The Free-Response Essay Prompts and Rubrics for AP English Literature

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

Types of Free-Response Prompts

Here are some topics that could be the basis for a free-response prompt. We also include some suggested works for these.

  • The journey as a major force in a work. (Gulliver's Travels, As I Lay Dying, The Stranger, The Kite Runner, etc.)
  • What happens to a dream deferred? (Hedda Gabler, Desire Under the Elms, Their Eyes Were Watching God, etc.)
  • Transformation (literal and/or figurative). (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Black Like Me, Metamorphosis, etc.)
  • Descent into madness/hell. (
  • Medea, Heart of Darkness, Secret Sharer
  • , etc.)
  • An ironic reversal in a character's beliefs or actions. (Heart of Darkness, The Stranger, Oedipus, etc.)
  • Perception and reality—"What is, is not." (Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, etc.)
  • A child becomes a force to reveal _ _ _ _ _. (Jane Eyre, Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Flies, etc.)
  • Ceremony or ritual plays an important role. (The Stranger, Lord of the Flies, The Sun Also Rises, Suddenly Last Summer, etc.)
  • The role of the fool, comic character, or wise servant who reveals _ _ _ _ _. (King Lear, The Importance of Being Earnest, Tartuffe, etc.)

Note: Fill in works you would use to respond to the above prompts.

Here's another set of possible free-response prompts for development:

  • How an opening scene or chapter establishes the character, conflict, or theme of a major literary work.
  • How a minor character is used to develop a major character.
  • How violence relates to character or theme.
  • How time is a major factor.
  • The ways in which an author changes the reader's attitude(s) toward a subject.
  • The use of contrasting settings.
  • Parent/child or sibling relationships and their significance.
  • The analysis of a villain with regard to the meaning of the work.
  • The use of an unrealistic character or element and its effect on the work.
  • The relevance of a nonmodern work to the present day.
  • The conflict between passion and responsibility.
  • The conflict between character and society.

Note: To our knowledge, a free-response question has never been repeated. Therefore, we suggest:

  1. Use the prompts cited earlier when you discuss works you read or when you write about those works throughout the year.
  2. Generate a list of topics that would also be suitable for free-response prompts. Discuss, outline, or prepare sample essays utilizing these questions.

Types of Free-Response Prompts

General Rubrics for the Free-Response Essay

Let's take a look at the general rubrics for the free-response essay.

A 9 essay has all the qualities of an 8 essay, and the writing style is especially impressive, as is the relationship between the text and the subtext and the inclusion of supporting detail.

An 8 essay will effectively and cohesively address the prompt. It will refer to an appropriate work for the task and provide specific and relevant references from the text to illustrate and support the writer's thesis related to the journey indicated in the prompt and its relationship to character and theme. The essay will present the writer's ability to perceive the relationship between text and subtext in a clear and mature writing style.

A 7 essay has all the properties of a 6, only with more well-developed analysis/discussion of the relationship between development of character and how it relates to the journey or a more mature writing style.

A 6 essay adequately addresses the prompt. The analysis/discussion is on target and makes use of appropriate references from the chosen literary work to support the interrelationship between the character, his journey, and the work's theme. But these elements are less fully developed than they are in essays in the 7, 8, 9 range. The writer's ideas are expressed with clarity, but the writing may have a few errors in syntax and/or diction.

A 5 essay demonstrates that the writer understands the prompt's requirements. The analysis/discussion of the journey and how it relates to the character and the theme is generally understandable, but it is limited or uneven. The writer's ideas are expressed clearly with a few errors in syntax and/or diction.

A 4 essay is not an adequate response to the prompt. The writer's analysis/discussion of the journey and how it relates to character and theme indicates a misunderstanding, an oversimplification, or a misrepresentation of the chosen literary work. The writer may use evidence that is not appropriate or not sufficient to support his or her thesis.

A 3 essay is a lower 4 because it is even less effective in addressing the journey and how it relates to character and theme. It is also less mature in its syntax and organization.

A 2 essay indicates little success in speaking to the prompt. The writer may misread the question, choose an unacceptable literary work, only summarize the selection, never develop the required analysis, or simply ignore the prompt and write about another topic altogether. (Note: No matter how good a summary is, it will never rate more than a 2.)

A 1 essay is a lower 2 because it is even more simplistic, disorganized, off topic, and lacking in control of language.

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