Breaking Down Different AP Essays

Eva Mckinzie
Published on
May 18, 2021

Most AP exams involve a multiple choice section, so being able to answer these questions quickly and accurately is key to success! In most AP classes, your teacher will administer practice multiple choice questions to you in class to get you prepared for the test, and there are always plethoras of practice questions that can be found online.

However, there is more to an AP exam than the Multiple Choice section: AP exams have a free-response component. This can include short-answer questions, document-based questions, long-essay questions, and more.

This can be daunting to some people, but once you take the time to understand what types of questions are asked, you are bound to feel much more confident! This Simple Studies article is here to detail some of the different types of essays you may see on your exams!

The essay types included in this article are the Document-Based Question, the Long-Essay Question, the Synthesis essay, the Rhetorical Analysis, the Argumentative essay, Poetry essays, Prose Passage essays, and Thematic Analysis essays.

1. Document-Based Question

If you talk to someone that has taken a History AP class (APUSH, World History, European History) they most likely will mention the DBQ as part of their experience in that class. That is because the history DBQ is a crucial part of the exams, and it definitely takes time to master.

You are asked to analyze a certain historical issue with the assistance of some historical documents. Usually, there are 9 documents, but in 2020, the altered exams yielded only 5 documents.

Nonetheless, you must quickly analyze the documents to form a coherent argument that can be proven given the information in the documents. This essay is quite difficult because some of the documents can be difficult to decipher, but it also helps to have sources to base your arguments on! In normal years, you are given a 15 minute reading period for the documents and 45 minutes to create your essay.

2. Long-Essay Question

The LEQ is another one of the essays found on AP History exams. In comparison to the DBQ, the LEQ does not provide you with any documents or resources. Therefore, it tests your ability to recall information learned throughout the year, and your ability to mold those events into a strong essay.

You traditionally are given a prompt and must come up with a thesis with specific examples that you’ll be arguing in your essay. Also, for AP History exams, you are given different prompts to choose from, in comparison to the DBQ, where you must write a response to the given prompt and use the given documents. You have 35 minutes to complete the essay.

3. The Synthesis Essay

This is one of the essays you will be writing if you take the AP Language and Composition exam. You are given a variety of sources that relate to a given topic, and you must create an argument that synthesizes at least three of the sources to support your thesis. You are allotted a 15-minute reading period, and a 40-minute writing period.

4. The Rhetorical Analysis

This is another one of the essays written during the AP Language and Composition exam. You will read one non-fiction text and you must analyze how that author’s rhetorical strategies and language choices impact the purpose of the text and the intended meaning.

Just to throw out some examples of rhetorical devices: alliterations, allusions, and metaphors are some common ones. You may have been studying these in all of your English classes, and this essay gives you the opportunity to showcase what you’ve learned and to apply them to a non-fiction work. It is recommended to spend about 25 minutes writing the essay.

5. The Argumentative Essay

For this AP Lang essay, you will be expected to read and understand a quote or a passage in order to form an evidence-based response. An example may be reading a quote from a historical person, and writing an essay that argues the “extent to which” that person’s ideas are valid. Being able to write a very convincing response is key. The suggested time is 40 minutes.

6. The Poetry Essay

This is one of the essays that are part of the AP Literature and Composition exam. For this assignment, you are given a poem and must analyze it on the spot. This can be difficult at first as you don’t have a very long time to dissect the poem and think for an extended period of time as to what the meaning is. In your response to the poem, you must incorporate references to themes, literary devices, persona, and diction. The suggested time is 40 minutes.

7. The Prose Passage Essay

This is the second AP Lit essay. It is somewhat similar to the poetry essay, but instead of a poem, you are given a prose passage to analyze. Some things that can make your argument very strong is paying attention to themes, literary devices, characters/persona, and diction. The suggested time is also 40 minutes.

8. The Thematic Analysis Essay

This is the third and final AP Literature essay type. This essay gives the student a bit more freedom in comparison to the prose and poetry essays because what you write about is more so your choice! For this essay, you will analyze a specific concept, issue, or element in a “work of literary merit”. The suggested writing time is 40 minutes as well.

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