AP English Literature & Composition

Writing About Literature

[overview of essays] [writing log assignment] [critical essay analysis directions] [links for help with specific writing tasks] [writing tips] [ms hogue's editing marks and explanations]

A short essay on AP essays

A visual guide to AP essays PDF

Essay Planning Guide PDF

AP Scoring Model

Six Trait & AP Rubric PDF

AP Scorecard PDF


Overview of Essays

There are 12 essays assigned for the year. Two are an analysis of a critical essay. Three are actual AP prompts from previous tests. The remainder are AP-like prompts that connect to the literature we read. Each of these essays help students develop their skills in writing about literature. Essays are 50 points each. See the essay summary in the syllabus.

Writing Log Assignment

To help students improve consistently in their writing over the year, each student will keep a writing log in a binder that will show progress and areas needing improvement. The most important aspect of the log, however, is that it engages the student in the process of thinking about writing.

For the log, get a binder (1" is preferred, not larger) and begin collecting the documents for each of the 10 "regular" essays (you do not need to put your critical essay responses in this log. Keep all essays in chronological order (first to last), separated by a sheet of colored paper or a tab divider for each essay. The divider page should be labeled with the name of the essay (or main topic/novel). All documents should be full pages. (So if the writing prompt was given on a small piece of paper, tape it or staple it to a full sheet).

The writing log is due near the end of  each semester and is worth 50 points each time.

The binder must have these documents in the beginning:

  • copy of the AP scoring rubric

  • copy of Ms. Hogue's editing marks and explanations

  • copy of the directions for the writing log and requirements

  • grade and comment sheet

Documents needed for each of 10 essays:

--a page with the prompt attached

--all drafts of the essay (including teacher comments)

--any prewriting or processing notes you made for yourself

--log comments.  The point of this part is for you to discuss with yourself the strengths and weaknesses of your writing. Answer several of these questions for each essay:

  • What problems (if any) did I have in understanding the prompt? Explain.

  • What was my "so what?" point? Remember, "so what" refers to the main idea the writer was trying to communicate as you see it. It is the idea that is universal, timeless, and human. It is what we can learn more about ourselves by understanding. Your thesis statement is NOT your "so what."

  • How was my CSE? What could I have done better?

  • Where lapses in organization occurred, what was the cause?

  • Have I introduced my quotations carefully, giving context and weaving them in grammatically and logically?

  • What do I need to take from the teacher's comments for this essay to work on for next time? How do I plan to do that?

  • What did I do better this time (or worse) than last time?

  • If I have chosen to revise this essay, what do I plan to do differently. What significant changes will make the essay much improved over the first draft?

  • What else have I learned about myself as a writer from this essay?

  • Do I have a need for teacher conference? Write down what you need to discuss and make an appointment. After the conference, record what was discussed and what you plan to take from the discussion to improve your writing.

  • More questions

  • Review the writing about literature section in Perrine often so that you start thinking about writing about literature as the book wisely suggests you do.

Critical Essay Analysis Directions

After reading a critical essay on a work you have read either this year or last year, write an analysis of the essay in which you

  1. Identify and explain the author's thesis. In other words, restate his or her thesis as written and then put it in your own words with more explanation if needed. Include this information in your opening paragraph in which you also give the name of the essay and the author. Make a smooth transition to the next paragraph.

  2. Show how the author supported this thesis. This is the longest part of your analysis. There is not just one way to organize these paragraphs, but a good suggestion is to give his/her main supporting points and how she/he supported them in some logical order, perhaps even giving each main point its own paragraph. So, you could have three to four paragraphs in this section. Be sure that you are showing how the thesis was supported. You will use tags like (say the author's name is Mary Brown) "Brown believes," "Brown explains," "Brown gives the example," etc.

  3. Finally, end with a paragraph in which you do one of two things:

  • Say whether or not you agree with the author's thesis and give solid, text-based reasons for your opinion.

  • Say how reading this essay gave you new insight into the work. Explain clearly how and in what ways.

These analyses are not typical 5 paragraph essays. Do not add superfluous paragraphs. Develop each paragraph fully according to directions. Proofread before handing in. Also, be sure that you understand what you've written. And, ask yourself if someone else will understand what you've written. These essays are worth 50 points each.

Setting up the assignment

You do not need a title page. See the FSSH for composition format.  Your analysis also needs its own title (not a label like Critical Analysis of John Smith's essay on Catcher in the Rye). After the title, include the bibliographic information for your essay. Follow MLA style. Skip two spaces and begin your analysis.

Grading rubric for critical essay analysis essay

Links to help with specific writing tasks

Writing Tips

Never, Never List

  • Never begin a sentence with a pronoun.

  • Never begin a paragraph with a pronoun.

  • Never start a sentence with the word "me," which is, of course, also a pronoun.

  • Never use a word you don't know the meaning of or a word that is not comfortable for you to use (especially if your purpose is to impress instead of explain).

  • Never ramble. Keep a tight check on your digression. If you find yourself out there in ramble-land, rein in your brain--stay focused on the main idea.

  • Use sentence fragments, even for effect, in scholarly writing.

  • Never "suck up" to the writer by stating how great he or she is. It is unlikely that you have read everything this author has written, so your assessment of his or her work is not going to be valid anyway. And, it sounds hollow. And, it doesn't add anything to your argument. Focus on the text as if you don't know who wrote it.

Excise These Words or Phrases from your Vocabulary

  • very

  • whole (as in "the whole story" or "the whole novel")

  • the reader

Questions Good Thinkers Ask

  • Am I saying what I mean?

  • Does this make sense?

  • Have I made good connections between ideas?

  • Are my ideas logical?

Always, Always List

  • Understand the prompt.

  • Use the literary present tense. In literature, a character is living in the present.

  • Assume your reader has read the text.

  • Assume your reader has a full understanding of literary elements and conventions.

  • Focus on the text, not on a personal feeling or reaction to the text. Personal insight is important to your understanding, but ignoring the text in favor of personal response will result in an "empty" essay.

  • Learn from your mistakes. Be analytical in assessing what you do well as a writer and what you need to improve on.


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