Each May marks the time when thousands of American and Canadian high-school students take out their pens and pencils and prepare for hours of grueling advanced placement exams. Why do they do it? Some simply want to prove to themselves that they have mastered the basic principles of biology. Some are taking the AP microeconomics exam because they took the class and their school tells them that they have to take the exam. The vast majority of students, however, aim to save themselves thousands of dollars by testing out of introductory college classes by passing the AP exam in a given subject (or two or three).
One thing that most AP exams, from English Literature and Composition to Biology, have in common is writing. Students are expected to write analytical or expository essays on various topics. And one thing that the AP essays have in common is a time limit. Students need to write some essays in as little as twenty-five minutes (in the case of AP government) or forty minutes (in the case of AP English Literature and Composition). No matter the topic, there are some basic ideas to keep in mind when writing essays for the AP exams.
Organization – Write For The Graders
Well organized essays score higher on AP exams than poorly-ordered jumbles of words. Those who grade the AP essays read thousands of essays, and they are not going to search your conclusion for a point that belonged in the paragraph on diction. Write a brief introduction-no more than two or three sentences that lays out the organization of the essay and states the points you plan to address along with the theme each point will relate to. Write your body paragraphs in order according to the outline set in your introduction, and do not let the purpose of each body paragraph stray. Address only one point in each. Finally, write a brief concluding paragraph that highlights the theme and the main points. Like the introduction, this should be no longer than two or three sentences.
Always Have Clarity In Mind
The purpose is very important for AP exams. AP graders have a very simple rubric that they score essays on. They look for specific points; they do not pay attention to how eloquently those points are made. Quite simply, then, it is important to get to the point. If an AP biology grader is looking for “Electrons provide energy for phosphorylation of ADP to ATP,” they will find it if it is stated just like that, in as few words as possible. You will gain more points for clarity than for eloquence. You will score higher if the grader has an easy time finding your points.
Forty minutes is not a lot of time to analyze one of Shakespeare’s soliloquies in. Twenty-five minutes is not a lot of time to explain the complex relationship of bureaucracies, interest groups, and Congress. Therefore, it is extremely important to spend the time writing content, not filler words. Every paragraph, every sentence, every word should have an explicit purpose. Read the prompt. Read it again-maybe even three times. Everything you write should be directly related to the prompt-everything else is just fluff. If you are asked to write about enzymes, never mention nerves; and if you are asked to write about diction, tone, and figurative language, don’t waste time on the rhyme structure of a poem.
Essays usually make up about 50% of the points in an AP exam. So, writing a good essay is really crucial. Save eloquent, flowery writing for a creative writing class; it will do you no good on the AP exam. Write well organized, clear essays and avoid anything unrelated the prompt and you will be walking the path to thousands of dollars and a lot of time-saved in college.