steps are usually directly stated or clearly implied; understanding what the author must believe, or what the author thinks the audience believes, is a bit harder. To intelligently respond to the author's ideas, keep in mind that the AP readers and college professors are impressed by the student who can conduct "civil discourse," a discussion that fully understands all sides before taking a stand. Avoid oversimplification and remember that judgment stops discussion. Let the reader watch your ideas develop instead of jumping to a conclusion and then spending the whole essay trying to justify it. Also be aware that you don't have to take only one side in an issue. Frequently, a very good essay demonstrates understanding of multiple sides of an issue and presents a "qualifying argument" that appreciates these many sides. Show awareness of culture, history, philosophy, and politics. Prove that you are in touch with your society and the world around you. The topics give you the opportunity to intelligently discuss issues; seize that opportunity and take advantage of it.

In your rhetorical analysis essays, be sure to accurately identify rhetorical and literary devices the author employs, and then examine how they create effects and help build the author's point. Intelligent analysis explores the depth of the author's ideas and how the author's presentation enhances those ideas. Be sure you understand the author's rhetorical purpose: Is it to persuade? To satirize some fault in society? To express ideas? Then dive into the depth of the author's thoughts and enjoy how good writing enhances interesting ideas. Like the argument essays, you'll want to liberally use the text, both implicitly and explicitly. A sophisticated writer embeds phrases from the text into his or her own sentences during discussion. Avoid copying complete sentences from the text; choose just the exact word or phrase that suits your purpose and analyze it within your own sentences.