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 it 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 your self. 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.
Grammar, Mechanics, and Rhetoric
Think of them as elements that you can order to clean up your ideas, to sharpen your statements, to make your words and sentences glisten and stick.
Writers and critical readers have a “technical vocabulary” they use when talking about the language of drama, poetry, and fiction. Compile a list of such words. Notice writing that uses such vocabulary. Here are some of the words you should already know: syntax, tone, rhetoric, attitude, antecedent, denouement, exposition, climax, atmosphere, voice, speaker, stock character, thesis, ideology, persuasion, paradox, allusion, ambivalence, syllogism, and aphorism.
Your teachers may specify an audience that you are supposed to keep in mind when writing a paper. Most of us in daily life are not writing for a particular person or audience, but rather for someone called “the general reader.” The general reader is someone, anyone, who possesses an average intelligence and has a fairly sound general education. This general reader is interested in the events of the day and in the world as a whole. He or she has a good measure of sympathy for humankind, appreciates the happy as well as the unhappy accidents of life. This reader also is blessed with a good sense of humor and the ability to listen to others; to writers like you, in fact. Keep the general reader in mind when you write.
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.
- Choose: Select a literary work among provided choices.
- Read: Look at or view printed directions and provided passages.