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The AP Test’s Analytical Essay. What Every Bright Kid Should Know. The Analytical Essay. This essay asks you examine how an author uses language to make a point or achieve a purpose . You will read a passage and respond to a prompt that asks you to analyze the passage in some way. .

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the ap test s analytical essay

The AP Test’s Analytical Essay

What Every Bright Kid

Should Know

the analytical essay
The Analytical Essay
  • This essay asks you examine how an author uses language to make a point or achieve a purpose.
  • You will read a passage and respond to a prompt that asks you to analyze the passage in some way.
your 2 jobs in the essay
Your 2 Jobs in the Essay

Analysis prompts always ask students to do two things. The first requirement is to “convey the author’s purpose,” although it is important to realize that this exact phrase is not always used. Occasionally a prompt will even give a subtle hint of what purpose the students should look for and analyze.

your 2 jobs in the essay1
Your 2 Jobs in the Essay

The second task is to explain how the author achieves his or her purpose. Students will spend the bulk of their essay explaining the how, but without a clear understanding of the what (author’s purpose), the analysis will frequently amount to little more than a listing of rhetorical strategies and devices and will, therefore, not be successful. —Kevin McDonald, AP guru

let s recap
  • JOB 1: What’s the author’s purpose?
  • JOB 2: How is it achieved?
  • If you aren’t doing these things, you will get a BAD score on the essay.
  • You should give your answer to Job 1, and possibly Job 2, by the end of the first paragraph.
a bad thesis
A Bad Thesis
  • A bad thesis will omit Job 1 or Job 2 or will address them in a simplistic way.
    • BAD: “Capote expresses his view of Holcomb through diction, syntax, and imagery.” That says NOTHING.
      • No Job 1—What IS his view of Holcomb??
      • Poor Job 2—What type of diction? What’s he doing with syntax, and via which syntactical elements? What kind of imagery, and how does it serve the purpose that was (not) identified above?
a good thesis
A Good Thesis
  • A good thesis will accomplish Job 1 and Job 2 in a thorough and complex way.
    • Through his use of stylistic elements such as selection of detail, imagery, and figurative language, Capote reveals his own solemn and mysterious view of Holcomb, Kansas, while setting the stage for an imminent change.
    • Try to open your thesis with Job 2, so as to avoid a misplaced modifying phrase/clause.
a better thesis
A Better Thesis
  • An even stronger thesis will identify strategies specific to the context of the text in question.
    • JUST GOOD: Kelley communicates her outrage over child labor by means of angry diction, vivid details, and emotional appeals.
    • BETTER: Throughout Florence Kelley’s speech, she emphasizes the need to alter working conditions for young people. Repeating key concepts, introducing numerous examples of horrendous conditions and state policies, and extolling the virtues of laws curtailing the work day, Kelley develops a highly effective argument that pulls her audience into the issue and invites them to join her efforts.(P.S. A real student wrote that!)
context specific strategies
Context-Specific Strategies
  • To prevent your essay from devolving into a list of rhetorical terms with no larger purpose, try to identify strategies specificto the context and rhetorical situation of the text in question.
    • Context-specific strategies are so tailored that they could not be used in any essay other than the one you’re writing right now.
      • not just “using emotional appeals,” but “making Gertrude feel guilty for her hasty re-marriage”
      • not just “selecting details,” but “emphasizing Holcomb’s dilapidated appearance through detailed diction and selection of concrete traits”
sub purposes
  • One way to link the small-scale rhetorical devices you find in a text to the rhetor’s overall purpose (Job 1) is to think of the “sub-purposes” the rhetor needs to achieve in order to achieve the larger purpose.
  • It is often easier to see rhetorical devices as contributing to a “sub-purpose” than the overall purpose
sub purposes1
  • For example, a leader trying to rally his nation to support war against another nation (Job 1) might:
    • Demonize the other nation with violent diction or pathos appeals to fear
    • Instill in his audience a sense of pride in their nation with logos appeals to the facts of their nation’s accomplishments or high diction that describes the nation as doing important work, etc.
organizing your essay
Organizing Your Essay
  • But you can’t just do Job 1 and Job 2; you have to be organized & deliberate, producing an effective analytical text
  • A 5- (6-, 7-…) ¶ essay structure is fine, but stay away from formulaic statements.
      • “These are the ways Capote uses diction to achieve his purpose.”
    • Concluding sentences in paragraphs should add insight to what came before or preview what comes next, or they shouldn’t exist.
  • Logically order your analysis of strategies
    • e.g. if a rhetor is criticizing government policy, but also takes great pains to establish his patriotism, explain how he achieves the patriotic persona first before analyzing the criticism.
organizing your essay1
Organizing Your Essay
  • Instead of simply structuring your essay as a random 1,2,3 of rhetorical techniques, consider using a pattern of development as the overarching organizing principle.
    • e.g. Go through the essay chronologically and narrate the rhetorical process
      • Just don’t devolve into summary; it’s about what the author does, not what he says
    • Or, build your essay around some central point of comparison and contrast
      • “She doesn’t do THIS obvious thing; she does THAT unexpected thing!”
    • Or, define the author’s particular approach in the thesis, and go on to explain your definition
labeling devices and building connections
Labeling Devices and Building Connections
  • Rhetorical Strategy: anything the author does to achieve a purpose—strategies specific to a given text, PODs, all of the categories below
    • Rhetorical Device: particular terms we’ve studied—appeals, juxtaposition, tropes/schemes
      • Stylistic Device: surface features of the text
        • Trope: artful diction—hyperbole, metaphor, paradox, etc.
        • Scheme: artful syntax w/ Greek names—anaphora, antithesis...
  • The lower a term is, the less it belongs in thesis
    • Don’t build a whole ¶ around anaphora or periodic sentences; you’ll run out of meaningful analysis
    • Try instead to build connections between devices, keeping the rhetor’s purpose in mind.
      • Don’t just examine the emphatic diction; instead look at how the emphatic diction contributes to a zealous tone and why that tone is useful. Don’t just analyze the use of anaphora; instead look at how the anaphora functions to emphasize patriotism, thereby appealing to emotions (pathos).
compare contrast analysis essays
Compare/Contrast Analysis Essays
  • Some analytical prompts present two passages on a related topic and ask you to compare them with respect to purpose, approach, style, etc.
  • 2 options for organization:
    • Point-by-point: Proceed from one category of comparison to another, comparing the two texts side by side with respect to each category.
    • Subject-by-subject: Thoroughly explore one text in your essay before moving on to thoroughly explore the other. Use the same categories of comparison for each passage, ideally in the same order.
compare contrast the approach
Compare/Contrast: The Approach
  • The essay may not always say “compareandcontrast,” but if there are two passages, that is probably the goal.
  • Point of the question: to test your ability to distinguish between purposes, styles, tones, etc.
    • You will likely spend most of your time analyzing differences
  • Don’t forget about purpose!
    • Unless the 2 purposes are identical, discerning and mentioning the difference—subtle though it may be—will improve your essay and raise your score.
analytical hazards
Analytical Hazards
  • “_____ uses diction/syntax” (what kind? how?)
  • “this emphasizes the details/his point”
    • Emphasis is meaningless w/o purpose
  • “this makes it flow”
    • Everyone wants their words to “flow”
  • “evokes emotion” or “uses pathos”
    • What specific emotion and why?
  • Beware of syntax!
    • Only refers to structure and arrangement of sentences
    • will likely involve grammatical terms
      • If you can’t swim, don’t get in the pool
  • Everything you find must serve purpose!
  • Don’t just list devices. Analyze them! Give specific (quoted) examples of them!
  • 40 minutes
  • 5 minutes to read and annotate the passage
  • 10 minutes to plan:
    • What is the purpose? What strategies will you focus on? What will your thesis say? What context will you open with? How will you organize your essay?
  • 25 minutes to write