Introduction to the Free Response Essay for AP English Literature
Nothing in life is free, but this essay does indicate that the end is near. So, hang in there. However, a cliche-clogged essay is not the indicator of the high-range essay.
What is a free-response essay?
The free-response essay is based on a provocative question that highlights specific insights applicable to a broad range of literary texts. The question provides for varied personal interpretations and multiple approaches. It allows students to truly create the specific substance of their own essay.
What is the purpose of the free-response essay?
The College Board wants to assess your ability to discuss a work of literature in a particular context. The illustrations you include in your essay will demonstrate your insights and critical thinking as well as your writing ability.
What makes this essay "free"?
Although the question is the same for all students, you have total freedom to choose the piece of literature to which you will refer. Once chosen, you have total freedom to select the specifics that will support your thesis. Unlike the other two essays, which have rubrics based on certain concrete interpretations and directions of the text, your free-response essay will be uniquely your own.
If this is total freedom of expression, how can I ever get less than a 9?
The test reader is expecting an essay that demonstrates a mature understanding and defense of the prompt. Your paper must be specific and well organized. It must also adhere to the topic. You will lose major credit for providing only plot summary. Your illustrations should be cogent and insightful rather than obvious or superficial. For a high score you must bring something specific and relevant to the page.
What are the pitfalls of the free-response essay?
It is our experience that the free-response question is a double-edged sword. Students can suffer from overconfidence because of the open nature of this essay. They depend on memory rather than on preparation and often go for the most obvious illustrations. They tend to ramble on in vague and unsupported generalities, and they frequently provide incorrect information. The failure to plan and limit can undermine this essay.
Students often have trouble choosing the appropriate work and lose valuable time pondering a variety of choices. It is important to be decisive and confident in your presentation.
What kinds of works may I refer to in this essay?
Generally, you are asked to choose a full-length work, almost always a novel or play. However, if the prompt says "choose a work," you may use a poem, short story, novella, or a work of nonfiction. Note: You may never use a film.
Must I use the list of works provided at the bottom of the prompt?
Absolutely not! Since this is a free-response essay, the choice of a literary work is up to you. You should choose a work that is appropriate to the prompt, appropriate to AP students, and one that is comfortable for you.
Must I use works read this year?
No, but why would you choose any work that could be a faded memory or unsuitable for AP-level analysis? We always recommend using works that you studied in class and have read and discussed throughout the year. One exception occurs when you have written a lengthy literary research paper or a sustained critical analysis. In this situation, you may have real in-depth familiarity with a work that you could adapt to a free-response question. By all means, go for it!
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