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Free Response Essay Prompts

As we approach AP exam time, you’ll want to explore how to best prepare yourself for the AP English Literature free-response section of the exam. Free-response makes up 55% of your test score. In this section, you will write three essays regarding prompts from poetry, a selected passage, and a work of literary fiction you select.

Only 7.6% of AP English Literature students scored a 5, in 2016. Follow this AP English Literature study plan to improve your chances of a possible 5 on this year’s test. Included herein are best practices for studying, practice exams, and tips on writing extraordinary essays.

What is the format of AP English Literature?

The goal of the AP English Literature course is to familiarize students with complex literary works of fiction. Through analytical reading and a careful attention to detail, students learn critical analysis of creative writing. Writing is an integral part of the course and exam. Essay assignments focus on the critical analysis of provided literary works and can be expository, analytical or argumentative.

The exam takes 3 hours. It is comprised of three free-response essays and 55 multiple-choice questions. The free-response section accounts to 55% of your score.

You will be given two hours to complete three free-response essays. The first will be corresponding to a given poem. The second will be regarding an excerpt from prose fiction or drama. The third is centered around a literary work chosen by you, from a specified category.

Why is the AP English Literature Free-Response Important?

Scoring guidelines for the AP English Literature Exam show that essays are assigned grades from 1-9. A 9 is the best score possible. Each of your scores is then multiplied by 3.0556. This weighted score is added to your multiple-choice totals, and the sum is your score. Overall scores ranging 114-150 are required for a 5 on the AP English Literature Exam.

If you score a perfect 68 on the multiple-choice portion, you would need three solid 5’s on your essays to earn a 5, on your overall exam. Since, it’s unlikely for anyone to achieve a perfect multiple-choice score, you should aim higher on the free-response questions.

A reasonable goal to strive for, would be earning 7’s on your essays. This would allow you to earn a 5 for your overall score by answering 40 MCQs correctly.

What Content is Covered in the Free-Response Section of AP English Literature?

For the AP English Literature Free-response section you are required to write three essays. They may be argumentative, analytical or expository depending on instructions. This section tests your ability to read and interpret various literary works, as well as your ability to communicate your ideas in a stylized, coherent response.

The test questions and subject matter change yearly, however, the structure remains the same. There will be one poem, one passage from prose fiction (or drama), and one work that you choose from a given category. Each fictional work will be accompanied by a question that you must answer in your essay. These range from specific interpretation of a given line or literary device used, to overall understanding of a writer’s purpose, theme or style.

Literature represented may span the 18th to 20th centuries. Poets such as John Keats, Walt Whitman, and Gwendolyn Brooks are possible examples. In drama, you may see the likes of Samuel Beckett, Sophocles, or Tennessee Williams. And, in expository prose, you’ll find authors such as Gloria Anzaldua, George Orwell, or Edward Said.

How to Prepare for AP English Literature Free-Response

Managing your time, as the AP exams grow closer, is imperative if you want a perfect score. There are many resources available online to help get the most from your AP English Literature study plan, both on Albert.io and CollegeBoard. Whether you’re natural at writing and comprehending literature, or not, you’ll want to prepare for the coming exam. Here are some quick tips to help you get the most out of study sessions.

Practice Makes Perfect

You can find released exams and sample essays from previous years, on CollegeBoard. On Albert.io there are a multitude of helpful study resources including 15 Must Know Rhetorical Terms For AP English Literature, AP English Literature; 5 Essential Reads, and practice free-response essays for various works. If you’d like to follow a specific route the One Month AP English Literature Study Guide is helpful and comprehensive.

Focus on Critical Reading

Critical reading is essential for any AP English Literature review. It’s important to never skim through passages while studying. You will miss underlying themes and subtext which are important for answering the AP English Literature practice questions.

Always read at a normal pace in practice and during your exam. Repeat or elaborate passages to ensure you’ve understood them. Consider the following question as you read, “What is the meaning of this sentence, paragraph, stanza, or chapter?”

Utilize Your Syllabus

At the beginning of the year, collect as many of the books, poems and other works assigned for your AP English Literature course as you can. This will allow you to read at your own pace and save valuable time looking for assigned texts as they come up.

Take Notes as You Read

When reviewing any book, poem, essay or other literary work take careful notes which, can be used later. Include the exact title, author’s name and a paraphrasing of the preface or introduction. Also note important themes, styles, and content. When recording specific ideas related to a particular part include page, paragraph, and line number for easy re-examination at a later date.

Carefully Consider Principal Ideas

Take into account the key concepts in any reading assignment. What evidence or support does the author show? In the writings of journalists, identifying these ideas and reinforcing materials is easy. However, accomplishing the same task for a more subtle work, such as that of Sylvia Plath or F. Scott Fitzgerald, may prove challenging.

Explore the Context

Spending a short amount of time researching the context surrounding an author or their work can expand your understanding of issues they tried to address and how well they succeeded. For example, researching Berlin in 1935 will give you insight to better understand the motivations of Vladimir Nabokov, when he wrote The Gift.

Read out Loud

When reading complex passages or poetry it is helpful to read aloud. Often, this approach slows your reading and aids in your comprehension of underlying tones and themes.

Reread when Necessary

It is regularly advised to read a literary work more than once to fully understand complex issues and sophisticated expressions.

Consult Your Dictionary, Thesaurus or Encyclopedia

Take advantage of these invaluable resources at your local library or online to expand your knowledge of words and content that you are reading. Remember that many English and American texts require familiarity with the major themes of Judaic and Christian religious traditions and with Greek and Roman mythology.

Write, Review, and Rewrite Regularly

Writing quality essays takes practice. It’s not an innate ability we are born with. Proper use of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax are just as important as understanding the literature you’re analyzing. Refer to How To Score Your Own AP English Literature Practice Essay to review and improve your writing. For an in depth review of free-response strategies turn to 3 Ways to Tackle AP English Literature Prompts. Use of the Albert.io AP English Literature free-response practice questions will be invaluable to your study plan.

How to Answer AP English Literature Free-Response Questions?

Here are some basic guidelines for writing a cohesive free-response essay. For more specific details on writing an exemplary response, check out How to Score Your Own AP English Language Practice Essay. Also, head over to 11 AP English Literature Test Taking Strategies for exam insight.

Understand the Subject Matter

Before you begin formulating your answer, read the prompt and any corresponding passage thoroughly. Ensure you fully comprehend what is being asked of you.

Outline Your Essay

Begin answering any free-response question with a quick outline of your planned essay. An effective introduction will include a thesis statement. Your thesis statement and supporting ideas should be clear and well thought out. Remember to structure your points and end with a conclusion which summarizes your answer.

Write Clearly and Eloquently

As you craft your response pay special attention to structure, vocabulary, and grammar. A well written essay is essential. Be certain to answer the presented question fully with supporting evidence from the passage provided. Ensure that your tenses are in line, pronoun use is not messy, and read your essay for fluidity as you go. Conclude by restating your thesis and summarizing your argument.

What are AP English Literature Free-Response Questions Like?

The following are actual free-response questions from AP English Literature Exams of the past years. You can find many more released questions and responses on CollegeBoard, for reference.

Example One is from the 2016 exam.

“In this excerpt from Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Michael Henchard and his daughter Elizabeth-Jane are reunited after years of estrangement. During this separation, Henchard has risen from poor seasonal farm worker to wealthy mayor of a small country town, while Elizabeth has supported herself by waiting tables at a tavern.

Read the passage carefully. Paying particular attention to tone, word choice, and selection of detail, compose a well-written essay in which you analyze Hardy’s portrayal of the complex relationship between the two characters.”

When reading the passage, pay special attention to the relationship between the two characters. Note specific lines which give particular insight. Formulate your opinion and structure your essay to support it. A well-written response for this prompt would understand the many nuisances seen in this excerpt. Notable points to mention in an effective essay include the underlying hypocrisy of Henchard, the unhealthy relationship between the characters and the paradox wherein Elizabeth-Jane tries in vain to relate to her father, causing her own pain.

Take a look at some past responses for this prompt and the scores on CollegeBoard’s 2016 Scoring Guidelines.

Example two is from the 2015 exam.

“In literary works, cruelty often functions as a crucial motivation or a major social or political factor. Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.

You may select a work from the list below or another work of equal literary merit. Do not merely summarize the plot.”

Some of the choices given included Beloved, Oliver Twist, The Scarlet Letter, and The Crucible.

Select one of the given options or your own, based on your confidence that you remember and understand the plot, characters and details well enough to write a convincing and sophisticated essay. Examine how cruelty plays a role in the story, what that means for the victim and/or perpetrator, and any underlying themes which relate to cruelty. Use specific examples from the piece and support your argument clearly.

Take a look at a few past responses from this prompt and the scores on CollegeBoard’s 2015 Scoring Guidelines.

How can I practice AP English Literature Free-Response?

As you continue to prepare yourself for the AP English Literature free-response portion of the exam, take advantage of the many resources cited herein. Also, look on Albert.io for helpful AP English Literature practice questions, study tips and essay guides.

Don’t forget to check the quality of your writing as you practice by self-scoring your practice responses. Check out How to Score Your Own AP English Literature Essay for help.

Looking for AP English Literature practice?

Kickstart your AP English Literature prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.

The thought of writing the AP English Lit essay can be a daunting one, but if you know the texts and understand the themes, there is nothing to worry about.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein deals with many themes that we will go over in this article, and we will explore how the themes and issues can be adapted to suit the question. You’ll often find that the themes in text run parallel with each other, so it can be easier to understand the novel when all the themes run into each other.

We will look at the AP English Literature free response questions from previous years, so you can get a better idea of how to answer them and any future free response questions.

Frankenstein AP English Lit Essay Themes

There are a number of themes in Frankenstein that can be applied to your AP English Lit essay. Nature, knowledge, technology, science, supernatural, secrecy, and the fear of the unknown are all evident in the novel.

Some of the themes run parallel with each other and help to develop other issues in the text, such as science and technology being directly related to knowledge. With the Industrial Revolution sparking new technological developments, these themes of science, technology and knowledge go hand-in-hand.

Frankenstein is a Romantic Gothic novel and during the Romantic period, nature played an important role in art and literature. Natural surroundings are significant to Frankenstein and can be seen through Shelley’s descriptions of the landscape. Shelley also uses nature as devices to create messages, for example, when the monster writes messages for Frankenstein on the trees and stones.

The theme of the supernatural runs throughout the novel, which was significant in Gothic and Romantic literature. Writers and artists were making use of their imaginations, giving light to new ways of looking at the world, and this can be seen through the character of the monster.

Secrecy is an important theme in the novel, as Frankenstein is so secretive about his work and science that it kills his loved ones and eventually himself. The monster is created in secret, and Frankenstein then continues to keep him secret, leading to the events that unfold.

How to use Frankenstein for the 2016 AP English Literature Free Response Questions

“Choose a novel or play in which a character deceives others. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the motives for that character’s deception and discuss how the deception contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.”

Frankenstein is a good choice to use for answering free response questions that deal with deception, as deception features prominently in the text. The character of Victor Frankenstein is where we see the most deception.

The novel focuses on Victor’s attempts to keep the monster a secret. The fact that Victor has created a monster is kept secret until the end, when he confesses everything to Walton just before he dies. Victor spends most of the novel trying to kill the monster that he created, but he keeps this ambition hidden from everyone.

Victor is deceiving those around him by keeping the monster’s existence to himself. Victor’s creation is responsible for the death of his younger brother. Justine, the innocent young girl in the Frankenstein family, gets blamed for the murder of Victor’s brother and is executed as a result.

Victor loses two younger members of his family as a direct result of the creation of his monster. The monster then goes on to kill Victor’s friend, Henry, before killing his new wife, Elizabeth. If Victor had informed someone of the existence of his creation, he might have avoided losing his loved ones.

Victor deceives others to protect his scientific discovery and his own knowledge. It is this deception by Victor that is the reason for his demise. By deceiving people he suffers extreme guilt, which leads him to become obsessed with trying to stop the monster.

This obsession with trying to eliminate the monster consumes Victor. His life revolves around his trying to correct the mistake he made by creating the monster in the first place. Keeping his creation of the monster a secret, he has to deal with the consequences alone. The theme of secrecy is reflected through Victor and through his deception of others.

By keeping such a secret, Victor’s mental health deteriorates from guilt, as it is he who is responsible for the death of his loved ones. The secrecy is important to the plot of Frankenstein and contributes to the other aspects of the novel, such as the quest for knowledge and science, as well as the fear of the unknown.

How to use Frankenstein for the 2015 AP English Literature Free Response Questions

“Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.”

For free response questions that ask you to analyze cruelty in a text, Frankenstein is an ideal choice. The novel features various acts of cruelty that can link back to the question.

With Frankenstein’s creation of the monster he is ultimately unleashing cruelty into his society. The character of Justine suffers cruelty when she is blamed for the murder of Frankenstein’s brother, causing her to be executed. She has to endure the grief of losing a loved one before she is wrongly convicted of William’s murder.

With the monster murdering William, Henry, and Elizabeth, these are clearly cruel acts. However, it is Frankenstein who then has to suffer the grief of losing his loved ones and the guilt over what his creation has done.

We learn at the end of the novel that Frankenstein’s monster has also suffered. When Frankenstein created the monster, he didn’t factor in the consequences that could arise as a result. He created a life without any consideration for its feelings and he brought it into a world that was not accepting of it.

The monster has intelligence and emotions, and the cruelty he suffers is the reason for his behavior. Society has excluded him because Frankenstein has kept his science secret, and the monster is seen as hideous and terrifying, due to his appearance. Frankenstein also immediately regrets making the monster, fueling the monster’s anger and prompting him to seek revenge.

We can see that there are a range of cruel acts that can be investigated in the novel, and from different vantage points. The cruelty that is suffered by both the monster and Frankenstein helps to shape the novel and reflect the themes of secrecy and the supernatural, as well as the dangers of knowledge and science.

How to use Frankenstein for the 2014 AP English Literature Free Response Questions

“Select a character that has deliberately sacrificed, surrendered, or forfeited something in a way that highlights that character’s values. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how the particular sacrifice illuminates the character’s values and provides a deeper understanding of the meaning of the work as a whole.”

For free response questions that deal with sacrifice, Frankenstein is an ideal text to use. The original publication of Mary Shelley’s novel was Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. Prometheus was a god from Greek mythology who is said to have created humanity and gifted them fire after stealing it from Mount Olympus, sacrificing himself to be doomed to eternal punishment by Zeus.

In understanding the original title of the novel you can see that Shelley wanted the reader to think of Victor Frankenstein as a Prometheus character and for us to draw parallels between them. While Victor Frankenstein didn’t create humanity, he did create a supernatural being that was human-like in appearance and, as we discover at the end, also has human-like emotions.

Victor Frankenstein ultimately sacrifices his own life and his family’s for the sake of science. Scientific discoveries and the quest for knowledge are important to Victor. In his attempt to create life, he endangers the lives of his family members and suffers himself as a consequence, just as Prometheus did.

Frankenstein’s brother, friend and wife are all murdered by the monster he has created. The young Justine is blamed for the murder of Frankenstein’s brother and is executed after a trial. Lives are lost because of Frankenstein’s creation and his secrecy surrounding it. Even Frankenstein is sent to prison for the death of his friend, Henry, when it was the monster who physically murdered him.

With the deaths of his loved ones, Frankenstein is suffering from grief and guilt, but it is at his own hands, as he is the one responsible for the monster being alive in the first place. Frankenstein had dedicated his life to science, but he then dedicates himself to eliminating the monster.

He succeeded in creating a life, although it was not as he had expected, but the sacrifice of his life and his family’s lives had already been made when Frankenstein first decided to create the monster. Keeping his science secret seems to be more important to Frankenstein than his own life, which is ironic since it is the secret to life that he is trying to keep.

Frankenstein sacrificing lives highlights one of the main themes in the novel, which is the growth of science and knowledge and the dangers that it can bring.

How to use Frankenstein for the 2013 AP English Literature Free Response Questions

“Select a single pivotal moment in the psychological or moral development of the protagonist of a bildungsroman. Then write a well-organized essay that analyzes how that single moment shapes the meaning of the work as a whole.”

For free response questions that ask you to analyze a bildungsroman, Frankenstein is not the best book to use. Other texts you could use for this question are Emma or Great Expectations.

How to use Frankenstein for the 2012 AP English Literature Free Response Questions

“Choose a novel or play in which cultural, physical, or geographical surroundings shape psychological or moral traits in a character. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how surroundings affect this character and illuminate the meaning of the work as a whole.”

For free response questions that require an analysis of surroundings, Frankenstein works well.

The monster is affected by his surroundings, and it is his experiences in these surroundings that cause him to seek revenge on Frankenstein. The environment into which Frankenstein brings the monster is not prepared for him. Frankenstein’s society is unprepared for the science behind the monster’s creation, leading the people to react in fear and highlighting the theme of fear of the unknown.

The monster learns language and how to communicate from observing the peasants. He makes further use of his surroundings by using his newly learned language skills to write words and messages on trees and rocks.

When Frankenstein creates a female version of the monster, he destroys it. Being excluded from society, the monster sees this female version as his only hope to have a companion and when it was destroyed by Frankenstein this further fueled his feelings of abandonment and loneliness.

By being different from the rest of society, the monster’s personality is shaped by the suffering he experiences, causing him to become even further cast out from society. When the reader learns that the monster has suffered a cruel life, it reinforces the theme of science and that perhaps it shouldn’t be practiced without full knowledge of the consequences.

Conclusion

After reading the past free response questions you should have a better understanding of how to approach writing your AP English Lit essay. It’s a good idea to study the themes of Frankenstein when you re-read the novel, as you will often find additional aspects of the text that weren’t obvious on your first reading.

You can always find additional study resources on Albert.io, including practice exam questions and links to past exam papers. You also might find it helpful to read The Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs and The Ultimate Guide to 2015 AP English Literature FRQs for extra advice on the exam.

Looking for AP English Literature practice?

Kickstart your AP English Literature prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.