Writing is central to the AP English courses and exams. Both courses have two goals: to provide you with opportunities to become skilled, mature, critical readers, and to help you to develop into practiced, logical, clear, and honest writers. In AP English, writing is taught as “process”—that is, thinking, planning, drafting the text, then reviewing, discussing, redrafting, editing, polishing, and finishing it. It’s also important that AP students learn to write “on call” or “on demand.” Learning to write critical or expository essays on call takes time and practice.
Here are some key guidelines to remember in learning to write a critical essay:
- Take time to organize your ideas.
- Make pertinent use of the text given to you to analyze.
- Quote judiciously from the text to support your observations.
- Be logical in your exposition of ideas.
If you acquire these skills—organizing ideas, marshalling evidence, being logical in analysis, and using the text judiciously—you should have little trouble writing your essays on the AP Exam. Practice in other kinds of writing—narrative, argument, exposition, and personal writing—all have their place alongside practice in writing on demand.
As you study and practice writing, consider the following points.
Reading directly influences writing skills and habits.
Reading and writing are intertwined. When you read what published authors have written you are immersed not just in their ideas, but in the pulsing of their sentences and the aptness of their diction. The more you read, the more that the rhythm of the English language will be available to influence your writing. Reading is not a substitute for writing, but it does help lay the foundation that makes good writing possible.
Writing is fun.
When you have penned what you think is a great sentence or a clean, logical paragraph, read it over to yourself out loud. Enjoy it. Delight in the ideas, savor the diction, and let the phrases and clauses roll around in your mind. Claim it as part of yourself. You may discover you have a voice worthy of respect.
A tip from E. M. Forster
He is reputed to have said that he never knew clearly what it was he thought until he spoke it; and once he had said it, he never knew clearly what it was that he said until he had written it down. Then, Forster noted, he could play with it and give it final form. Be like Forster: think, speak, write, analyze your writing, then give it final shape.
Write purposefully with rhetorical awareness.
When you write, fashion your text with awareness of key rhetorical elements. What is the message of your text? How do you intend to convey your message to your particular audience? Give shape to your thinking with language that enlightens your readers and lets you achieve your aims.
Pay close attention to the task verbs used in the free-response questions. Each one directs you to complete a specific type of response. Here are the task verbs you’ll see on the exam:
- Analyze: Examine methodically and in detail the structure of the topic of the question for purposes of interpretation and explanation.
- Argue your position: Formulate a claim and support it with evidence.
- Read: Look at or view printed directions and provided passages.
- Synthesize: Combine different perspectives from sources to form a support of a coherent position.
- Write: Produce a response in writing.