Tips for the Poetry Free Response Question in AP English Literature

The AP English Literature and Composition text is a difficult test that requires student to be able to analyze prose and poetry and write about what they have read.  When it comes to the poetry free-response question, students are required to read and analyze a poem, then write about the significance of the poem and its effect. Here are a few of the top tips for writing a successful response to the poetry free-response question.

Answer the prompt

Read the question very carefully.  Underline important parts of the question so that you answer each of the parts correctly. Failing to answer part of the prompt can really mess up your score.  Your prompt will not simply ask for the meaning of the poem, but also for the significance of the poem and how the author portrays that significance. One common error on the poetry question is that students only interpret the poem. They fail to analyze it and find any literary meaning in the work.

Mark it and make a plan

Preparation is the key to any successful essay for any AP test.  You don’t have the time to go back to look for concepts in the poem, so mark the poem as you read.  Look for common themes of imagery, shifts in tone or mood, and selection of detail. Rhyme schemes and meter are important, but most likely have little to do with the poem’s actual significance. Once you have marked the poem, create a basic outline for your response so that you do not get off-topic.

Be insightful

Understanding the poem is one battle, but writing something unique and insightful is another. Once you understand the poem, ask yourself about the theme and the poem’s meaning. Then make insightful observations about how the poem works towards that theme. The more unique your insights, the better.

Write chronologically

AP Literature free-response questions are different than other AP essays. Rather than create three points in your essay, try following the poem throughout the essay.  This ensures that you cover the essay from top to bottom and do not miss any important literary concepts in the piece.  This technique also makes your essay easier for the AP readers to read and score.

Remember, the essay is not about the literary techniques or an interpretation of the poem.  The essay should be an analysis of why the poem is so effective in portraying a theme. Every sentence that you write about the poem should be used to convince the reader that the author is working toward a particular idea.

Remember your time limit; Make decisions accordingly

Sometimes, you will have to cut things short for the sake of time.  Oftentimes, students trying to make a great first impression will spend too much time on the introduction. A good first impression is great, but the introduction is not the whole essay! If your introduction is poor, you can make up for it later. Conclusions are almost unnecessary. Keep them short and to the point. After you finish the poetry essay you have a limited amount of time to finish the other two, so don’t take too much time on those last few sentences.

If you have practiced for the poetry question and use these tips, your response shouldn’t be a problem. The AP Literature test is difficult, but not impossible, and as long as you answer the questions correctly and with insight, you will receive an excellent score.