The Basics

The essay component: 3 essays, 2 hours, 1 pen frantically scratching away on a page, all culminating in 55% of your total score. The essays are always divided into a prose, poetry, and free response questions. The prose and poetry sound fairly simple – read a passage and write an essay on some aspect of said passage. The free response always creates a larger problem, and is therefore given more importance in a class – choose a work (novel, play, etc.) and write an essay on it. The problem being that you have to remember the important details of said work and write an excellent essay on the topic. But don’t worry. I’m here to make things easier.

If you can master writing an essay – any essay on any subject – you can master the essay component. All it takes is practice and knowing what you have to do.

To begin mastering the essay you must be sure to know and include all the key parts of an essay in your essay. This is so important that I’ve made three additional posts just to expand on the topic of what to include in your essay. So, I am just going to give you a brief overview here.


Forget all about anything format-related you have learned up until this point. There is no need for things like “mandatory five-paragraph essays” or whatever style you’ve been taught before AP. The important thing is that you can make your point and make it well throughout your essay. The only thing you need to remember with format is that you should have intro and concluding sentences for your paragraphs.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT YOUR ESSAY IS THAT YOU ANSWER THE PROMPT!! The grading scale is based on how well you answer the prompt. If you don’t answer the prompt, you fail. ANSWER. THE. PROMPT.

The introduction introduces things. In your introduction, introduce the author, the book’s title, the general topic which you will be discussing in your essay, define any key terms you will use throughout your essay, and end with a thesis statement.

The thesis statement is your road map. The rest of your essay should logically stem from your thesis. It is your central idea and what you are proving. Make sure the rest of your essay makes sense with your thesis.

Your thesis should be 2D. Don’t stick to the boring “The author uses lit device 1, 2, and 3 in the novel” format. You’re in AP. You’re better than that. Make your writing (and yourself) appear more sophisticated for a higher score.

The body paragraphs are full of Acts, Facts, and AbstractsThere is no required number of body paragraphs. Write until you feel you have made your point well. Then stop. Don’t add frivolous, ineffectual, long-winded sentences with no point whatsoever. It’s annoying. So annoying, in fact, that the annoyance continues past the initial reading of said sentences, eventually permeating throughout one’s day – a day filled with trivial nonsense – which will then be filled with annoyance.

The concluding paragraph finishes up your essay by Tying it Back to your thesis. Your thesis is the most important sentence in your essay. Everything you include must be relevant to your thesis, and your conclusion is no exception. Make sure your readers know exactly what it is you are trying to prove at every moment throughout your essay.

Always write in present tense!! This bothered me for quite some time, but just accept it. Apparently you are supposed to write as if any events in the book you are referencing are happening as you write them. Even if you reference the end, beginning, then middle. The characters have a magic remote or something. I don’t know. Just do it.

Never use passive voice. It is always “Sally gives the book to Jimmy”. Never “The book is given to Jimmy by Sally” or however you are supposed to write like that. (As you can probably tell, my teacher Brain-Bleach’d even how to write in passive voice from me.)

Use the author’s last name when referring to him/her. With the exception of the first time you state the author’s name, it is never J.K. Rowling, just Rowling.

Make sure you know who is using the literary device. The author uses literary devices such as diction, syntax, and other structure-related devices. Symbolism, foreshadowing, and other obscure devices are used in the novel to blah.

Use adjectives when describing diction, syntax, and mood. Any novel, by definition, contains the elements described above. You need to use an adjective to tell what kind of diction/syntax/ mood/other-device-inherent-in-a-novel is being used. Colloquial diction. Simple syntax. A foreboding mood.

Themes are not clichés. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is not an acceptable theme for a book. It just isn’t. Don’t do it. A theme is “the moral ambiguity of the upper class” or “the power of dreams.” It is an idea. The most resilient parasite.

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Summer reading, while annoying and generally the bane of all students-enjoying-their-well-deserved-vacation’s existence, is still important. Not because the book will change your life, but because the first couple weeks of school (not counting the arbitrary getting-to-know-you first day) center around it. Make sure you know what your summer reading is, read it, and remember enough of it to get by.