Tips for the Open Ended Free Response Question in AP English Literature

The open-ended free response question on the AP English Literature and Composition exam can be a daunting task for the exam student. After all, this is the one question that requires previous literary knowledge. In the open-ended question, students are given a prompt and asked to write an essay based on past literature that they have read. Some pieces of literature appropriate to the prompt are suggested, but students can choose any novel or play of great literary status.

If you are to write a successful response for this difficult prompt, you will need a few tips.

Cover up the suggested novel titles

Do not look at the suggested novel titles before you have read the question.  Too many students look at the titles and try to pick one that they know from the list, rather than use one that they have come up with on their own. Cover up the novel suggestions, and as you read the prompt, think about what books you remember that best relate to the question asked.

You can look after you have read the prompt. Don’t be discouraged if your book is not on the list. Write about it anyway! In fact, if the book is not on the list, your essay will appear to be fresh and unique. Unique essays put the AP scorers in a good mood.

AP stands for “Answer the Prompt”

Read the prompt carefully and mark it.  Make sure you underline key words that relate to how your essay should be written. Do not stray from the prompt! Off-topic essays are given a bad score, no matter how well written.

Don’t get stuck on the introduction

Introductions are important, but not worth the time you will waste on an eight-sentence intro. Don’t write any more than four sentences for your introduction. You only need a few sentences to get the point across before launching into the “meat” of your essay. Long introductions can also get off-topic very easily.

Incorporate the book’s theme

Theme will be necessary in every essay you write for AP Literature.  Make sure that the theme is somehow relevant to every paragraph you write.  If you have to add it in last minute, that is fine. Just be sure to cover both the significance of the novel and all parts of the prompt. Be careful, also, to avoid summary. Summary is not the same as analysis. Too much of the book’s plot can completely ruin your essay. Only talk about the plot as necessary. Remember, the reader has probably read the book already and does not need to know what it is about, but what you have gathered from it.

Avoid five-paragraph format

Five-paragraph format might have been great for honors classes, but it does not work here. You have a whole book to draw examples, details and theme from. It should be very easy to write more than five paragraphs for an essay based on a whole book.  Try six or seven paragraphs, rather than five. That will break the boring format and bring a little more life and in-depth analysis to your essay.

The AP English Literature open-ended question terrifies many students, but it shouldn’t. Be prepared for multiple types of questions by reading plays and novels of multiple genres and eras. Preparation is key to any part of the English exam. With these tips and preparation, you are sure to earn a great score.