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ap lit prose essay format

How to Write the AP Lit Prose Essay + Example

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What is the ap lit prose essay, how will ap scores affect my college chances.

AP Literature and Composition (AP Lit), not to be confused with AP English Language and Composition (AP Lang), teaches students how to develop the ability to critically read and analyze literary texts. These texts include poetry, prose, and drama. Analysis is an essential component of this course and critical for the educational development of all students when it comes to college preparation. In this course, you can expect to see an added difficulty of texts and concepts, similar to the material one would see in a college literature course.

While not as popular as AP Lang, over 380,136 students took the class in 2019. However, the course is significantly more challenging, with only 49.7% of students receiving a score of three or higher on the exam. A staggeringly low 6.2% of students received a five on the exam. 

The AP Lit exam is similar to the AP Lang exam in format, but covers different subject areas. The first section is multiple-choice questions based on five short passages. There are 55 questions to be answered in 1 hour. The passages will include at least two prose fiction passages and two poetry passages and will account for 45% of your total score. All possible answer choices can be found within the text, so you don’t need to come into the exam with prior knowledge of the passages to understand the work. 

The second section contains three free-response essays to be finished in under two hours. This section accounts for 55% of the final score and includes three essay questions: the poetry analysis essay, the prose analysis essay, and the thematic analysis essay. Typically, a five-paragraph format will suffice for this type of writing. These essays are scored holistically from one to six points.

Today we will take a look at the AP Lit prose essay and discuss tips and tricks to master this section of the exam. We will also provide an example of a well-written essay for review.  

The AP Lit prose essay is the second of the three essays included in the free-response section of the AP Lit exam, lasting around 40 minutes in total. A prose passage of approximately 500 to 700 words and a prompt will be given to guide your analytical essay. Worth about 18% of your total grade, the essay will be graded out of six points depending on the quality of your thesis (0-1 points), evidence and commentary (0-4 points), and sophistication (0-1 points). 

While this exam seems extremely overwhelming, considering there are a total of three free-response essays to complete, with proper time management and practiced skills, this essay is manageable and straightforward. In order to enhance the time management aspect of the test to the best of your ability, it is essential to understand the following six key concepts.

1. Have a Clear Understanding of the Prompt and the Passage

Since the prose essay is testing your ability to analyze literature and construct an evidence-based argument, the most important thing you can do is make sure you understand the passage. That being said, you only have about 40 minutes for the whole essay so you can’t spend too much time reading the passage. Allot yourself 5-7 minutes to read the prompt and the passage and then another 3-5 minutes to plan your response.

As you read through the prompt and text, highlight, circle, and markup anything that stands out to you. Specifically, try to find lines in the passage that could bolster your argument since you will need to include in-text citations from the passage in your essay. Even if you don’t know exactly what your argument might be, it’s still helpful to have a variety of quotes to use depending on what direction you take your essay, so take note of whatever strikes you as important. Taking the time to annotate as you read will save you a lot of time later on because you won’t need to reread the passage to find examples when you are in the middle of writing. 

Once you have a good grasp on the passage and a solid array of quotes to choose from, you should develop a rough outline of your essay. The prompt will provide 4-5 bullets that remind you of what to include in your essay, so you can use these to structure your outline. Start with a thesis, come up with 2-3 concrete claims to support your thesis, back up each claim with 1-2 pieces of evidence from the text, and write a brief explanation of how the evidence supports the claim.

2. Start with a Brief Introduction that Includes a Clear Thesis Statement

Having a strong thesis can help you stay focused and avoid tangents while writing. By deciding the relevant information you want to hit upon in your essay up front, you can prevent wasting precious time later on. Clear theses are also important for the reader because they direct their focus to your essential arguments. 

In other words, it’s important to make the introduction brief and compact so your thesis statement shines through. The introduction should include details from the passage, like the author and title, but don’t waste too much time with extraneous details. Get to the heart of your essay as quick as possible. 

3. Use Clear Examples to Support Your Argument 

One of the requirements AP Lit readers are looking for is your use of evidence. In order to satisfy this aspect of the rubric, you should make sure each body paragraph has at least 1-2 pieces of evidence, directly from the text, that relate to the claim that paragraph is making. Since the prose essay tests your ability to recognize and analyze literary elements and techniques, it’s often better to include smaller quotes. For example, when writing about the author’s use of imagery or diction you might pick out specific words and quote each word separately rather than quoting a large block of text. Smaller quotes clarify exactly what stood out to you so your reader can better understand what are you saying.

Including smaller quotes also allows you to include more evidence in your essay. Be careful though—having more quotes is not necessarily better! You will showcase your strength as a writer not by the number of quotes you manage to jam into a paragraph, but by the relevance of the quotes to your argument and explanation you provide.  If the details don’t connect, they are merely just strings of details.

4. Discussion is Crucial to Connect Your Evidence to Your Argument 

As the previous tip explained, citing phrases and words from the passage won’t get you anywhere if you don’t provide an explanation as to how your examples support the claim you are making. After each new piece of evidence is introduced, you should have a sentence or two that explains the significance of this quote to the piece as a whole.

This part of the paragraph is the “So what?” You’ve already stated the point you are trying to get across in the topic sentence and shared the examples from the text, so now show the reader why or how this quote demonstrates an effective use of a literary technique by the author. Sometimes students can get bogged down by the discussion and lose sight of the point they are trying to make. If this happens to you while writing, take a step back and ask yourself “Why did I include this quote? What does it contribute to the piece as a whole?” Write down your answer and you will be good to go. 

5. Write a Brief Conclusion

While the critical part of the essay is to provide a substantive, organized, and clear argument throughout the body paragraphs, a conclusion provides a satisfying ending to the essay and the last opportunity to drive home your argument. If you run out of time for a conclusion because of extra time spent in the preceding paragraphs, do not worry, as that is not fatal to your score. 

Without repeating your thesis statement word for word, find a way to return to the thesis statement by summing up your main points. This recap reinforces the arguments stated in the previous paragraphs, while all of the preceding paragraphs successfully proved the thesis statement.

6. Don’t Forget About Your Grammar

Though you will undoubtedly be pressed for time, it’s still important your essay is well-written with correct punctuating and spelling. Many students are able to write a strong thesis and include good evidence and commentary, but the final point on the rubric is for sophistication. This criteria is more holistic than the former ones which means you should have elevated thoughts and writing—no grammatical errors. While a lack of grammatical mistakes alone won’t earn you the sophistication point, it will leave the reader with a more favorable impression of you. 

ap lit prose essay format

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Here are Nine Must-have Tips and Tricks to Get a Good Score on the Prose Essay:

  • Carefully read, review, and underline key instruction s in the prompt.
  • Briefly outlin e what you want to cover in your essay.
  • Be sure to have a clear thesis that includes the terms mentioned in the instructions, literary devices, tone, and meaning.
  • Include the author’s name and title  in your introduction. Refer to characters by name.
  • Quality over quantity when it comes to picking quotes! Better to have a smaller number of more detailed quotes than a large amount of vague ones.
  • Fully explain how each piece of evidence supports your thesis .  
  • Focus on the literary techniques in the passage and avoid summarizing the plot. 
  • Use transitions to connect sentences and paragraphs.
  • Keep your introduction and conclusion short, and don’t repeat your thesis verbatim in your conclusion.

Here is an example essay from 2020 that received a perfect 6:

[1] In this passage from a 1912 novel, the narrator wistfully details his childhood crush on a girl violinist. Through a motif of the allure of musical instruments, and abundant sensory details that summon a vivid image of the event of their meeting, the reader can infer that the narrator was utterly enraptured by his obsession in the moment, and upon later reflection cannot help but feel a combination of amusement and a resummoning of the moment’s passion. 

[2] The overwhelming abundance of hyper-specific sensory details reveals to the reader that meeting his crush must have been an intensely powerful experience to create such a vivid memory. The narrator can picture the “half-dim church”, can hear the “clear wail” of the girl’s violin, can see “her eyes almost closing”, can smell a “faint but distinct fragrance.” Clearly, this moment of discovery was very impactful on the boy, because even later he can remember the experience in minute detail. However, these details may also not be entirely faithful to the original experience; they all possess a somewhat mysterious quality that shows how the narrator may be employing hyperbole to accentuate the girl’s allure. The church is “half-dim”, the eyes “almost closing” – all the details are held within an ethereal state of halfway, which also serves to emphasize that this is all told through memory. The first paragraph also introduces the central conciet of music. The narrator was drawn to the “tones she called forth” from her violin and wanted desperately to play her “accompaniment.” This serves the double role of sensory imagery (with the added effect of music being a powerful aural image) and metaphor, as the accompaniment stands in for the narrator’s true desire to be coupled with his newfound crush. The musical juxtaposition between the “heaving tremor of the organ” and the “clear wail” of her violin serves to further accentuate how the narrator percieved the girl as above all other things, as high as an angel. Clearly, the memory of his meeting his crush is a powerful one that left an indelible impact on the narrator. 

[3] Upon reflecting on this memory and the period of obsession that followed, the narrator cannot help but feel amused at the lengths to which his younger self would go; this is communicated to the reader with some playful irony and bemused yet earnest tone. The narrator claims to have made his “first and last attempts at poetry” in devotion to his crush, and jokes that he did not know to be “ashamed” at the quality of his poetry. This playful tone pokes fun at his childhood self for being an inexperienced poet, yet also acknowledges the very real passion that the poetry stemmed from. The narrator goes on to mention his “successful” endeavor to conceal his crush from his friends and the girl; this holds an ironic tone because the narrator immediately admits that his attempts to hide it were ill-fated and all parties were very aware of his feelings. The narrator also recalls his younger self jumping to hyperbolic extremes when imagining what he would do if betrayed by his love, calling her a “heartless jade” to ironically play along with the memory. Despite all this irony, the narrator does also truly comprehend the depths of his past self’s infatuation and finds it moving. The narrator begins the second paragraph with a sentence that moves urgently, emphasizing the myriad ways the boy was obsessed. He also remarks, somewhat wistfully, that the experience of having this crush “moved [him] to a degree which now [he] can hardly think of as possible.” Clearly, upon reflection the narrator feels a combination of amusement at the silliness of his former self and wistful respect for the emotion that the crush stirred within him. 

[4] In this passage, the narrator has a multifaceted emotional response while remembering an experience that was very impactful on him. The meaning of the work is that when we look back on our memories (especially those of intense passion), added perspective can modify or augment how those experiences make us feel

More essay examples, score sheets, and commentaries can be found at College Board .

While AP Scores help to boost your weighted GPA, or give you the option to get college credit, AP Scores don’t have a strong effect on your admissions chances . However, colleges can still see your self-reported scores, so you might not want to automatically send scores to colleges if they are lower than a 3. That being said, admissions officers care far more about your grade in an AP class than your score on the exam.

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How to Write the AP Lit Prose Essay with Examples

March 30, 2024

ap lit prose essay examples

AP Lit Prose Essay Examples – The College Board’s Advanced Placement Literature and Composition Course is one of the most enriching experiences that high school students can have. It exposes you to literature that most people don’t encounter until college , and it helps you develop analytical and critical thinking skills that will enhance the quality of your life, both inside and outside of school. The AP Lit Exam reflects the rigor of the course. The exam uses consistent question types, weighting, and scoring parameters each year . This means that, as you prepare for the exam, you can look at previous questions, responses, score criteria, and scorer commentary to help you practice until your essays are perfect.

What is the AP Lit Free Response testing? 

In AP Literature, you read books, short stories, and poetry, and you learn how to commit the complex act of literary analysis . But what does that mean? Well, “to analyze” literally means breaking a larger idea into smaller and smaller pieces until the pieces are small enough that they can help us to understand the larger idea. When we’re performing literary analysis, we’re breaking down a piece of literature into smaller and smaller pieces until we can use those pieces to better understand the piece of literature itself.

So, for example, let’s say you’re presented with a passage from a short story to analyze. The AP Lit Exam will ask you to write an essay with an essay with a clear, defensible thesis statement that makes an argument about the story, based on some literary elements in the short story. After reading the passage, you might talk about how foreshadowing, allusion, and dialogue work together to demonstrate something essential in the text. Then, you’ll use examples of each of those three literary elements (that you pull directly from the passage) to build your argument. You’ll finish the essay with a conclusion that uses clear reasoning to tell your reader why your argument makes sense.

AP Lit Prose Essay Examples (Continued)

But what’s the point of all of this? Why do they ask you to write these essays?

Well, the essay is, once again, testing your ability to conduct literary analysis. However, the thing that you’re also doing behind that literary analysis is a complex process of both inductive and deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning takes a series of points of evidence and draws a larger conclusion. Deductive reasoning departs from the point of a broader premise and draws a singular conclusion. In an analytical essay like this one, you’re using small pieces of evidence to draw a larger conclusion (your thesis statement) and then you’re taking your thesis statement as a larger premise from which you derive your ultimate conclusion.

So, the exam scorers are looking at your ability to craft a strong thesis statement (a singular sentence that makes an argument), use evidence and reasoning to support that argument, and then to write the essay well. This is something they call “sophistication,” but they’re looking for well-organized thoughts carried through clear, complete sentences.

This entire process is something you can and will use throughout your life. Law, engineering, medicine—whatever pursuit, you name it—utilizes these forms of reasoning to run experiments, build cases, and persuade audiences. The process of this kind of clear, analytical thinking can be honed, developed, and made easier through repetition.

Practice Makes Perfect

Because the AP Literature Exam maintains continuity across the years, you can pull old exam copies, read the passages, and write responses. A good AP Lit teacher is going to have you do this time and time again in class until you have the formula down. But, it’s also something you can do on your own, if you’re interested in further developing your skills.

AP Lit Prose Essay Examples 

Let’s take a look at some examples of questions, answers and scorer responses that will help you to get a better idea of how to craft your own AP Literature exam essays.

In the exam in 2023, students were asked to read a poem by Alice Cary titled “Autumn,” which was published in 1874. In it, the speaker contemplates the start of autumn. Then, students are asked to craft a well-written essay which uses literary techniques to convey the speaker’s complex response to the changing seasons.

The following is an essay that received a perfect 6 on the exam. There are grammar and usage errors throughout the essay, which is important to note: even though the writer makes some mistakes, the structure and form of their argument was strong enough to merit a 6. This is what your scorers will be looking for when they read your essay.

Example Essay 

Romantic and hyperbolic imagery is used to illustrate the speaker’s unenthusiastic opinion of the coming of autumn, which conveys Cary’s idea that change is difficult to accept but necessary for growth.

Romantic imagery is utilized to demonstrate the speaker’s warm regard for the season of summer and emphasize her regretfulness for autumn’s coming, conveying the uncomfortable change away from idyllic familiarity. Summer, is portrayed in the image of a woman who “from her golden collar slips/and strays through stubble fields/and moans aloud.” Associated with sensuality and wealth, the speaker implies the interconnection between a season and bounty, comfort, and pleasure. Yet, this romantic view is dismantled by autumn, causing Summer to “slip” and “stray through stubble fields.” Thus, the coming of real change dethrones a constructed, romantic personification of summer,  conveying the speaker’s reluctance for her ideal season to be dethroned by something much less decorated and adored.

Summer, “she lies on pillows of the yellow leaves,/ And tries the old tunes for over an hour”, is contrasted with bright imagery of fallen leaves/ The juxtaposition between Summer’s character and the setting provides insight into the positivity of change—the yellow leaves—by its contrast with the failures of attempting to sustain old habits or practices, “old tunes”. “She lies on pillows” creates a sympathetic, passive image of summer in reaction to the coming of Autumn, contrasting her failures to sustain “old tunes.” According to this, it is understood that the speaker recognizes the foolishness of attempting to prevent what is to come, but her wishfulness to counter the natural progression of time.

Hyperbolic imagery displays the discrepancies between unrealistic, exaggerated perceptions of change and the reality of progress, continuing the perpetuation of Cary’s idea that change must be embraced rather than rejected. “Shorter and shorter now the twilight clips/The days, as though the sunset gates they crowd”, syntax and diction are used to literally separate different aspects of the progression of time. In an ironic parallel to the literal language, the action of twilight’s “clip” and the subject, “the days,” are cut off from each other into two different lines, emphasizing a sense of jarring and discomfort. Sunset, and Twilight are named, made into distinct entities from the day, dramatizing the shortening of night-time into fall. The dramatic, sudden implications for the change bring to mind the switch between summer and winter, rather than a transitional season like fall—emphasizing the Speaker’s perspective rather than a factual narration of the experience.

She says “the proud meadow-pink hangs down her head/Against the earth’s chilly bosom, witched with frost”. Implying pride and defeat, and the word “witched,” the speaker brings a sense of conflict, morality, and even good versus evil into the transition between seasons. Rather than a smooth, welcome change, the speaker is practically against the coming of fall. The hyperbole present in the poem serves to illustrate the Speaker’s perspective and ideas on the coming of fall, which are characterized by reluctance and hostility to change from comfort.

The topic of this poem, Fall–a season characterized by change and the deconstruction of the spring and summer landscape—is juxtaposed with the final line which evokes the season of Spring. From this, it is clear that the speaker appreciates beautiful and blossoming change. However, they resent that which destroys familiar paradigms and norms. Fall, seen as the death of summer, is characterized as a regression, though the turning of seasons is a product of the literal passage of time. Utilizing romantic imagery and hyperbole to shape the Speaker’s perspective, Cary emphasizes the need to embrace change though it is difficult, because growth is not possible without hardship or discomfort.

Scoring Criteria: Why did this essay do so well? 

When it comes to scoring well, there are some rather formulaic things that the judges are searching for. You might think that it’s important to “stand out” or “be creative” in your writing. However, aside from concerns about “sophistication,” which essentially means you know how to organize thoughts into sentences and you can use language that isn’t entirely elementary, you should really focus on sticking to a form. This will show the scorers that you know how to follow that inductive/deductive reasoning process that we mentioned earlier, and it will help to present your ideas in the most clear, coherent way possible to someone who is reading and scoring hundreds of essays.

So, how did this essay succeed? And how can you do the same thing?

First: The Thesis 

On the exam, you can either get one point or zero points for your thesis statement. The scorers said, “The essay responds to the prompt with a defensible thesis located in the introductory paragraph,” which you can read as the first sentence in the essay. This is important to note: you don’t need a flowery hook to seduce your reader; you can just start this brief essay with some strong, simple, declarative sentences—or go right into your thesis.

What makes a good thesis? A good thesis statement does the following things:

  • Makes a claim that will be supported by evidence
  • Is specific and precise in its use of language
  • Argues for an original thought that goes beyond a simple restating of the facts

If you’re sitting here scratching your head wondering how you come up with a thesis statement off the top of your head, let me give you one piece of advice: don’t.

The AP Lit scoring criteria gives you only one point for the thesis for a reason: they’re just looking for the presence of a defensible claim that can be proven by evidence in the rest of the essay.

Second: Write your essay from the inside out 

While the thesis is given one point, the form and content of the essay can receive anywhere from zero to four points. This is where you should place the bulk of your focus.

My best advice goes like this:

  • Choose your evidence first
  • Develop your commentary about the evidence
  • Then draft your thesis statement based on the evidence that you find and the commentary you can create.

It will seem a little counterintuitive: like you’re writing your essay from the inside out. But this is a fundamental skill that will help you in college and beyond. Don’t come up with an argument out of thin air and then try to find evidence to support your claim. Look for the evidence that exists and then ask yourself what it all means. This will also keep you from feeling stuck or blocked at the beginning of the essay. If you prepare for the exam by reviewing the literary devices that you learned in the course and practice locating them in a text, you can quickly and efficiently read a literary passage and choose two or three literary devices that you can analyze.

Third: Use scratch paper to quickly outline your evidence and commentary 

Once you’ve located two or three literary devices at work in the given passage, use scratch paper to draw up a quick outline. Give each literary device a major bullet point. Then, briefly point to the quotes/evidence you’ll use in the essay. Finally, start to think about what the literary device and evidence are doing together. Try to answer the question: what meaning does this bring to the passage?

A sample outline for one paragraph of the above essay might look like this:

Romantic imagery

Portrayal of summer

  • Woman who “from her golden collar… moans aloud”
  • Summer as bounty

Contrast with Autumn

  • Autumn dismantles Summer
  • “Stray through stubble fields”
  • Autumn is change; it has the power to dethrone the romance of Summer/make summer a bit meaningless

Recognition of change in a positive light

  • Summer “lies on pillows / yellow leaves / tries old tunes”
  • Bright imagery/fallen leaves
  • Attempt to maintain old practices fails: “old tunes”
  • But! There is sympathy: “lies on pillows”

Speaker recognizes: she can’t prevent what is to come; wishes to embrace natural passage of time

By the time the writer gets to the end of the outline for their paragraph, they can easily start to draw conclusions about the paragraph based on the evidence they have pulled out. You can see how that thinking might develop over the course of the outline.

Then, the speaker would take the conclusions they’ve drawn and write a “mini claim” that will start each paragraph. The final bullet point of this outline isn’t the same as the mini claim that comes at the top of the second paragraph of the essay, however, it is the conclusion of the paragraph. You would do well to use the concluding thoughts from your outline as the mini claim to start your body paragraph. This will make your paragraphs clear, concise, and help you to construct a coherent argument.

Repeat this process for the other one or two literary devices that you’ve chosen to analyze, and then: take a step back.

Fourth: Draft your thesis 

Once you quickly sketch out your outline, take a moment to “stand back” and see what you’ve drafted. You’ll be able to see that, among your two or three literary devices, you can draw some commonality. You might be able to say, as the writer did here, that romantic and hyperbolic imagery “illustrate the speaker’s unenthusiastic opinion of the coming of autumn,” ultimately illuminating the poet’s idea “that change is difficult to accept but necessary for growth.”

This is an original argument built on the evidence accumulated by the student. It directly answers the prompt by discussing literary techniques that “convey the speaker’s complex response to the changing seasons.” Remember to go back to the prompt and see what direction they want you to head with your thesis, and craft an argument that directly speaks to that prompt.

Then, move ahead to finish your body paragraphs and conclusion.

Fifth: Give each literary device its own body paragraph 

In this essay, the writer examines the use of two literary devices that are supported by multiple pieces of evidence. The first is “romantic imagery” and the second is “hyperbolic imagery.” The writer dedicates one paragraph to each idea. You should do this, too.

This is why it’s important to choose just two or three literary devices. You really don’t have time to dig into more. Plus, more ideas will simply cloud the essay and confuse your reader.

Using your outline, start each body paragraph with a “mini claim” that makes an argument about what it is you’ll be saying in your paragraph. Lay out your pieces of evidence, then provide commentary for why your evidence proves your point about that literary device.

Move onto the next literary device, rinse, and repeat.

Sixth: Commentary and Conclusion 

Finally, you’ll want to end this brief essay with a concluding paragraph that restates your thesis, briefly touches on your most important points from each body paragraph, and includes a development of the argument that you laid out in the essay.

In this particular example essay, the writer concludes by saying, “Utilizing romantic imagery and hyperbole to shape the Speaker’s perspective, Cary emphasizes the need to embrace change though it is difficult, because growth is not possible without hardship or discomfort.” This is a direct restatement of the thesis. At this point, you’ll have reached the end of your essay. Great work!

Seventh: Sophistication 

A final note on scoring criteria: there is one point awarded to what the scoring criteria calls “sophistication.” This is evidenced by the sophistication of thought and providing a nuanced literary analysis, which we’ve already covered in the steps above.

There are some things to avoid, however:

  • Sweeping generalizations, such as, “From the beginning of human history, people have always searched for love,” or “Everyone goes through periods of darkness in their lives, much like the writer of this poem.”
  • Only hinting at possible interpretations instead of developing your argument
  • Oversimplifying your interpretation
  • Or, by contrast, using overly flowery or complex language that does not meet your level of preparation or the context of the essay.

Remember to develop your argument with nuance and complexity and to write in a style that is academic but appropriate for the task at hand.

If you want more practice or to check out other exams from the past, go to the College Board’s website .

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Brittany Borghi

After earning a BA in Journalism and an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the University of Iowa, Brittany spent five years as a full-time lecturer in the Rhetoric Department at the University of Iowa. Additionally, she’s held previous roles as a researcher, full-time daily journalist, and book editor. Brittany’s work has been featured in The Iowa Review, The Hopkins Review, and the Pittsburgh City Paper, among others, and she was also a 2021 Pushcart Prize nominee.

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AP Lit Prose Analysis Practice Essays & Feedback

26 min read • january 2, 2021

Candace Moore

Candace Moore

Writing essays is a great way to practice prose analysis and prep for the AP exam! Review student responses for an essay prompt and corresponding feedback from Fiveable teacher Candace Moore.

The Practice Essay Prompt

Here’s the prompt:   the 2013 exam prompt with a passage from  The Rainbow.

D. H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow (1915): The following passage focuses on the lives of the Brangwens, a farming family who lived in rural England during the late nineteenth century. Read the passage carefully.

Then write an essay in which you analyze how Lawrence employs literary devices to characterize the woman and capture her situation.

Try to give yourself a timer to do this – 45 minutes

Keep in mind everything about setting and social environment, diction as choice, and symbolism of spaces and thoughts.

Your completed essay should include:

  • introduction optional
  • thesis for sure
  • at least two body paragraphs
  • organized for complexity instead of by device
  • a conclusion
  • broader context application for sophistication

Student Responses and Teacher Feedback

Student response 1.

In D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow, a woman wants to explore urban life but is restricted by her situation. Lawrence’s curious diction and juxtaposition of inquisitiveness and complacency portrays Mrs. Brangwen to be an ambitious yet judgmental woman who looks down on her husband and almost idolizes city people.

By using diction that implies a strong spirit of inquiry, the author establishes the ambiousness of the woman. She looks towards the cities and governments and wonders about the “scope” of man. The land outside of the village being “magic” in her eyes. She proclaims it is where “secrets” are revealed. Such words characterize her curiosity. She wants to know what their secrets are, how far can man go, what can he achieve? The author yet again uses similar descriptors such as “enlarge” and’ “range.” These imply that there’s a plethora of knowledge outside of her rural home in England. Although she is physically limited, her mind constantly wonders about the world outside. Her desires are not met as a wife in a farming and believes there’s other things that will fulfill her interests. Her word choice of describing outside life not only shows admiration for urban life, but her disdain of the village lifestyle.

Throughout the excerpt, Mrs. Brangwen’s husband is contrasted with urban men. When describing the farmers day to day life and activities, the author repeats “it was enough”. “Enough” meaning that menial physical activities and mother nature satisfied him. Unlike her husband, the men outside are “dominant and creative.” They strive to answer questions and problems. “whilst her husband looked out to the back at sky and harvest and beast and land, she strained her eyes to see what man had done in fighting outwards to knowledge.” Compared to her husband who enjoys farm life and passes time by looking at the sky and attending to his crops, city men are adventurous. They fight each day to expand their horizons and apprehension: hoping to increase their grasp of the world. Although it’s enough for her husband, it isn’t sufficient for Mrs. Brangwen. She wants to join the “war” with the men. Her husband represents a complacent farming lifestyle while the vicar (city man) represents a superior, inquisive lifestyle. She later expands her views by proclaiming it’s not power or money that makes the vicar a “master” over her husband: it was his knowledge. It’s knowledge that makes him more appealing. She yearns to appease her intellectual curiosity: what her current situation is not providing.

The curious diction and juxtaposition of inquisitiveness and complacency in the passage showcases Mrs. Brangwen’s ambitiousness and longing to obtain more knowledge, though she’s restricted by her rural life. She represent people who want to achieve more in their life, but are tied down by their circumstances.

Teacher feedback:

Very nice! I see that you have tightened your evidence points – these are word by word, as opposed to longer phrases or sentences, and this emphasizes your choice to analyze diction.
Your thesis is written well, although I’m not completely clear on what the situation is, in your argument. You have analyzed her character, and the devices that create it, but not the situation. Be sure to address all parts of the prompt, and if a concept is given (like “situation”), make sure that you qualify it and establish your interpretation. However, your use of 'restricted" implies your understanding. 1/1
Your evidence supports your assertion, but your commentary stops at interpretation of the words. In order to increase the effectiveness of your commentary, you would need to show more clearly not only how the words show her curiosity, but also how that curiosity shows the reader who the woman is. In the second paragraph, you show the contrast, but the paragraph’s focus on the men overshadows your argument about Mrs. Brangwen, although your thesis made a claim about her. This separates your commentary from your thesis, and therefore veers away from your line of reasoning. 2-3/4
I see your application of a broader context, which could have been more present throughout, but does push toward sophistication. But because your line of reasoning and argument are not supported consistently, and a few grammatical mistakes, you haven’t earned the sophistication point. 0/1

Student Response 2

Sometimes, viewing history, we find ourselves drawn into the trap of believing that oppressed groups completely lacked strength and power. This was not so; for years, minorities have fought for their empowerment and found communities within one another, enough to grant them the strength to persevere in a society that rejected them or that attempted to reduce their social power to nothing at all. People are not as altogether weak as we sometimes assume. But that strength can only come from community, from forcibly pulling that power out of the solidarity that comes from co-existing with people who are like you; it cannot exist in isolation. And thus is the plight of the woman in D. H. Lawrence’s “The Rainbow,” who finds herself surrounded by men, forced to live on a farm, and trapped in a life far away from any urban area where she could hope to better herself or find a community of like-minded women. Thus, she begins to idolize the city as a miracle cure for all her ails, growing more and more resentful toward the men who keep her trapped in a life she never wanted nor chose. In “The Rainbow,” D. H. Lawrence characterizes the woman as unsatisfied with her traditional life and desperate to escape it by comparing her attitudes to those of the men, highlighting her interest in the outside world, and revealing her obsession toward the vicar.

Early on in the passage, Lawrence contrasts the woman’s attitudes toward her lifestyle with those held by the men in her family. Particularly, he uses the imagery of staring into the distance. Both the woman and the men, each drawn to certain lifestyles, engage in this action. However, the men stare toward “the sun […] the source of generation,” whereas she faces “toward where men moved dominant and creative.” Interestingly, both the men and the woman are seeking something similar. They are interested in “generation,” and she in creativity, both of which deal explicitly with creation and invention. However, by having them be physically turned in different directions, the author shows us that the woman wants to achieve her desire for creation elsewhere, somewhere where she is not burdened by her obligation to them as a wife and homemaker. Again, this disparity is given a physical description, with the men “faced inwards,” and her “faced outwards.” The repetition of this shared language, modified only slightly by a few letters at the beginning of the second word, helps to establish both the shared desires of the woman and the men, as well as their differences in approach. She seeks to find this “[creativity]” in the outside world, while they are already able to find it within themselves. Interestingly, this language suggests that, on some personal level, the woman is not satisfied with herself, or else she should, supposedly, find strength and meaning internally. Perhaps the problem exists within and cannot be solved by the outside world at all.

Lawrence also characterizes the woman’s dissatisfaction with fanciful language to describe the way that she views the outside world. The author uses the metaphor of a battle, saying that men have “[fought] outwards to knowledge” and that woman wants to be “of the fighting host.” The metaphor of physical conflict is so strong that it shows the extent to which the woman feels trapped in her life, as she is literally being subdued and kept at bay by malevolent enemy forces, rather than by where her family happens to live. For her, living in the city is not just a dream, but a noble fight against all the social norms that keep her down and bound to these men. Furthermore, the repetition of the word “outwards,” already used to interesting effect much earlier in the piece, reinforces the woman’s desperation to find this satisfaction in something outside of herself, something larger and more significant. She has constructed the image of this battle in order to justify that thinking, despite the fact that her desire and feeling of being trapped is something in which she is, as a result of being trapped in the country, utterly alone.

Finally, the author uses the woman’s obsession with the vicar to reveal just how dissatisfied she is with her life and her husband. Observing the vicar, she notes that he is “little and frail,” whereas her husband is like a “bull.” None of these words have especially positive connotations, but “bull” is still much harsher. “Little and frail” have to do with physical observation alone, whereas the word “bull” is very much tied to the imagery of destruction and physical power over intellectual power, such as in the idiom of “a bull in a china shop.” This word alone reveals much about her thoughts toward her husband, whom she also describes as seeming “dull and local” compared to the vicar. Throughout the piece, her husband has been described as having similar, though differently oriented, desires as her, but now we see just how much she has come to resent the situation in which she lives—so much so that her resentment has turned toward people. Yet with the vicar, she observes that he has “power” over her husband, despite his size and physical strength, or lack thereof. She is entranced by this notion, probably because she is envious of him. She, too, wishes to have some power of her husband, as she feels that he represents her trapped state in a rural area. Being a woman, it makes that she herself would also be “little and frail” compared to her husband, and she is astonished that someone like the vicar can be so powerful, in spite of his relative physical weakness. Although she does not make this connection explicitly, it is obvious that her obsession with the vicar comes from a desire to, like him, have such freedom and power that has been denied to her as a result of her gender.

Through the use of comparison between the woman and the men, fanciful language in the woman’s description of the city, and her obsession with the vicar, D. H. Lawrence creates a complicated and nuanced character, struggling to find a place for herself in a world where, isolated from other women, she is forced to become subservient, her opinions not a factor in her own life. The piece is a fascinating look into a time long gone, set almost 200 years in the past. And yet, much of the reality of that time still exists today, with women across the world, irrespective of all other factors, still not granted the same privileges as those given to men. In this way, “The Rainbow” is not simply a spyglass from which to view history, but a mirror to hold up to our own time, even in a world as different from the woman’s as ours today.

Good job bringing broader context into your introduction, which helps to show that it is a part of your line of reasoning. Your thesis establishes an argument about both the woman and her situation. I like that you’ve done so by referencing what the author’s language  does . 1/1
Good insight on the direction of the woman’s attention vs. the men’s. For your analysis, the contrast is stronger as evidence than the imagery, but your commentary does bring it together. The end of your first body paragraph seems slightly disjointed, as you go in various directions in your interpretation of the woman facing inwards, and don’t fully manage to bring them all together to connect to her dissatisfaction wth her traditional life. Your analysis of the diction of conflict is also strong, but the relationship between that language and “outwards” is tenuous. In the final paragraph, you also make clear arguments about the comparison of the vicar and her husband, but your evidence does not connect to your final insight about her desire for power like the vicar. The obsession with the vicar is an inference that you wrote as a device, so your evidence was unable to serve its purpose. Overall, you make plausible arguments, but the evidence is inconsistently supportive of them. Your commentary is therefore much stronger than your selection of evidence. 3/4
You have explored a broader context to this passage, and written persuasively, but the inconsistencies in your analysis/evidence relationship preclude a sophistication point. 0/1

Student Response 3

It is a common saying that knowledge is power. In the passage given, the author follows a woman’s search for dominance to demonstrate that knowledge, and therefore power, is available only to a select few. The author uses grimy imagery and combative but yearning diction to convey the woman’s dissatisfaction with her life on the farm and her ambitious character, which causes her to hopelessly seek power through knowledge and intellectual conquest.

The author begins by presenting dingy images of the mens’ labor on the farm, which portrays the life on the farm as primitive and unpleasant. The men must “ferret[] the rats from under the barn” and “br[eak] the back of the rabbit with a sharp knock of the hand” in order to maintain their lives on the farm. The descriptions of rats and the killing of the rabbits evoke images of disease and death, which are reinforced by the author’s mention of their “teeming life” of “blood-intimacy,” which implies that the woman’s life has been infested by her rural lifestyle. By selecting images that portray the lowliest aspects of farm living, the author illustrates the woman’s belief that her life is primitive, repulsive, and unwanted.

The woman’s dissatisfaction for her life manifests in her deep desire to seek a higher, magical knowledge to feel fulfilled. The author employs combative diction to develop the woman’s ambitious character and her futile attempts to gain knowledge and power. The woman wants to “enlarge [her] own scope and range and freedom” and wage a war “on the edge of the unknown.” She “crave[s]” knowledge of “conquest” as she believes that it will bring her “dominan[ce] and creativ[ity].” The author selects aggressive language that reflects the woman’s longing for control over her life. By implementing both assertive and longing language, the author characterizes the woman as ambitious while demonstrating her yearning for power that she cannot have. The author further develops the woman’s unfulfilled desires by repeating the word “man.” Despite the woman’s ambitious character, she acknowledges that she can only learn about “man[’s]” conquests, and experience “man[’s]” dominance and creativity. The woman craves higher knowledge “not in herself,” but in her children. By repeatedly mentioning mens’ accomplishments and failing to mention the accomplishments of women, the author suggests that men are the only ones capable of being dominant. The woman, therefore, is constrained by her gender and is unable to achieve the knowledge and power that she desires. Thus, by using assertive and longing diction to characterize the woman and by only associating men with knowledge and dominance, the author develops the woman’s unrealistically ambitious character and establishes her unfulfilled desires as the result of her gender.

Through primitive imagery and assertive but longing diction, the author characterizes the woman as ambitious and power-hungry and demonstrates that her gender confines to her distasteful rural lifestyle and prevents her from achieving the knowledge and control over her life that she craves. Much like rats on a farm, the passage reminds readers of the gender inequality that infests society and prevents people from achieving their dreams.

Grimy imagery! Love it. You fit all of the pieces into your thesis, which was quite a task for this prompt, and created a line of reasoning about power and knowledge that could wind through your essay and create a sophistication to your argument. 1/1
In your first body paragraph, I think you gave a solid analysis of the images, but missed the opportunity to make that connection to your argument about the woman, beyond that her life was infested. It would have been strengthened to point out there that the primitive life was good enough for the men, but the woman’s perspective showed her dissatisfaction. In the second paragraph, combative diction is appropriate and analytical, but I wonder if you have overcomplicated your argument by conflating the aggressive and longing language, and then how those show her ambition  and  her yearning. I appreciate how you continued the thread about power and gender, which adds to the insight you planted the seed for in your intro, but your ideas are entangled in each other, muddling your argument. It’s a great idea to have two bold and effective paragraphs, but it’s also a good choice to have your paragraphs be as streamlined as possible, so the diction of yearning and craving could have been its own paragraph. 3/4
However, noting the broader context and acknowledging the complexities of the woman, in addition to your mastery of language, I believe you have earned a sophistication point here. 1/1

Student Response 4

In D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow, the author characterizes the woman with her sensible and perceptive observations. The author emphasizes her mental journey and desire for knowledge through figurative language and a third-person limited, inquiry-like narration. The contrasting descriptions between the vicar and the Brangwens further indicate the woman’s desire for a more intellectual life not only for herself but also for her children.

A sense of urgency and conflicting mind can be perceived by the woman’s inquiry-like tone and repeated diction: The passage opens with a parallel structure that describes the mundane farming tasks of the Brangwens. Yet the pervasive descriptions all started with the phrase “it is enough”. These lively scenes are so common to the woman as everyday events on repetition that they are emphasized and imprinted upon the woman’s mind. Though the woman half reserved her comments on those “dominant” tasks, which are full of strong senses and actions and with the “heat of blood”, she believes that her need is much more. The woman desires a greater range of freedom, like town life that is “perceived yet not attained”. The distance between the woman’s expectation and the reality she is living is also underscored by the repeated diction such as “face out”, “look out”, “outwards” and “far-off”. This emphasis on the imagery of “out” further indicates the woman’s pressing need and endless curiosity outside the limited worldview she possesses. She describes Brangwens living on the “desert island”, but that is her true reflection on her feeling about being trapped by the farmhouse.

Lawrence uses an interesting analogy to describe the woman’s passion toward the world beyond her. The writer shows that the woman desires the same level of freedom her husband enjoys: “strained her eyes to see what man had done in fighting outwards to knowledge.” She seeks to be a gladiator or an adventurer who is called out for a battle waged by the knowledge, a conquest of inquisition. The description is mirrored with the opening actions of the Brangwens, painted with masculinity and an “active scope of man”. The reader is able to perceive how the woman breaks the boundary of her social expectation and takes an active role of a woman who is secretly full of desire and makes future plans for her family on the journey toward civility.

The woman’s desire for more education in her household is punctuated by the juxtaposition between the vicar and Brangwens: Lawrence makes deft use of colorful contrast to show the conflicting value between a peaceful village life “pulsating the heat of creation” with a life of inquisition, a broader ambition, and meaningful conquest of knowledge, “waged on the edge of the unknown.” A lively analogy between Brangwens being cattle and the vicar being their master shows the woman’s astute opinion on the power of knowledge. While the vicar is week and frail, his scholarship exceeds the physical boundary of robust Brangwen men. The spiritual existence of the vicar is so appealing to the woman that she makes a final resolution acknowledging the importance of knowledge.

Through the woman’s mental journey, the reader can relate to the woman for not only her desire of knowledge but an elevated expectation for her children, and this cannot be better achieved by Lawrence’s skillful use of figurative language, inquisitive tone through questions she asked, and the contrast between the vicar and the Brangwens.

What a great insight about the narration – that’s a perspective I haven’t seen often. Your thesis is strong on the characterization of the woman, but slight on your argument about her situation, although perhaps her mental journey is her situation? Even with that lack of clarity, you have an argument and the plan for analysis. 1/1
Your body paragraphs are solid, although the first paragraph ends up in a different analytical point than it began. Your analysis of the language establishes your characterization of the woman as seeking and curious, but not urgent or conflicted. The repetition of “it is enough” is misinterpreted as her thought, as opposed to her attribution to the man. This paragraph suffers from an organizational weakness, since your evidence matches your commentary, just not your assertion. The second paragraph, though shorter, is still stronger because it all supports her desire for knowledge beyond her gendered expectations. It seems as though your commentary goes farther than your evidence supports, however, because the idea that she has broken the boundary is beyond the reach of the passage. The third is also slight on commentary, and does not sufficiently explain your own argument. Your commentary is more interpretation of the juxtaposition than application to the woman. Your line of reasoning is not clear throughout the essay, and your commentary is inconsistent in its connection to the thesis and between paragraphs. 2/4
You have reference to a broader context, and you have a line of reasoning about inquiry and knowledge that is introduced and concluded, but the body of your essay is not in line. 0/1

Student Response 5

In life, we often feel confined in our situation and are in a state of utter bewilderment as to how to rectify it. This passage, taken from The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence, speaks of a woman who feels trapped and confused in her calm, simple pastoral life. In the society she lives in, one is meant to pledge allegiance to the vicar and the church, to work the fields, and to stay inward, yet the woman is stuck because she understands that there is more to explore in the world and she wants to get out and see it. She also is not convinced about the vicar’s authority and ponders over the fact that he seems to have all power over her dear husband. The author uses vivid religious imagery, anaphora, and the symbol of light and heat in order to convey the message.

In the first sentence, the author uses anaphora with the refrain of “it was enough” and the second sentence with “so much”. This paragraph describes the contentment of the men in the society as the author prepares to introduce the woman and contrast her with the members of the opposite gender. These men are simple, and they do not need much in order to be happy. Their duties on the farm, such as plowing, hunting, and harvesting, are of utmost importance to them, but this is their main goal. The paragraph has two mentions of blood which points to this work as a sort of life force for them.

On the other hand, the woman feels that she needs something more than this basic life force of blood in order to feel fulfilled. She wants to see the outside world and see how other people live. It seems that she is tired of her way of life and wants to live a different way. All the men around her have “turned their back on the pulsing heat of creation.” This sentence has the religious imagery of creation and the heat and light energy. As opposed to the men who create with their hands, the woman wants to create with her mind. She feels stifled, as the church may control what people are allowed to think and she does not want to be controlled anymore. The men get their fulfillment of free thinking from working the farm, but she needs to be able to think for herself.

The woman, as we all are, is a product of her society. She presumably was brought up in a farm town, to farmer parents, married off to a farmer and is expected to raise a farming family. However, she deviates from this accepted norm as she wants to live in a city, away from the “magic” of the town. She feels conflicted, and by the end of the passage, she decides that the vicar is to blame. He has the most knowledge out of all the farmers, and this is what makes him superior. This passage brings truth to the cliche, “knowledge is power.”

Your introduction does a great job of establishing your line of reasoning about the woman and her situation – “trapped and confused in her calm, simple, pastoral life”. Your statement on her society also begins to open up a window into the broader context that could be followed through the essay. 1/1
Your analysis paragraphs clearly assert which device you are analyzing, and what the author’s language implies, but fall short of establishing why the author made those choices in his characterization of the woman. In the first body paragraph, you cite the anaphora, and then interpret it as the contrast between the woman and the men, but the commentary does not push deeper into the connection between these instances of anaphora and your line of reasoning about the woman. In the second body paragraph, there is a missing connection between Lawrence’s choice of religious imagery and the woman’s desire, so the line of reasoning is dropped. Because of these gaps in analysis, your evidence loses its relevance to your argument. 2/4
While you have made references to a broader context, that reference does not expand your own argument. 0/1

Student Response 6

Set in the late 20th century, the main character is the wife of a farmer who is satisfied by the routine of a rural farm life. The men are satisfied with the physical work they are performing, however the woman feels as if her life is missing the intellectual stimulation and this is made especially clear when she dotes over the vicar at her home. Through extrapolating the personification of the landscape to an abstract image of intellect and the nonchalant jabs at mens’ spirituality threaded throughout the story, the woman initially appears to be dissatisfied with the routine of being the wife of a farmer. With the introduction of the vicar, she becomes inquisitive and a sense of longing is communicated over her boredom in her current situation.

The story opens with an introduction of the men, although it is the earth that is personified, given living traits of ‘heaving’ and the wind is ‘blowing’ the wheat that the men planted. This structure establishes the static character of the men by drawing attention to the actions of the scenery that the men tend to. The men are static, unwilling and physically unable to change their ways because they are satisfied with their agricultural progress and developments on the farm alone. Despite having invested a significant amount of hard work, it remains that they live the same routine of tending to the crops and animals without intellectual challenge. However, this is what the woman craves. The verbal parallel between her house facing out toward the road, the church, and the earth beyond and herself facing outward highlights her desire to expand her sphere of contact to the outside world, she would feel at home in places that mentally challenge her. However, she herself is shackled to the men who work tirelessly to control the possibilities of the earth to something that they themselves can consume in a cycle for their own benefit. Her longing for adventure, even contingency, is why she is suffocated by the men who do not wonder for more.

For the woman, the vicar was a form of home because of the vast intellectual depth he offers. Emotional cracks in her marriage are hinted at in her comparison of her husband to the vicar, where she declares the vicar the winner if both were stripped and set on a desert island. Her husband Tom Brangwan was of greater physical might and could control the cattle which translated to food, a fundamental need of living, but the woman believes the vicar to be mightier than her husband because he was of greater intellectual and spiritual depth. This reveal hints at the woman being a sapiophile, as she focuses on his knowledge and soul when she decides him as the winner in a true, life-and-death situation of being stripped and thrown into the desert. Her attitude toward the vicar is so admiring because she wanted to be like him, and her stable marriage is something that keeps her from achieving the closeness she wants to feel with the mystique of a universe she does not know. To the woman, the vicar represents the emotional depth that she longs for and because of this, she establishes the vicar to be greater than all the other men she knows.

The woman craves intellectual and spiritual exploration, which is evident in her interest in the vicar despite being the least physically noticeable man in the story. The immediate world she experiences is not of her interest, instead she wants an abstract life and this is highlighted in the juxtaposition of her husband and the vicar. The woman is discontent because of the mens’ secure aims of agricultural tending, and this is expressed through the narrator corresponding action with what is in the landscape rather than the men that tend to it. Her interest in the vicar indicates her shift from mere boredom to someone that desires to know more about the abstraction in the world she lives in.

Through your introduction, you have thoroughly established your interpretation of the woman’s situation, and your argument about her character. 1/1
I strongly recommend using more quoted text as evidence, instead of paraphrase, summary, or even your interpretation. It strengthens your argument when you ground it in the author’s specific words and language devices (evaluated in the rubric), and then make connections between those two essay elements in your own voice. Quoting evidence also helps to distinguish your analysis, and make sure that you are not restating the text as commentary. In this essay, your thesis clearly establishes the woman as dissatisfied and inquisitive, but your analysis paragraphs do not analyze the  creation  of these traits (through the author’s language and devices) as deeply as the  portrayal  of these traits. The second analysis paragraph also is less grounded in the literary language of the text, although it is still making inferences about the character of the woman. Your evidence is not consistently specific, therefore your line of reasoning, while established by the thesis, is not thoroughly supported by the evidence. 2/4
Your style of writing is clear, but you have not analyzed complexity or a line of reasoning that explores broader context, so this essay does not earn a sophistication point.

Student Response 7

Society’s progress has been driven because humanity craves knowledge of the unknown, because it gives them power. When deprived of knowledge, a person is left powerless. This deprivation can stem from many places: youth, willful ignorance, and, most notably, societal expectations. In “The Rainbow,” D. H. Lawrence’s use of contrasting foils, monotonous listing, repetition, and conservative setting convey that the woman longs for knowledge and power, but is trapped in a stagnant situation by the rural area and society’s expectations for women.

The passage first speaks of the men, content with their station in life, not wanting anything more. These men are then used as a foil to contrast their contentment with the woman’s longing for something greater, for knowledge of what is unknown to her. Lawrence writes “Her house faced out from the farm-buildings and fields, looked out to the road and the village with church and Hall and the world beyond.” This by itself characterizes the woman as unsatisfied, yearning for the world beyond her rural life. By contrasting it to the previously mentioned contentment of the men, Lawrence places the woman and her desires on a stark background, highlighting the intensity and bizarreness of her wanting. This is further highlighted by the repeated use of diction meant to indicate longing. Lawrence writes that the woman “strained” to see more than her situation, that the “wanted to know” more, that she “craved to know” and “craved to achieve.” This language is pervasive, appearing throughout the passage. By repeatedly using this language, Lawrence depicts the extent of the woman’s longing and further solidifies that her craving is unique to her, a defining character trait that sets her apart from her surroundings. Additionally, the vicar is used as another foil. Lawrence writes, “the vicar, who spoke the other, magic language, and had the other, finer bearing, both of which she could perceive, but could never attain to,” and later “She decided it was a question of knowledge.” In the first quote, Lawrence sets the vicar aside from the rest men in the area, who are content with their lives and their ignorance. He also establishes that the vicar has what the woman wants, which is, as shown in the latter quote, knowledge. The vicar is characterized as a powerful man, starkly contrasting the woman, who longs for that which the vicar has but cannot attain it. Through character foils and repetitive diction, Lawrence characterizes the woman as someone who longs for knowledge and power.

The woman cannot obtain the knowledge and power she so craves because she is stuck in a stagnant, rural area and chained by conventional gender roles. The stagnancy of her situation is shown when Lawrence lists the life of the men, and then contrasts that to how the woman feels about that life. The listing uses no commas, instead joining each item with “and” or “or”. This gives the writing a dreary feeling, showing the monotonous nature of the woman’s situation. This is partially due to the fact that she is in a rural area, where “the world beyond” and “the battle that she heard” are far from her grasp. This highlights the powerlessness of the woman’s situation, because she is trapped in her house that faces out but cannot go out to see the battles that she has heard of and wishes to take part in. The reader may infer that she cannot take part in these battles because she is a woman, which is forms the other aspect of her stagnant situation. The setting of the passage is the late eighteenth century in rural England. It can be inferred that due to the sentiments of the time, women were not expected to have power or knowledge, showing that the woman was stuck in her powerless situation by gender roles.

Through his use of contrasting foils, dreary listing, fervent repetition, and conservative setting, D. H. Lawrence depicts the woman as someone who wants knowledge and power but cannot achieve it because of her stagnant situation.

My feedback is brief, but this is a very strong essay. Your thesis establishes an argument that is defensible and thorough. 1/1
Your evidence and commentary support the thesis, although some of the devices are analyzed more effectively. Your second paragraph analyzes the syntax succinctly, but the second half of the paragraph is less strong. Your first body paragraph feels a little disorganized, although you have a reference to your argument as both a first and last sentence, which brings the focus back. I don’t think the diction section feels connected to the men and vicar as foils argument in style or content. However, overall, you chose significant evidence and explained its role in the characterization of the woman thoroughly and consistently. 4/4
The essay does not earn a sophistication point, although it strongly meets the criteria for other points.


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AP® English Literature

How to get a 9 on prose analysis frq in ap® english literature.

  • The Albert Team
  • Last Updated On: March 1, 2022

how_to_get_a_9_on_prose_analysis frq in AP® English literature

When it’s time to take the AP® English Literature and Composition exam, will you be ready? If you’re aiming high, you’ll want to know the best route to a five on the AP® exam. You know the exam is going to be tough, so how do prepare for success? To do well on the AP® English Literature and Composition exam, you’ll need to score high on the essays. For that, you’ll need to write a competent, efficient essay that argues an accurate interpretation of the work under examination in the Free Response Question section.

The AP® English Literature and Composition exam consists of two sections, the first being a 55-question multiple choice portion worth 45% of the total test grade. This section tests your ability to read drama, verse, or prose fiction excerpts and answer questions about them. The second section, worth 55% of the total score, requires essay responses to three questions demonstrating your ability to analyze literary works. You’ll have to discuss a poem analysis, a prose fiction passage analysis, and a concept, issue, or element analysis of a literary work–in two hours.

Before the exam, you should know how to construct a clear, organized essay that defends a focused claim about the work under analysis. You must write a brief introduction that includes the thesis statement, followed by body paragraphs that further the thesis statement with detailed, thorough support, and a short concluding paragraph that reiterates and reinforces the thesis statement without repeating it. Clear organization, specific support, and full explanations or discussions are three critical components of high-scoring essays.

General Tips to Bettering Your Odds at a Nine on the AP® English Literature Prose FRQ

You may know already how to approach the prose analysis, but don’t forget to keep the following in mind coming into the exam:

  • Carefully read, review, and underline key to-do’s in the prompt.
  • Briefly outline where you’re going to hit each prompt item — in other words, pencil out a specific order.
  • Be sure you have a clear thesis that includes the terms mentioned in the instructions, literary devices, tone, and meaning.
  • Include the author’s name and title of the prose selection in your thesis statement. Refer to characters by name.
  • Use quotes — lots of them — to exemplify the elements and your argument points throughout the essay.
  • Fully explain or discuss how your examples support your thesis. A deeper, fuller, and more focused explanation of fewer elements is better than a shallow discussion of more elements (shotgun approach).
  • Avoid vague, general statements or merely summarizing the plot instead of clearly focusing on the prose passage itself.
  • Use transitions to connect sentences and paragraphs.
  • Write in the present tense with generally good grammar.
  • Keep your introduction and conclusion short, and don’t repeat your thesis verbatim in your conclusion.

The newly-released 2016 sample AP® English Literature and Composition exam questions, sample responses, and grading rubrics provide a valuable opportunity to analyze how to achieve high scores on each of the three Section II FRQ responses. However, for purposes of this examination, the Prose Analysis FRQ strategies will be the focus. The prose selection for analysis in last year’s exam was Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge , a 19th-century novel. Exam takers had to respond to the following instructions:

  • Analyze the complex relationship between the two characters Hardy portrays in the passage.
  • Pay attention to tone, word choice, and detail selection.
  • Write a well-written essay.

For a clear understanding of the components of a model essay, you’ll find it helpful to analyze and compare all three sample answers provided by the CollegeBoard: the high scoring (A) essay, the mid-range scoring (B) essay, and the low scoring (C) essay. All three provide a lesson for you: to achieve a nine on the prose analysis essay, model the ‘A’ essay’s strengths and avoid the weaknesses of the other two.

Start with a Succinct Introduction that Includes Your Thesis Statement

The first sample essay (A) begins with a packed first sentence: the title of the work, author, named characters, and the subject alluded to in the prompt that will form the foundation of the upcoming argument — the strained relationship between father and daughter. Then, after summarizing the context of the passage — that tense relationship — the student quotes relevant phrases (“lower-class”, “verbal aggressions”) that depict the behavior and character of each.

By packing each sentence efficiently with details (“uncultivated”, “hypocritical”) on the way to the thesis statement, the writer controls the argument by folding in only the relevant details that support the claim at the end of the introduction: though reunited physically, father and daughter remain separated emotionally. The writer wastes no words and quickly directs the reader’s focus to the characters’ words and actions that define their estranged relationship. From the facts cited, the writer’s claim or thesis is logical.

ap lit prose essay format

The mid-range B essay introduction also mentions the title, author, and relationship (“strange relationship”) that the instructions direct the writer to examine. However, the student neither names the characters nor identifies what’s “strange” about the relationship. The essay needs more specific details to clarify the complexity in the relationship. Instead, the writer merely hints at that complexity by stating father and daughter “try to become closer to each other’s expectations”. There’s no immediately clear correlation between the “reunification” and the expectations. Finally, the student wastes time and space in the first two sentences with a vague platitude for an “ice breaker” to start the essay. It serves no other function.

ap lit prose essay format

The third sample lacks cohesiveness, focus, and a clear thesis statement. The first paragraph introduces the writer’s feelings about the characters and how the elements in the story helped the student analyze, both irrelevant to the call of the instructions. The introduction gives no details of the passage: no name, title, characters, or relationship. The thesis statement is shallow–the daughter was better off before she reunited with her father–as it doesn’t even hint at the complexity of the relationship. The writer merely parrots the prompt instructions about “complex relationship” and “speaker’s tone, word choice, and selection of detail”.

ap lit prose essay format

In sum, make introductions brief and compact. Use specific details from the passage that support a logical thesis statement which clearly directs the argument and addresses the instructions’ requirements. Succinct writing helps. Pack your introduction with specific excerpt details, and don’t waste time on sentences that don’t do the work ahead for you. Be sure the thesis statement covers all of the relevant facts of the passage for a cohesive argument.

Use Clear Examples to Support Your Argument Points

The A answer supports the thesis by qualifying the relationship as unhealthy in the first sentence. Then the writer includes the quoted examples that contrast what one would expect characterizes a father-daughter relationship — joyous, blessing, support, praise — against the reality of Henchard and Elizabeth’s relationship: “enigma”, “coldness”, and “open chiding”.

These and other details in the thorough first body paragraph leave nothing for the reader to misunderstand. The essayist proves the paragraph’s main idea with numerous examples. The author controls the first argument point that the relationship is unhealthy by citing excerpted words and actions of the two characters demonstrating the father’s aggressive disapproval and the daughter’s earnestness and shame.

The second and third body paragraphs not only add more proof of the strained relationship in the well-chosen example of the handwriting incident but also explore the underlying motives of the father. In suggesting the father has good intentions despite his outward hostility, the writer proposes that Henchard wants to elevate his long-lost daughter. Henchard’s declaration that handwriting “with bristling characters” defines refinement in a woman both diminishes Elizabeth and reveals his silent hope for her, according to the essayist. This contradiction clearly proves the relationship is “complex”.

ap lit prose essay format

The mid-range sample also cites specific details: the words Elizabeth changes (“fay” for “succeed”) for her father. These details are supposed to support the point that class difference causes conflict between the two. However, the writer leaves it to the reader to make the connection between class, expectations, and word choices. The example of the words Elizabeth eliminates from her vocabulary does not illustrate the writer’s point of class conflict. In fact, the class difference as the cause of their difficulties is never explicitly stated. Instead, the writer makes general, unsupported statements about Hardy’s focus on the language difference without saying why Hardy does that.

ap lit prose essay format

Like the A essay, sample C also alludes to the handwriting incident but only to note that the description of Henchard turning red is something the reader can imagine. In fact, the writer gives other examples of sensitive and serious tones in the passage but then doesn’t completely explain them. None of the details noted refer to a particular point that supports a focused paragraph. The details don’t connect. They’re merely a string of details.

Discussion is Crucial to Connect Your Quotes and Examples to Your Argument Points

Rather than merely citing phrases and lines without explanation, as the C sample does, the A response spends time thoroughly discussing the meaning of the quoted words, phrases, and sentences used to exemplify their assertions. For example, the third paragraph begins with the point that Henchard’s attempts to elevate Elizabeth in order to better integrate her into the mayor’s “lifestyle” actually do her a disservice. The student then quotes descriptive phrases that characterize Elizabeth as “considerate”, notes her successfully fulfilling her father’s expectations of her as a woman, and concludes that success leads to her failure to get them closer — to un-estrange him.

The A sample writer follows the same pattern throughout the essay: assertion, example, explanation of how the example and assertion cohere, tying both into the thesis statement. Weaving the well-chosen details into the discussion to make reasonable conclusions about what they prove is the formula for an orderly, coherent argument. The writer starts each paragraph with a topic sentence that supports the thesis statement, followed by a sentence that explains and supports the topic sentence in furtherance of the argument.

On the other hand, the B response begins the second paragraph with a general topic sentence: Hardy focuses on the differences between the daughter’s behavior and the father’s expectations. The next sentence follows up with examples of the words Elizabeth changes, leading to the broad conclusion that class difference causes clashes. They give no explanation to connect the behavior — changing her words — with how the diction reveals class differences exists. Nor does the writer explain the motivations of the characters to demonstrate the role of class distinction and expectations. The student forces the reader to make the connections.

Similarly, in the second example of the handwriting incident, the student sets out to prove Elizabeth’s independence and conformity conflict. However, the writer spends too much time re-telling the writing episode — who said what — only to vaguely conclude that 19th-century gender roles dictated the dominant and submissive roles of father and daughter, resulting in the loss of Elizabeth’s independence. The writer doesn’t make those connections between gender roles, dominance, handwriting, and lost freedom. The cause and effect of the handwriting humiliation to the loss of independence are never made.

Write a Brief Conclusion

While it’s more important to provide a substantive, organized, and clear argument throughout the body paragraphs than it is to conclude, a conclusion provides a satisfying rounding out of the essay and last opportunity to hammer home the content of the preceding paragraphs. If you run out of time for a conclusion because of the thorough preceding paragraphs, that is not as fatal to your score as not concluding or not concluding as robustly as the A essay sample.

The A response not only provides another example of the father-daughter inverse relationship — the more he helps her fit in, the more estranged they become — but also ends where the writer began: though they’re physically reunited, they’re still emotionally separated. Without repeating it verbatim, the student returns to the thesis statement at the end. This return and recap reinforce the focus and control of the argument when all of the preceding paragraphs successfully proved the thesis statement.

ap lit prose essay format

The B response nicely ties up the points necessary to satisfy the prompt had the writer made them clearly. The parting remarks about the inverse relationship building up and breaking down to characterize the complex relationship between father and daughter are intriguing but not well-supported by all that came before them.

ap lit prose essay format

Write in Complete Sentences with Proper Punctuation and Compositional Skills

Though pressed for time, it’s important to write an essay with crisp, correctly punctuated sentences and properly spelled words. Strong compositional skills create a favorable impression to the reader, like using appropriate transitions or signals (however, therefore) to tie sentences and paragraphs together, and making the relationships between sentences clear (“also” — adding information, “however” — contrasting an idea in the preceding sentence).

Starting each paragraph with a clear, focused topic sentence that previews the main idea or focus of the paragraph helps you the writer and the reader keep track of each part of your argument. Each section furthers your points on the way to convincing your reader of your argument. If one point is unclear, unfocused, or grammatically unintelligible, like a house of cards, the entire argument crumbles. Excellent compositional skills help you lay it all out neatly, clearly, and fully.

For example, the A response begins the essay with “In this passage from Thomas Hardy”. The second sentence follows with “Throughout the passage” to tie the two sentences together. There’s no question that the two thoughts link by the transitional phrases that repeat and reinforce one another as well as direct the reader’s attention. The B response, however, uses transitions less frequently, confuses the names of the characters, and switches verb tenses in the essay. It’s harder to follow.

So by the time the conclusion takes the reader home, the high-scoring writer has done all of the following:

  • followed the prompt
  • followed the propounded thesis statement and returned to it in the end
  • provided a full discussion with examples
  • included quotes proving each assertion
  • used clear, grammatically correct sentences
  • wrote paragraphs ordered by a thesis statement
  • created topic sentences for each paragraph
  • ensured each topic sentence furthered the ideas presented in the thesis statement

Have a Plan and Follow it

To get a nine on the prose analysis FRQ essay in the AP® Literature and Composition exam, you should practice timed essays. Write as many practice essays as you can. Follow the same procedure each time. After reading the prompt, map out your thesis statement, paragraph topic sentences, and supporting details and quotes in the order of their presentation. Then follow your plan faithfully.

Be sure to leave time for a brief review to catch mechanical errors, missing words, or clarifications of an unclear thought. With time, an organized approach, and plenty of practice, earning a nine on the poetry analysis is manageable. Be sure to ask your teacher or consult other resources, like albert.io’s Prose Analysis practice essays, for questions and more practice opportunities.

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Advanced Placement (AP)


If you're planning to take the AP English Literature and Composition exam, you'll need to get familiar with what to expect on the test. Whether the 2023 test date of Wednesday, May 3, is near or far, I'm here to help you get serious about preparing for the exam.

In this guide, I'll go over the test's format and question types, how it's graded, best practices for preparation, and test-day tips. You'll be on your way to AP English Lit success in no time!

AP English Literature: Exam Format and Question Types

The AP Literature Exam is a three-hour exam that contains two sections in this order:

  • An hour-long, 55-question multiple-choice section
  • A two-hour, three-question free-response section

The exam tests your ability to analyze works and excerpts of literature and cogently communicate that analysis in essay form.

Read on for a breakdown of the two different sections and their question types.

Section I: Multiple Choice

The multiple-choice section, or Section I of the AP Literature exam, is 60 minutes long and has 55 questions. It counts for 45% of your overall exam grade .

You can expect to see five excerpts of prose and poetry. You will always get at least two prose passages (fiction or drama) and two poetry passages. In general, you will not be given the author, date, or title for these works, though occasionally the title of a poem will be given. Unusual words are also sometimes defined for you.

The date ranges of these works could fall from the 16th to the 21st century. Most works will be originally written in English, but you might occasionally see a passage in translation.

There are, generally speaking, eight kinds of questions you can expect to see on the AP English Literature and Composition exam. I'll break each of them down here and give you tips on how to identify and approach them.


"Pretty flowers carried by ladies" is not one of the question types.

The 8 Multiple-Choice Question Types on the AP Literature Exam

Without further delay, here are the eight question types you can expect to see on the AP Lit exam. All questions are taken from the sample questions on the AP Course and Exam Description .

#1: Reading Comprehension

These questions test your ability to understand what the passage is saying on a pretty basic level . They don't require you to do a lot of interpretation—you just need to know what's going on.

You can identify this question type from words and phrases such as "according to," "mentioned," "asserting," and so on. You'll succeed on these questions as long as you carefully read the text . Note that you might have to go back and reread parts to make sure you understand what the passage is saying.


#2: Inference

These questions ask you to infer something—a character or narrator's opinion, an author's intention, etc.—based on what is said in the passage . It will be something that isn't stated directly or concretely but that you can assume based on what's clearly written in the passage. You can identify these questions from words such as "infer" and "imply."

The key to these questions is to not get tripped up by the fact that you are making an inference—there will be a best answer, and it will be the choice that is best supported by what is actually found in the passage .

In many ways, inference questions are like second-level reading comprehension questions: you need to know not just what a passage says, but also what it means.


#3: Identifying and Interpreting Figurative Language

These are questions for which you have to either identify what word or phrase is figurative language or provide the meaning of a figurative phrase . You can identify these as they will either explicitly mention figurative language (or a figurative device, such as a simile or metaphor ) or include a figurative phrase in the question itself.

The meaning of figurative phrases can normally be determined by that phrase's context in the passage—what is said around it? What is the phrase referring to?

Example 1: Identifying


Example 2: Interpreting


#4: Literary Technique

These questions involve identifying why an author does what they do , from using a particular phrase to repeating certain words. Basically, what techniques is the author using to construct the passage/poem, and to what effect?

You can identify these questions by words/phrases such as "serves chiefly to," "effect," "evoke," and "in order to." A good way to approach these questions is to ask yourself: so what? Why did the author use these particular words or this particular structure?


#5: Character Analysis

These questions ask you to describe something about a character . You can spot them because they will refer directly to characters' attitudes, opinions, beliefs, or relationships with other characters .

This is, in many ways, a special kind of inference question , since you are inferring the broader personality of the character based on the evidence in a passage. Also, these crop up much more commonly for prose passages than they do for poetry ones.


#6: Overall Passage Questions

Some questions ask you to identify or describe something about the passage or poem as a whole : its purpose, tone, genre, etc. You can identify these by phrases such as "in the passage" and "as a whole."

To answer these questions, you need to think about the excerpt with a bird's-eye view . What is the overall picture created by all the tiny details?


#7: Structure

Some AP Lit questions will ask you about specific structural elements of the passage: a shift in tone, a digression, the specific form of a poem, etc . Often these questions will specify a part of the passage/poem and ask you to identify what that part is accomplishing.

Being able to identify and understand the significance of any shifts —structural, tonal, in genre, and so on—will be of key importance for these questions.


#8: Grammar/Nuts & Bolts

Very occasionally you will be asked a specific grammar question , such as what word an adjective is modifying. I'd also include in this category super-specific questions such as those that ask about the meter of a poem (e.g., iambic pentameter).

These questions are less about literary artistry and more about the fairly dry technique involved in having a fluent command of the English language .


That covers the eight question types on the multiple-choice section. Now, let's take a look at the free-response section of the AP Literature exam.


Keep track of the nuts and bolts of grammar.

Section II: Free Response

The AP Literature Free Response section is two hours long and involves three free-response essay questions , so you'll have about 40 minutes per essay. That's not a lot of time considering this section of the test counts for 55% of your overall exam grade !

Note, though, that no one will prompt you to move from essay to essay, so you can theoretically divide up the time however you want. Just be sure to leave enough time for each essay! Skipping an essay, or running out of time so you have to rush through one, can really impact your final test score.

The first two essays are literary analysis essays of specific passages, with one poem and one prose excerpt. The final essay is an analysis of a given theme in a work selected by you , the student.

Essays 1 & 2: Literary Passage Analysis

For the first two essays, you'll be presented with an excerpt and directed to analyze the excerpt for a given theme, device, or development . One of the passages will be poetry, and one will be prose. You will be provided with the author of the work, the approximate date, and some orienting information (i.e., the plot context of an excerpt from a novel).

Below are some sample questions from the 2022 Free Response Questions .


Essay 3: Thematic Analysis

For the third and final essay, you'll be asked to discuss a particular theme in a work that you select . You will be provided with a list of notable works that address the given theme below the prompt, but you can also choose to discuss any "work of literary merit."

So while you do have the power to choose which work you wish to write an essay about , the key words here are "literary merit." That means no genre fiction! Stick to safe bets like authors in the list on pages 10-11 of the old 2014 AP Lit Course Description .

(I know, I know—lots of genre fiction works do have literary merit and Shakespeare actually began as low culture, and so on and so forth. Indeed, you might find academic designations of "literary merit" elitist and problematic, but the time to rage against the literary establishment is not your AP Lit test! Save it for a really, really good college admissions essay instead .)

Here's a sample question from 2022:


As you can see, the list of works provided spans many time periods and countries : there are ancient Greek plays ( Antigone ), modern literary works (such as Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale ), Shakespeare plays ( The Tempest ), 19th-century English plays ( The Importance of Being Earnest ), etc. So you have a lot to work with!

Also note that you can choose a work of "comparable literary merit." That means you can select a work not on this list as long as it's as difficult and meaningful as the example titles you've been given. So for example, Jane Eyre or East of Eden would be great choices, but Twilight or The Hunger Games would not.

Our advice? If you're not sure what a work of "comparable literary merit" is, stick to the titles on the provided list .


You might even see something by this guy.

How Is the AP Literature Test Graded?

The multiple-choice section of the exam comprises 45% of your total exam score; the three essays, or free-response section, comprise the other 55%. Each essay, then, is worth about 18% of your grade.

As on other AP exams, your raw score will be converted to a score from 1-5 . You don't have to get every point possible to get a 5 by any means. In 2022, 16.9% of students received 5s on the AP English Literature test, the 14th highest 5 score out of the 38 different AP exams.

So, how do you calculate your raw scores?

Multiple-Choice Scoring

For the multiple-choice section, you receive 1 point for each question you answer correctly . There's no guessing penalty, so you should answer every question—but guess only after you're able to eliminate any answer you know is wrong to up your chances of choosing the right one.

Free-Response Scoring

Scoring for multiple choice is pretty straightforward; however, essay scoring is a little more complicated.

Each of your essays will receive a score from 0 to 6 based on the College Board rubric , which also includes question-specific rubrics. All the rubrics are very similar, with only minor differences between them.

Each essay rubric has three elements you'll be graded on:

  • Thesis (0-1 points)
  • Evidence and Commentary (0-4 points)
  • Sophistication (0-1 points)

We'll be looking at the current rubric for the AP Lit exam , which was released in September 2019, and what every score means for each of the three elements above:

To get a high-scoring essay in the 5-6 point range, you'll need to not only come up with an original and intriguing argument that you thoroughly support with textual evidence, but you’ll also need to stay focused, organized, and clear. And all in just 40 minutes per essay!

If getting a high score on this section sounds like a tall order, that's because it is.


Practice makes perfect!

Skill-Building for Success on the AP Literature Exam

There are several things you can do to hone your skills and best prepare for the AP Lit exam.

Read Some Books, Maybe More Than Once

One of the most important steps you can take to prepare for the AP Literature and Composition exam is to read a lot and read well . You'll be reading a wide variety of notable literary works in your AP English Literature course, but additional reading will help you further develop your analytical reading skills .

I suggest checking out this list of notable authors in the 2014 AP Lit Course Description (pages 10-11).

In addition to reading broadly, you'll want to become especially familiar with the details of four to five books with different themes so you'll be prepared to write a strong student-choice essay. You should know the plot, themes, characters, and structural details of these books inside and out.

See my AP English Literature Reading List for more guidance.

Read (and Interpret) Poetry

One thing students might not do very much on their own time but that will help a lot with AP Lit exam prep is to read poetry. Try to read poems from a lot of eras and authors to get familiar with the language.

We know that poetry can be intimidating. That's why we've put together a bunch of guides to help you crack the poetry code (so to speak). You can learn more about poetic devices —like imagery and i ambic pentameter —in our comprehensive guide. Then you can see those analytical skills in action in our expert analysis of " Do not go gentle into that good night " by Dylan Thomas.

When you think you have a grip on basic comprehension, you can then move on to close reading (see below).

Hone Your Close Reading and Analysis Skills

Your AP class will likely focus heavily on close reading and analysis of prose and poetry, but extra practice won't hurt you. Close reading is the ability to identify which techniques the author is using and why. You'll need to be able to do this both to gather evidence for original arguments on the free-response questions and to answer analytical multiple-choice questions.

Here are some helpful close reading resources for prose :

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center's guide to close reading
  • Harvard College Writing Center's close reading guide
  • Purdue OWL's article on steering clear of close reading "pitfalls"

And here are some for poetry :

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison's poetry-reading guide
  • This guide to reading poetry at Poets.org (complete with two poetry close readings)
  • Our own expert analyses of famous poems, such as " Ozymandias ", and the 10 famous sonnets you should know

Learn Literary and Poetic Devices

You'll want to be familiar with literary terms so that any test questions that ask about them will make sense to you. Again, you'll probably learn most of these in class, but it doesn't hurt to brush up on them.

Here are some comprehensive lists of literary terms with definitions :

  • The 31 Literary Devices You Must Know
  • The 20 Poetic Devices You Must Know
  • The 9 Literary Elements You'll Find In Every Story
  • What Is Imagery?
  • Understanding Assonance
  • What Is Iambic Pentameter in Poetry?
  • Simile vs Metaphor: The 1 Big Difference
  • 10 Personification Examples in Poetry, Literature, and More

Practice Writing Essays

The majority of your grade on the AP English Lit exam comes from essays, so it's critical that you practice your timed essay-writing skills . You of course should use the College Board's released free-response questions to practice writing complete timed essays of each type, but you can also practice quickly outlining thorough essays that are well supported with textual evidence.

Take Practice Tests

Taking practice tests is a great way to prepare for the exam. It will help you get familiar with the exam format and overall experience . You can get sample questions from the Course and Exam Description , the College Board website , and our guide to AP English Lit practice test resources .

Be aware that the released exams don't have complete slates of free-response questions, so you might need to supplement these with released free-response questions .

Since there are three complete released exams, you can take one toward the beginning of your prep time to get familiar with the exam and set a benchmark, and one toward the end to make sure the experience is fresh in your mind and to check your progress.


Don't wander like a lonely cloud through your AP Lit prep.

AP Literature: 6 Critical Test-Day Tips

Before we wrap up, here are my six top tips for AP Lit test day:

  • #1: On the multiple-choice section, it's to your advantage to answer every question. If you eliminate all the answers you know are wrong before guessing, you'll raise your chances of guessing the correct one.
  • #2: Don't rely on your memory of the passage when answering multiple-choice questions (or when writing essays, for that matter). Look back at the passage!
  • #3: Interact with the text : circle, mark, underline, make notes—whatever floats your boat. This will help you retain information and actively engage with the passage.
  • #4: This was mentioned above, but it's critical that you know four to five books well for the student-choice essay . You'll want to know all the characters, the plot, the themes, and any major devices or motifs the author uses throughout.
  • #5: Be sure to plan out your essays! Organization and focus are critical for high-scoring AP Literature essays. An outline will take you a few minutes, but it will help your writing process go much faster.
  • #6: Manage your time on essays closely. One strategy is to start with the essay you think will be the easiest to write. This way you'll be able to get through it while thinking about the other two essays.


And don't forget to eat breakfast! Apron optional.

AP Literature Exam: Key Takeaways

The AP Literature exam is a three-hour test that includes an hour-long multiple-choice section based on five prose and poetry passages and with 55 questions, and a two-hour free-response section with three essays : one analyzing a poetry passage, one analyzing a prose passage, and one analyzing a work chosen by you, the student.

The multiple-choice section is worth 45% of your total score , and the free-response section is worth 55% . The three essays are each scored on a rubric of 0-6, and raw scores are converted to a final scaled score from 1 to 5.

Here are some things you can do to prepare for the exam:

  • Read books and be particularly familiar with four to five works for the student-choice essays
  • Read poetry
  • Work on your close reading and analysis skills
  • Learn common literary devices
  • Practice writing essays
  • Take practice tests!

On test day, be sure to really look closely at all the passages and really interact with them by marking the text in a way that makes sense to you. This will help on both multiple-choice questions and the free-response essays. You should also outline your essays before you write them.

With all this in mind, you're well on your way to AP Lit success!

What's Next?

If you're taking other AP exams this year, you might be interested in our other AP resources: from the Ultimate Guide to the US History Exam , to the Ultimate AP Chemistry Study Guide , to the Best AP Psychology Study Guide , we have tons of articles on AP courses and exams for you !

Looking for practice exams? Here are some tips on how to find the best AP practice tests . We've also got comprehensive lists of practice tests for AP Psychology , AP Biology , AP Chemistry , and AP US History .

Deciding which APs to take? Take a look through the complete list of AP courses and tests , read our analysis of which AP classes are the hardest and easiest , and learn how many AP classes you should take .

Want to build the best possible college application?   We can help.   PrepScholar Admissions combines world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies. We've guided thousands of students to get into their top choice schools, from state colleges to the Ivy League. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit and are driven to get you admitted to your dream schools. Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in:

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

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Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, ap lit essay format - how to ace it.

I'm good with analysis but formatting essays? Not my strong suit. Anyone got the deets on the AP Lit essay format or tips to ensure I'm hitting all the structural points that the graders are looking for?

Absolutely, formatting can seem daunting, but once you understand what the AP graders are looking for, it'll become second nature. Start with a strong thesis statement that clearly responds to the prompt — this will be your roadmap. Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that directly relates to your thesis, followed by specific evidence from the text (quotations are great!), and then your analysis of how that evidence supports your argument. Make sure to explicitly tie your points back to the thesis to create a cohesive essay.

Finally, don't forget your conclusion; it should not only restate your thesis in a new light, considering the arguments you've made, but also bring new insight to the piece. Using this structure should help you present your ideas in a clear and organized manner, and with practice, you'll excel. And remember, clarity and cohesiveness trump fancy language; it's more important to be understood than to sound sophistic.

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  1. How to Write the AP Lit Prose Essay + Example

    The AP Lit prose essay is the second of the three essays included in the free-response section of the AP Lit exam, lasting around 40 minutes in total. A prose passage of approximately 500 to 700 words and a prompt will be given to guide your analytical essay. Worth about 18% of your total grade, the essay will be graded out of six points ...

  2. How to Write the AP Lit Prose Essay with Examples

    Brittany's work has been featured in The Iowa Review, The Hopkins Review, and the Pittsburgh City Paper, among others, and she was also a 2021 Pushcart Prize nominee. AP Lit Prose Essay Examples - we analyze the strengths and weaknesses of AP Lit prose essay examples to help you prepare for the exam.

  3. AP English Literature and Composition Exam Questions

    Download free-response questions from this year's exam and past exams along with scoring guidelines, sample responses from exam takers, and scoring distributions. If you are using assistive technology and need help accessing these PDFs in another format, contact Services for Students with Disabilities at 212-713-8333 or by email at ssd@info ...

  4. PDF AP English Literature and Composition

    AP English Literature Scoring Rubric, Free-Response Question 1-3 | SG 1 Scoring Rubric for Question 1: Poetry Analysis 6 points Reporting Category Scoring Criteria Row A Thesis (0-1 points) 7.B 0 points For any of the following: • There is no defensible thesis. • The intended thesis only restates the prompt.

  5. AP Lit Prose Analysis: Practice Prompt Samples & Feedback

    Master AP Lit Prose Analysis with this practice prompt, featuring sample student responses paired with real teacher feedback! ... Read the selection carefully and then write an essay analyzing how Petry establishes Lutie Johnson's relationship to the urban setting through the use of literary devices.

  6. AP Lit FRQ 2: Prose Analysis Review

    AP Lit: Prose Analysis. There are three types of free-response questions on the AP Literature exam. You will be given 120 minutes to read two pieces of text and write all three essays, so you should take approximately 40 minutes to write each one. The entire free-response section is worth 55% of your total exam score.


    Although these essays may not be error-free and are less perceptive or less convincing than 9-8 essays, the students present their ideas with clarity and control and refer to the text for support. Essays scored a 7 present better-developed analysis and more consistent command of the elements of effective composition than do essays scored a 6.

  8. AP Lit Prose Analysis: Practice Essays & Feedback

    AP Lit Prose Analysis Practice Essays & Feedback. 26 min read • january 2, 2021. C. Candace Moore. Writing essays is a great way to practice prose analysis and prep for the AP exam! Review student responses for an essay prompt and corresponding feedback from Fiveable teacher Candace Moore.

  9. PDF AP English Literature and Composition Question 2: Prose Analysis (2019

    AP English Literature and Composition Question 2: Prose Analysis (2019) Sample Student Responses 4 Sample P [1] Society's point of view always has a tendency to shape who people are. In the novel The Rise of Silas Lapham, by William Dean Howell, two sisters of different nature both view societal point of view as foreign.


    The writing often demonstrates a lack of control over the conventions of composition: inadequate development of ideas, accumulation of errors, or a focus that is unclear, inconsistent, or repetitive. Essays scored a 3 may contain significant misreading and/or demonstrate inept writing. 2-1 These essays compound the weaknesses of the papers in ...

  11. How to Get a 9 on Prose Analysis FRQ in AP® English Literature

    To get a nine on the prose analysis FRQ essay in the AP® Literature and Composition exam, you should practice timed essays. Write as many practice essays as you can. Follow the same procedure each time. After reading the prompt, map out your thesis statement, paragraph topic sentences, and supporting details and quotes in the order of their ...

  12. Expert's Guide to the AP Literature Exam

    The AP Literature Exam is a three-hour exam that contains two sections in this order: An hour-long, 55-question multiple-choice section. A two-hour, three-question free-response section. The exam tests your ability to analyze works and excerpts of literature and cogently communicate that analysis in essay form.

  13. Introduction to Q2 Prose Essay of the AP literature exam

    Q2 Prose Essay: Overview. Prose passage from: Novel (usually the opening chapter / scene) Short story. A dialogue between characters. Framework for Question: "Read the following ___ carefully. Then write an essay in which you discuss the author's complex attitudes towards ____ and also discuss the devices (such as ___, ___, or ____) the ...

  14. PDF AP English Literature and Composition

    Question 2: Tobias Smollett, The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle. The score should reflect the quality of the essay as a whole — its content, style, and mechanics. Reward the students for what they do well. The score for an exceptionally well-written essay may be raised by 1 point above the otherwise appropriate score.

  15. PDF AP English Literature and Composition

    essay is organized by the actions of the speaker, first as he walks through the empty streets where the "'steam / pouring from the manhole covers'" is "the only thing exciting about the man's life" to his encounter with the saxophone player, which the essay describes as "the first instance in which the speakers point of view does

  16. PDF Question 2: Prose Analysis (2018) Sample Student Responses

    AP English Literature and Composition Question 2: Prose Analysis (2018) Sample Student Responses . 1 . Sample E [1] How do you reconcile your former understanding of someone with the new person the appears to be? In the given passage, Nathanial Hawthorne's narrator struggles to accept

  17. AP Lit essay format

    Absolutely, formatting can seem daunting, but once you understand what the AP graders are looking for, it'll become second nature. Start with a strong thesis statement that clearly responds to the prompt — this will be your roadmap. Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that directly relates to your thesis, followed by specific evidence from the text (quotations are great!), and ...

  18. PDF Sample Student Responses

    AP English Literature and Composition Prose Fiction Analysis Free-Response Question (2020) Sample Student Responses 1 Sample A [1] In this passage from a 1912 novel, the narrator wistfully details his childhood crush on a girl violinist. Through a motif of the allure of musical instruments, and abundant sensory

  19. PDF MsEffie's List of Prose Essay Prompts for Advanced Placement® English

    MsEffie's List of Prose Essay Prompts for Advanced Placement® English Literature Exams, 1970-2023* *Advanced Placement® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this website. (Updated 19 September 2022) NOTE: From 1956 (first official administration of AP tests) through 1979, one AP English exam was given.

  20. AP English Literature and Composition Exam

    Section I: Multiple Choice. 55 Questions | 1 Hour | 45% of Exam Score. Includes 5 sets of questions with 8-13 questions per set. Each set is preceded by a passage of prose fiction, drama, or poetry of varying difficulty. The multiple-choice section will always include at least 2 prose fiction passages (this may include drama) and at least 2 ...

  21. PDF 2015 AP Prose Prompts

    AP Literature Prose Essay Prompts (1970-2015) NOTE: From 1956 (first official administration of AP tests) through 1979, one AP English examine was given. In 1980, separate Language and Literature exams were offered. The following prose essay prompts are from a variety of novels, essays, short stories, and nonfiction sources.

  22. PDF AP English Literature and Composition

    the prose passage means reading closely for both literary techniques and meaning, a challenge given the relative length of the prose passage. Students were expected to view the text specifically as a prose passage, recognizing conventions particular to the genre, and then analyze how those techniques are used to shape the passage and its meaning.