Responding to an AP Lit Prompt Composing an Essay on the AP Lit exam: The Prose Question or Question #2 on the Exam
AP Lit Essay Portion of the Exam • Part I: Multiple Choice:1 hour for 55 questions 45% of the composite score • Part II: 3 Essay questions: 2 hours 55% of the composite score: 1. Poetry Question 2. Prose Question 3. Novel/Play Question (“a moment in the novel”)
AP Lit Essay Breakdown • Intro: thesis answers the question WHAT? -What is the complex/dramatic situation here? - What did the author do to create the drama? ________________________________________________ • The body of the essay answers the question HOW? - How did the author accomplish the complexity in each the given passage or poem? - Discuss and analyzie (don’t simply identify) the effect of the devices used: structure, imagery, tone, diction, syntax.
AP Lit Exam 2010: how to read an AP essay prompt • Let’s look at the poetry question: AP Central • Instructions: Read carefully the following poem by Marilyn Nelson Waniek. Then write an essay analyzing how Waniek employs literary techniques to develop the complex meanings that the speaker attributes to “The Century Quilt.” You may wish to consider such elements as structure, imagery, and tone. Read the poem twice to yourself.
Example 1: Introduction: How do I arrive at my thesis? Step 1: What is the prompt asking you to do? e.g. If the prompt asks you to discuss the complex meanings of the century-old quilt (Waniek poem), write the definition of “complex meanings” for yourself. Step 2: Mark the prompt every time the blanket is described in a complex way: intense feeling, strangeness, contradiction, irony, hot-cold, tension-release. Step 3: Linger in the details about the many meanings of the blanket! Texturize and layer that blanket. Approach the blanket from as many angles as possible. Let the details about poem pile up. Annotate, annotate, annotate. Circle/ highlight any detail, word, or sentence that stands out about the complexity of the blanket.
Example 2: Introduction: How do I arrive at my thesis? Step 1: What is the prompt asking you to do? e.g. If the prompt asks you to discuss the attitude of the speaker, write the definition of “attitude” at the top of your paper. Step 2: Mark the prompt every time the attitude changes or is described. Step 3: Linger in the details about the attitude! Let the details about the passage or poem pile up. Annotate, annotate, annotate. Circle/ highlight any detail, word, or sentence that stands out about the speaker’s attitude. Now you’re ready to have a position and write your thesis.
Now that you’ve annotated your prompt (no more than 7-8 minutes), • decide where the major shifts are (shift=change, contradiction, irony) • and put a slash at the beginning of every MAJOR shift (remember, you’re trying to break the prompt down into manageable chunks) • What are some clues for finding shifts? • Conjunctions: although, but, yet, however, nevertheless • Punctuation marks: dashes • Time breaks/ passage of time breaks (additional space between paragraphs)
How to read an essay prompt: Tom Jones • What did the author do? • How did s/he do it? • Define the literary concept you are to write about at the top of your prompt to remind yourself of: a) what to look for in a prompt b) what to write about in response to the prompt
This is an illustration of a Victorian paragraph: a unigraph, :D, usually with a few REALLY long sentences… but we will not be intimidated! Topic sentence 2 Topic sentence 1 Topic sentence 3 Conclusion (do not write “In conclusion” but just conclude)
We always look for major shifts…Here is a poem: Again, the paper isn’t determined by stanzas or paragraphs, but the shifts!!! How many shifts in this poem? How many body paragraphs?
Let’s re-cap: In the intro, we need • The title of the literary work (what do we underline? when do we use quotations?) • Full name of the author at first; after that, only the last name • Thesis – CFC (complexity or shift, function, conjunctions) • An argument, position - NOT A FACT • C: States the main “complexity” (contradiction: hot & cold, tension/release, irony, juxtaposition, change, shift) OF THE ENTIRE PROMPT • F: Explains the “function” of the complexity/shift (What is the purpose or role of that complexity?) • C: Conjunctions or key words to help you construct the thesis: not only … but, however, yet, despite, but
Raising the level of student work • Essays scored 4 (out of 9) or lower most often result from students “dumbing down” the task. • A series of lower-scoring sample essay opening paragraphs will be projected in the next few slides. What instructions would you give these students in order to get them to engage the task more fully?
The Prompt and the Problem The following prompt can be found on Question 1 of the 2010 AP English Lit/Comp Exam: Read carefully the following poem by Marilyn Nelson Waniek. Then write an essay analyzing how Waniek employs literary techniques to develop the complex meanings that the speaker attributes to The Century Quilt. You may wish to consider such elements as structure, imagery, and tone. 2010 Q1 Sample B; score: 4
…and the Problem again… 2010 Sample A; score: 3
…and the Problem again 2010 Q1 Sample R – Score 4
What instructional questions do these low-scoring essay-openings raise? • Should students be trained to repeat the prompt in the first paragraph? • Should students be trained to organize essays around a list of literary techniques/devices? • Should the first paragraph make specific claims about the complex effect or meaning of the text? Or should it remain vague?
What important tasks are these essay writers failing to take on? • These writers don’t discuss specific “complex meanings” that the speaker attributes to The Century Quilt. • They introduce specific literary techniques without stating how these are used by the poet “to develop the complex meanings that the speaker attributes to The Century Quilt.”
What an adequate response might look like: Sample YYY; score: 9
What strategies does this highly successful student-writer use? • The first paragraph has a thesis which defines the complex meanings attributed to the quilt. • The description of the quilt’s theme or meanings respects that fact that the poem’s meaning is not static but “develops” as we read and as we deepen our understanding of the work.
What is this highly successful student-writer NOT doing? • The student does not repeat the prompt. • There is no laundry list of technical terms for literary techniques. • There is not much of a distracting “grabber”-type introduction. Nearly all of this first paragraph is about the poem; there is a brief “grabber” sentence, but it is seamlessly related to the statement of the poem’s theme (i.e.“complex meanings”).
How does the successful writer introduce the “literary techniques”? The one “technique” mentioned in ¶ 1, “symbol”, is not from the list of suggested techniques in the prompt; moreover, it is embedded in a meaningful statement about a specific idea:
A different way to succeed: 2010 Q1 Sample VVV – Score 8
Now that we have a thesis, • let’s write the Organic Essay (handout)!