Writing an AP English Essay…or any essay!

Now that the Spring 2020 SAT® and ACT® exams are officially cancelled, students are left wondering what this means for the AP® English Literature and Composition / English Language and Composition tests.  As of now, College Board plans to hold these exams in May for students to complete at home.

That said, just because the tests are happening at home, doesn’t mean they’ll be easy.  Like any important assessment, you need to be ready.  Realistically there’s no way to prepare for every possible question you may encounter, but if you follow this methodical approach to writing an AP English essay, you’ll be able to quickly construct your essay and compose it.

Writing a thesis statement.

As with any writing assignment, getting started is the hardest part, but when you take a moment to think through your ideas and plan your essay, the writing process will be more efficient and effective.

  1. Read the question.
  2. Develop a thesis statement that addresses the question you’ve been asked to write about.
Teacher tips:
  • Don’t rush into writing your AP English essay too quickly.
  • Take a few minutes to compose your thoughts.
  • Create an outline.

Writing an introduction.

With your thesis statement in place, you’re ready to start building out your introduction. Begin your introduction with an attention-grabbing line to capture your reader’s attention.  Making an impact at the very beginning gives the reader something to think about as he or she continues through your paper. This “impact line” should come before your thesis statement. 

  1. Introduce the reader to your argument and capture their attention.
  2. Provide relevant background information.

Writing a body paragraph.

Like the introduction, spending a few minutes to outline your body paragraphs on your AP English essay will be a huge benefit when you’re taking the test and realize time is running out!

  1. Create an outline for each of the body paragraphs you plan to write.  Because of time constraints, it’s best to set a limit of 3-4 body paragraphs for writing an AP English essay.
Teacher tips:
  • Outline each body paragraph by including a topic sentence, which is the main idea you’re going to develop in the paragraph and should follow directly from your thesis statement.  
  • Identify textual evidence by noting quotes you’ll want to discuss.
  • Summarize the key points of analysis, making sure the analysis you selected supports your topic sentence.

Writing a good body paragraph is like writing a good introduction. You have all the parts you need from your outline. You just need to stitch them together. You’ll write your topic sentence and support it with evidence and quotes, making sure to cite the sources. 

The most important piece of a body paragraph (other than the topic sentence) is the analysis section. This is the point of the essay where you connect the quote to the main idea in your topic sentence. Think of this as explaining why you thought that quote makes sense in supporting your topic sentence. Be sure the connection is clear, logical, and relevant to the general argument you are making in your AP English essay.  Once done, continue to your next body paragraph and repeat this process.

Writing a conclusion.

Now that you’ve written your introduction and a few body paragraphs, it’s time to wrap up your paper with a solid conclusion.  As with the other paragraphs, you already have the key elements from when you created your outline.  The conclusion is the summary and a reminder to the reader of the argument that you’ve made in your introduction and developed in your body paragraphs.

Once you’ve summarized your main points, you’ll want to make sure that you close your AP English essay with relevant thoughts that will give your reader something interesting to think about. Obviously, these should be related to the argument you discussed in your paper, but can also extend beyond that. These closing remarks should only be a few sentences and provide a level of detail​ that helps your reader know why you’re adding these final remarks. 

  1. Summarize your arguments with a few sentences that remind the reader of your thesis and give them something to think about after they’ve read your paper.
Teacher tip:
  • End your essay by challenging your readers’ thinking by talking about an assumption that might follow on to an argument that you’ve just made.

A little planning goes a long way.

While it may be unnerving not knowing the question on your AP English assessment, with a little test prep planning and practice, it’s more manageable than you think. Nailing the thesis statement and outlining your essay will set you up for success and have you feeling good about the AP English essay you’re submitting.

Get yourself ready for the exam by looking up a few practice writing prompts, then create a free trial account with Ecree.  You’ll get real-time writing feedback on your practice essay and get an idea of how prepared you are for the AP English assessment.