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AP English Course Description

AP English


I’d like every person in this class to do well enough on the test to earn college credit: that means a score of at least 3 out of 5.

I’d also like every person in this class to be—and to feel—ready for second semester or second year collegiate English classes.

In order to achieve these goals, you need to be good at four main areas:

  1. Reading and understanding the text and how it is constructed to achieve the effects it does (including knowing the vocabulary you need to do the rhetorical analysis)
  2. Analyzing information to find what you need to know
  3. Constructing and writing effective essays
  4. Evaluating your writing and revising to improve

In addition to these general skills, I’d add two more essential ingredients:

  1. Test-taking strategies
  2. Confidence

How will we build those skills?

  • We will read and discuss different texts, both fiction and non-fiction, some of which are difficult to understand. We’ll help each other develop good reading strategies and skills and to build essential vocabulary. We will also write about these texts and about other topics, since writing-to-understand is a very useful strategy.
  • We will learn and use the terminology we need to analyze the writers’ rhetorical choices—both in discussion and in writing. We’ll practice annotating, taking notes, keeping track of specific info and using it effectively.
  • We will write—a lot. We will also read and critique each other’s stuff. We will keep portfolios to measure our progress, and we will evaluate and revise our own and other people’s writing.
  • We will work on specific test-taking strategies and practice them on practice tests.

By the time you’ve done all this work, you will have the skills you need. If you have the skills, you’ll have the confidence!

Overview of the test:

Part I: 45 Multiple Choice Questions, 1 hour, 45% of your score

They’ll give you 4 passages from various texts and ask you to analyze two of them for content, structure, rhetorical strategies, and other details. The other two will be drafts, and you will be asked to make revisions to improve their quality.

Part II: 3 Essays, 2 hours 15 minutes, 55% of your score

One of these essays will give you a passage from a text and ask you to analyze the style and rhetorical strategies of the passage. One will ask you to support an argument, perhaps based on the passage, but maybe just based on a statement of opinion. The third one will give you 5-7 different documents, including at least one graphic text (a graph, chart, picture, etc). You will have to create an argument based on the prompt and synthesize the information in these documents to support your argument. You’ll be allowed 15 minutes to read the source materials and the essay prompts, and to prepare to write, and you’ll be given 40 minutes to write each essay (2 hours and 15 minutes total—and they don’t manage the time for you, so you have to do that).

Some Additional Information and Encouragement:

It’s good to help each other in this class—preparing for the test is like a team event in which we all push for the same goal: 5’s all around. When you actually take the test, however, you are on your own, so beware of becoming dependent on other people in class. Each person has to take the responsibility to work on the skills he or she needs to develop—which might be different for each person.

This is not rocket science, but it does require effort and energy and commitment.  There is, however, an excellent pay-off: readiness and confidence and very valuable skills. The AP English Language and Composition test, somewhat unlike other AP tests, is based primarily on skills rather than on rote knowledge. (Which is why cramming for the test doesn’t help, but practice does.)  As you practice the skills you need to do well on the test, you will also be developing skills that are useful and directly transferable to all aspects of academic achievement and to most aspects of life: To read and understand. To analyze and evaluate. To express your analysis clearly and fluently. These are the underpinnings of success in most fields—in college and beyond.

Here’s some more good news: you already have a very good base in these skills. You have been reading, comprehending, analyzing, synthesizing, arguing and supporting your arguments for YEARS now! This class is just going to build on the skills you already have, give you some additional vocabulary with which to express yourself, allow you to practice and hone your writing abilities, and work on specific test-taking strategies.

We’ll be using several texts in this class. Fictional works will include a play by William Shakespeare and The Inferno, by Dante Alighieri, as well as some shorter works. In addition, you’ll be reading a lot of examples of different kinds of non-fiction writing. For composition practice, your textbook will be the same one used in many college composition classes: Steps to Writing Well, with Additional Readings, by Jean Wyrick. We’ll also do at least one researched argument paper to help you prepare for the synthesis question on the test.

About 85% of the students who have taken this class over the years have passed the AP Exam, and I have grilled them on how I could make the class better. I have also asked them to make recommendations to future students to improve your chances of success (see the Words of Wisdom). Changes have been made, but there is always room for improvement, so you have the opportunity—actually, the responsibility—to let me know how it is going for you. Tell me if it’s too slow, too hard, too easy, whatever. Remember, although you may feel like you want the class to be undemanding, it’s a huge waste of your time and money to take a class that does not prepare you adequately for the test and for college work. I know that you haven’t seen the test or gone to college yet, but you do know when you are being challenged and when you’re not, so you need to let me know when I need to make changes so that the class is really doing its job.