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The essay section of the AP English Language and Composition exam, also called the free-response section, requires you to write three essays. As of May 2007, you're given 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete the essays. (This includes an extra 15 minutes exclusively for reading the passages for the synthesis essay.) The suggested time for writing each essay is 40 minutes. You must complete all three essays within the 2-hour writing time limit. You must write an essay on each of the three essay topics; you have no alternative choices. Each of the three essays is equally weighted at one-third of the total essay score, and the total for the essay portion equals 55% of the entire AP test score. You're given an essay-writing booklet in which to write your essays; the actual test booklet includes some blank space to plan your essays.
A variation of the argument essay, the synthesis essay, debuted in 2007. For this essay, you're given six or seven passages. Each passage is approximately 200 to 350 words in length; however, one of the passages is likely to be a visual document, such as a picture, an editorial cartoon, a graph or chart, and so on. Because of the increased amount of reading, the test development committee has added 15 minutes to the essay section. You will be instructed to read the passages for this essay first, and then open your test booklet to read the essay questions. In other words, you get 15 additional minutes to do the estra reading that the synthesis essay presents, then, when you open your test book, you still have 2 hours to read the other essay prompts and write all three essays. In the synthesis essay, your task is to present an argument that synthesizes information from at least half of the given sources and explores your position on the issues, using appropriate evidence to back up your ideas. In the second argument essay you have only one source to analyze.
A second essay type gives you just a single passage and ask you to form an argument on the validity of the passage's ideas. This topic is similar to the synthesis essay in that it asks you to present an argument, but it differs by having only one source to read, instead of the multiple passages in the synthesis essay. Therefore, these two essays are classified as "argument" essays. You'll want to support your position with examples and ideas from the passage, and add appropriate evidence from your education and knowledge of the world's events.
The third essay type requires you to analyze the rhetoric of a passage and understand an author's rhetorical purpose. You'll want to discuss both the author's point and what the author intends the reader to do with it. Although style analysis is indeed one component of this rhetorical analysis, this essay requires that you go beyond style alone and explore the author's ideas in greater depth. You'll want to analyze the breadth of rhetorical strategies the author uses.
This section tests your ability to demonstrate an understanding of how language works while simultaneously demonstrating your ability to communicate intelligent ideas in essay form. You should read the prose passages very carefully and then quickly articulate ideas, because each essay should be written in approximately 40 minutes. Your discussion of such literary aspects as tone, attitude, and persuasion is essential to earning a good score.
Basic Skills Necessary
The basic skill you need for the essay section is the ability to articulate and prove a thesis through concrete examples. You must be able to write on any assigned subject. Your paragraphs should be well developed, your overall essay organization should make sense, and your writing should demonstrate college-level thinking and style. The basic writing format of presenting an introduction, body, and conclusion is helpful, but to achieve a high score, you must demonstrate depth of thought. Overall, you must show that you can read the question (and any subsequent passages) carefully, plan an intelligent thesis, organize and present valid and sufficient evidence while connecting such evidence to the thesis, and demonstrate college-level skill with your own language.
Each essay topic has its own wording and, therefore, its own directions, but general instructions are printed on the cover of the essay booklet. Although each essay topic has its own specific requirements, use these general suggestions for all of your essays:
Use the test booklet to plan your essay. A poorly planned or an unplanned essay frequently reveals problems in organization and development.
Practice frequently so that you're comfortable with the timing.
Become familiar with the types of topics and comfortable with writing in a variety of modes.
Organize your ideas logically, and be careful to stay on the topic.
Write as legibly as possible; the readers want to be able to read your essay.
Remember the following as you practice writing the essay:
Use the standard format with an introduction, body, and conclusion, but do not force a formulaic and overly predictable five-paragraph essay.
Clearly divide ideas into separate paragraphs; clearly indent the paragraphs.
Stay on topic; avoid irrelevant comments or ideas.
Use sophisticated diction and sentences with syntactic variety.
Be organized and logical in your presentation.
Be sure to address all of the tasks the essay question requires.