Introduction to Prose Passage Essay for AP English Literature

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

Introduction to the Prose Passage Essay

This section of the exam gives you an opportunity to read and analyze a prose piece of literature. This is your chance to become personally involved in the text and to demonstrate your literary skills.

What is an AP Literature prose passage?

Generally, it is a one-page excerpt from a work of fiction or nonfiction. More often than not, the selection will be from a novel or short story. The nonfiction selection may include essays, biographies, autobiographies, and articles from periodicals. Be aware that the exam may also present an excerpt from a drama.

What is the purpose in writing an essay about a prose piece?

First, the people at the College Board want to determine your facility in reading and interpreting a sustained piece of literature. It requires you to understand the text and to analyze those techniques and devices the author uses to achieve his or her purpose.

Second, the AP exam is designed to allow you to demonstrate your ease and fluency with terminology, interpretation, and criticism. Also, the level of your writing should be a direct reflection of your critical thinking.

Third, the AP exam determines your ability to make connections between analysis and interpretation. For example, when you find a metaphor, you should identify and connect it to the author's intended purpose or meaning. You should not just list items as you locate them. You must connect them to your interpretation.

Types of Prose Passage Essay Questions

Let's look at a few prose passage questions that have been asked on the AP Literature exam in the past:

  • Analyze narrative and literary techniques and other resources of language used for characterization.
  • How does a narrator reveal character? (i.e., tone, diction, syntax, point of view)
  • How does the author reveal a character's predicament? (i.e., diction, imagery, point of view)
  • Explain the effect of the passage on the reader.
  • Compare/contrast two passages concerning diction and details for effect on reader.
  • How does the passage provide characterization and evaluation of one character over another? (i.e., diction, syntax, imagery, tone)
  • What is the attitude of the speaker toward a particular subject?
  • Analyze the effect of revision when given both the original and the revised version of a text.
  • Analyze style and tone and how they are used to explore the author's attitudes toward his or her subject.
  • How is the reader prepared for the conclusion of the piece?

You should be prepared to write an essay based on any of these prompts. Practice. Practice. Practice anticipating questions. Keep a running list of the kinds of questions your teacher asks.

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