How to Write a Poetry Essay for the AP Test

Students have 40 minutes to write each AP English essay.
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A great score on the AP English Literature and Composition test can get you college credit or advanced placement. The AP English Literature and Composition test lasts three hours. Two hours are devoted to the free response section, which includes at least one essay response to a poem. Learn how to write a high-scoring essay response to a poem on the AP exam.

1 Plan Your Response Strategy

Follow time-saving strategies to produce the best essay response. Take five minutes to read the question carefully, underlining key terms, including structure, literary techniques and tone. Skim the poem and determine what kind of poem it is. Underline lines, phrases and words that exemplify literary techniques, show the tone and meaning, or are good examples of structure. Select four to five examples to include in your essay. Make careful note of the author's name and poem title.

2 Writing the Essay Response

Responding in depth about a few key elements of the poem will receive a higher score than trying to cover all elements superficially. Form a clear thesis that includes terms found in the prompt and the literary techniques, tone and meaning. Always include the author's name and poem title in the thesis. Write clear explanations of the author's use of literary technique in support of your thesis. Write a strong conclusion that reflects, but does not repeat, your thesis.

3 Avoid Pitfalls Leading to Low Scores

AP essay responses are scored using a matrix of 0 to 9, from not responding at all to an excellent response with sophisticated writing, strong vocabulary and exceptional insight. The College Board reports that students received an average score of 4.33 on the 2010 poetry response essay to Marilyn Waniek's poem "The Century Quilt." Students who wrote about their own childhood blankets and who paraphrased instead of quoting received the lowest scores. Focus on answering the prompt using the author's words before writing about yourself.

4 Edit and Proofread

Lower-scoring responses contain serious errors in grammar and spelling, according to the College Board. "Inept writing" is another criteria that is subjective, but includes poor vocabulary and the inability to express complex or subtle concepts. Take five minutes to proofread your essay and correct errors. Avoid "inept writing" by quoting directly from the poem and then responding. Confirm that you have spelled the author's name and poem title correctly before moving to the next question.

5 Expert Tips and Advice

The single greatest reason students write poor responses to readings, including poems, is a lack of specific focus on the reading itself. Low-scoring AP essays neglect to refer to authors by name or poems by title and fail to include even one quoted example of the poet's writing in their response. The more specific examples you can include in your essay response and the more focused your analysis of the examples, the higher score you will receive.

Amy Sterling Casil is an award-winning writer with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chapman University in Orange, Calif. She is a professional author and college writing teacher, and has published 20 nonfiction books for schools and libraries.