AP language arts: How to write a persuasive essay

The AP Language Arts persuasive essay should last approximately forty minutes, and consist of about a third of your grade. There are a few skills that help students master the persuasive essay. 

Many find that there is not a black and white answer to any given essay prompt. This is true, and intentional. However, the challenge is not to go one way or the other. Rather, it is to take a stance. Qualifying the assertion, or taking a middle position, can help you be perceived as a more developed and insightful writer. While qualifying an assertion, use three steps. First, defend the assertion. Second, challenge it. Third, come to a conclusion, conceding to both sides. 

Content is the most important part of the AP Language essay. The body of the essay will consist of various examples that support the student’s thesis. There are two types of examples used to support the thesis: knowledge and experience. For the sake of both time and simplicity, it is best to pick one of each.

Knowledge is broken up into history, current events, science, technology, music, sports, and human behavior. I shall break this down even further until there is merely history, current events, and literature. In choosing an example, it is important to have a substantial knowledge of details, such as dates of Supreme Court Cases or names of significant suffragists. While summarizing a historical anecdote is perfectly acceptable, it is important to make sure the reader knows why the fact was inserted. Experience can also be used as an example in an AP Language essay, though it is important that personal anecdotes are used as rhetorical devices rather than confessions.

The most important part of the body paragraph is the “Why.” Why is a personal childhood memory vital in the essay’s support of the prompt? Why does Amelia Earhart’s disappearance argue against it?

Careless mistakes can make or break an essay, and determine whether it is an ‘8’ or a ‘4’. Senior AP Language essay readers say that some of the most common errors include a lack of understanding of directions and essays that merely paraphrase the passage, and theses that do not take a clearly defined stand. It’s vital to read the passage carefully, and follow directions. Many of the prompts are quite complex, even if they appear simple at a glance. The second and third common mistakes are similar – merely paraphrasing the passage shows the reader that the student did not have a substantial understanding of the topic. It is weak, ineffective, and not sufficient for a college level essay. Even if a student does not simply paraphrase, it is important that he or she takes a solid stance – whether that be one side or the argument or the other, or in between, the student should be confident about his or her place in the argument.

The persuasive essay portion can be daunting, but simple things like following directions and knowing the general structure of an essay can mean the difference between a pass mark and a very good one.