My Experiences with AP Language + Secret Essay Formulas

As a student in a top tier high school, I was placed in many “advanced writing classes”. 

Other than learning the rudimentary skills (such as grammar and spelling), I feel like I’ve learned nothing in those classes. I feel like the only reason I got decent marks in writing is because I followed the teacher’s methodology. During times when I had to write an in-class essay in my AP Language class, I felt like I did not do well at all when I finished. However, the next day, I would get a satisfactory score. If I personally don’t think I did well, why should I get a good score? I apparently followed what the teacher wanted me to do. Since the score I got was high, I felt like it didn’t matter if I thought I wrote well or not. What mattered was that my teacher thought I wrote well. 

At the end of the year, there are three essays that you must write. These essays are all part of the final AP Language exam, which determines our final grade for the class. We practiced each type throughout the year and I found a ‘formula’ to each essay. This ‘formula’ was an outline I memorized; all I had to do was read the prompt and simply fill in the details with overused vocabulary and hackneyed language.

The three types of essays we have to write are Rhetorical Analysis, Argument, and Synthesis.

On the CollegeBoard website, you can see the descriptions of each essay type. 

Rhetorical Analysis: Students read a non-fiction text and analyze how the writers language choices contribute to his or her purpose and intended meaning for the text.

Argument: Students create an evidence-based argument that responds to a given topic.

Synthesis: Students read several texts about a topic and create an argument that synthesizes at least three of the sources to support their thesis.

The essay scores range from low-scoring, mid-scoring, and high-scoring essays. 

I would fail at Rhetorical Analysis, but I realized if I analyzed the tone and one other prevalent rhetorical device, I would be able to write a high-scoring essay. 

This is how I would structure the Rhetorical Analysis: 

Intro: Add context on the non-fiction text (who wrote it, when the author wrote it, circumstances at the time the author wrote it, etc.); then I would create a general thesis statement following this formula: “(author of the text) utilizes a (add a adjective describing the tone) tone in order to (add purpose)”. 

Body Paragraph 1: I start my body paragraph off talking about the tone. The first sentence is structured to be: “The use of a (adjective) tone causes the author to (add purpose, but reword it). My whole body paragraph is devoted to the tone and how its relation to the overall purpose. Repeat, but don’t use the same words. When you exhaust your ideas, end the paragraph by linking it to the next rhetorical device you will be talking about. 

Body Paragraph 2: This body paragraph can be about logos, ethos, pathos, or any particular rhetorical device. Structure the first sentence to be: “(Author’s) use of (rhetorical device) makes the readers understand (add purpose, but slightly reword it).” Talk about the major devices you see in the non-fiction text. Then conclude.

Conclusion: Bring the tone, the rhetorical devices, the purpose, and the circumstances at the time the author wrote this into one cohesive paragraph.

I understand that you may think this is more complicated, but for those who are formula-inclined, this will guarantee an excellent score on the Rhetorical Analysis part of the exam. 

Now, onto Argument: 

You may need to have some examples on hand, but if you are aware of current events and know some inspirational leaders, you should be just fine. 

Intro: Context on what the prompt is asking. No hook, just talk about the topic the prompt addressed. Then, state your position. For example, if the prompt asks whether standardized exams actually work or not, “Standardized exams are not an effective way to test the knowledge of students.” is an example of a thesis statement for your essay. 

Body Paragraphs: Create an idea that supports the prompt; this is your topic sentence. one idea per body paragraph. Having 2 body paragraphs is a must, but 3 strong ones will give you the most benefits. The idea is something like: “Standardized exams cause students to doubt their intellectual capacity.” Then have an example (which can be personal, historical, literary) that supports the idea (which the idea then supports the thesis). 

Repeat this process for the other body paragraphs, but it’s a good idea to have one body paragraph with a personal example and the other to have a historical example. Remember that ideas can be anything as long as it supports your prompt. 

Conclusion: Wrap it up; restate the context and your thesis. 

Lastly, the Synthesis: 

The structure of this essay is very similar to the structure of the argument essay. However, it is good to just have 2 body paragraphs. in Synthesis essays. 

You are given 9 sources. once you read the prompt, choose a standing. Then, pick 4 sources that supports your standing. If you cannot find 4 sources, find 3 sources and overlap one source on both of your body paragraphs. 

Make sure to have an idea that relates to your stand for each body paragraph. Synthesis essays are Argument essays, but instead of coming up with examples, the sources become your examples. 

Don’t forget to have a conclusion! It is vital to scoring a high-scoring essay. 

I constantly applied this method to my writing and the grade I received on this exam was a 4, which meant I was well-qualified. 

Although students who are more inclined to writing may find these formulas unnecessary, they certainly helped me. I would practice this formula over and over again throughout the year. I only learned the formulas and I managed to be well-qualified on the AP Language exam, receiving college credit as well. 

However, to me, this meant nothing at all. All I did was find the formula to each of the 3 essays and I followed that formula like a loyal dog would to this master (this is a bit of an extreme analogy, but it is a fairly accurate depiction). 

I didn’t learn anything; in fact, throughout the entire year, I was completely disengaged and dispassionate about that class. 

I asked my friend, who would always get high scores on his essays, “Do you feel like your writing has improved?”

He responded, “No. I’m just following how the teacher is telling me to write in order to get the high score I want for my GPA.” 

Luckily, those times are now over! 

Ever since I began writing my thoughts on this blog did I feel a joy for writing. When you are free to choose what to write about, you start to feel a yearning towards writing on a daily basis. I even found my interest in reading again through the books I  like to read. I realized by displaying my thoughts through my writing, I will able to gain more wisdom.

We hear wisdom from the people we admire, respect or enjoy to be with. As we accumulate wisdom throughout our lives, it’s important to share the wisdom to other people who need it. However, gaining the wisdom is only one side of the coin. Explaining this wisdom and sharing this wisdom is the other side. By sharing my thoughts through this blog, I am able to develop the ability to share my wisdom with others. 

Your words can impact another person’s life and that person can impact another’s… 

“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” -Buddha 


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