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The AP Exam. Free response questions, 1, 2, and 3. Questions 1 and 2. A reminder. The “What” and the “How”. All questions 1&2 have these two parts: The WHAT = the message, the thematic concern, the meaning of the work as a whole The HOW = the literary elements used to create meaning

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the ap exam

The AP Exam

Free response questions, 1, 2, and 3

the what and the how
The “What” and the “How”

All questions 1&2 have these two parts:

The WHAT = the message, the thematic concern, the meaning of the work as a whole

The HOW = the literary elements used to create meaning

  • The HOW might be called: literary devices, literary techniques, resources of language, narrative techniques, stylistic devices
no matter what the college board calls it
No matter what the College Board calls it…

The HOW part of the question asks you to…

  • Demonstrate your ability to identify narrative techniques and resources of language such as characterization, setting, diction, irony, imagery
  • Connect those to meaning (the WHAT)

Remember, the “what” is the question you are expected to answer!

compare question 1 with question 3
Compare question 1 with question 3

Question 1 from 2009

Question 3 from 2009

A symbol is an object, action, or event that represents something or that creates a range of associations beyond itself. In literary works a symbol can express an idea, clarify meaning, or enlarge literal meaning.

Select a novel or play and, focusing on one symbol, write an essay analyzing how that symbol functions in the work and what it reveals about the characters or themes of the work as a whole. Do not merely summarize the plot. You may choose a work from the list below or another novel or play of comparable literary merit.

  • In the following speech from Shakespeare’s play Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey considers his sudden downfall from his position as advisor to the king. Spokesmen for the king have just leftWolsey alone on stage. Read the speech carefully. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how Shakespeare uses elements such as allusion, figurative language, and toneto convey Wolsey’s complex response to his dismissal from court.
keep comparing
Keep comparing…

Question 2 from 2010

Question 3 from 2010

“You can leave home all you want, but home will never leave you.”

SonsyreaTate’s statement suggests that “home” may be conceived of as a dwelling, a place, or a state of mind. It may have positive or negative associations, but in either case, it may have a considerable influence on an individual. Choose a novel or play in which a central character leaves home yet finds that home remains significant. Write a well-developed essay in which you analyze the importance of “home” to this character and the reasons for its continuing influence. Explain how the character’s idea of home illuminates the larger meaning of the work. Choose a work from the list below or another appropriate novel or play of comparable literary merit. Do not merely summarize the plot.

The following passage is taken from the story “Cherry Bomb” by Maxine Clair. Read the passage carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze how Clair uses literary techniques to characterize the adult narrator’s memories of her fifth-grade summer world.

comparing the rubrics
Comparing the rubrics

2009, question 2

2009, question 3

9–8 These essays offer a well-focused and persuasive analysis of how a symbol functions to reveal characters or themes in a novel or play.

Using apt and specific textual support, the essays fully explore the symbol and its significance.

Although not without flaws, these essays make a strong case for their interpretation and discuss the literary work with insight and understanding.

Generally, essays scored a 9 reveal more sophisticated analysis and more effective control of language than do essays scored an 8.

  • 9-8 These essays offer a persuasive analysis of Shakespeare’s use of literary elements to convey Wolsey’s complex response to his dismissal from court. The essays offer a range of interpretations; they provide convincing readings of Wolsey’s complex response, Shakespeare’s use of literary devices, and the relationship between the two.
  • They demonstrate consistent and effective control over the elements of composition in language appropriate to the analysis of poetic speech.
  • Their textual references are apt and specific.
  • Though they may not be error-free, these essays are perceptive in their analysis and demonstrate writing that is clear and sophisticated, and in the case of an essay earning a 9, especially persuasive.
essay 3 rubric descriptors 2011
Essay #3, Rubric descriptors—2011

Upper level

Lower level


Unsupported or irrelevant

Absence of textual support

Incomplete understanding

Relies on plot summary alone

Oversimplified or repetitive

Lots of errors



Unacceptably brief

Distracting errors


Poorly written with little clarity

Super general

Little supporting evidence


  • Apt and specific textual support
  • Persuasive (makes strong case)
  • Discusses with sophisticated insights


  • Reasonable analysis
  • Less thorough, less perceptive
  • Less specific in supporting detail


  • Superficial
  • Thinly developed analysis but mostly plot summary
  • Simplistic
  • Support is too general
the typical pattern of ap q 3
The typical pattern of AP Q #3
  • The use of an opening quotation
  • If no quote, then some specific information

General pattern

1) Quote or information

2) A connection to a work of your choice

3) “Significance to the work as a whole”

so what
So what?

In the last 9 years

  • 6 of the open-ended questions involved character. (Content)
  • 5 of the open-ended questions included a quote (structure)

When you’re preparing for the AP Exam, review the characters in the novels and plays you’ve read and studied!

And, whatever you do, do not ignore the quote provided!!

reminders to help prepare for hamlet essay
Reminders to help prepare for Hamlet essay

Each and every Essay Question #3 will include a phrase like:

explain how ____ illuminates, explains, or reveals the meaning of the work as a whole. Make sure you have some ideas as to what the thematic concerns are of the play.

9-8 essays will

  • Be well focused
  • Use specific and apt textual illustrationsand support, but not direct quotations
  • Make clear the connection to meaning
  • Demonstrate the writer’s ability to analyze with insight and understanding
  • Demonstrate the writer’s ability to create, control, and develop a sound thesis.
preparing for the exam
Preparing for the Exam

Question 3—one part of the exam for which you can actually study!

preparing for question 3
Preparing for Question 3

First, be well read.

Second, review the novels and plays you have read throughout high school, both in class and on your own, by creating the novel review cards I gave you instructions for earlier.

  • From an AP grader: “A student who approaches the test with detailed knowledge of several texts will be able to make better choices. Choosing a text that suits the prompt “can lead to a better essay.”


This is probably the one part of the AP test that you really need to study for prior to the exam!

writing question number 3
Writing question number 3
  • Analyze the quotation if there is one: determine its essence.
  • Find the “What” in the prompt—this is the implied question you must answer.
  • Choose a work you know well and is well suited to the prompt. This can lead to a better essay.
  • Make sure you can articulate the work’s theme. From an AP grader: “Students who have an argument about the meaning of their chosen text can develop better analysis in relation to any prompt.”
  • Prewrite by drafting a thesis that answers the prompt
  • PLAN your response
  • Articulate your thesis and central argument early in your essay—take control and demonstrate your authority!
  • Use appropriate details to illustrate your claims, citing examples and even a few remembered quotes if you can.