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For more information, please see full course syllabus of AP English Literature & Composition
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The Poetry Essay

  • Passage Sources
    • The passages used for the poetry essay come from the same sources as those used in the multiple-choice section, but usually there’s an effort to avoid duplication.
    • There may or may not be a brief introductory text telling you something about the poem(s).
    • If you are given two poems to compare, they may be from the same poet or from two different poets.
    • There may or may not be footnotes.
  • Two Questions to Ask
    • Read the poem(s). Then ask yourself these two questions:
      • What does this poem mean?” (Don’t dwell on the literal meaning; focus on the emotional content, and DO NOT SUMMARIZE.)
      • How does the poet make me understand that?” (This is the part where you talk about diction, imagery, pace, and all that stuff.)
  • Elements to Include
    • Content – What is this poem about (literally and non-literally)? What happens? Why did the poet choose this topic or these events?
    • Diction – What unusual word choices does the poet make? What effect does this have?
    • Imagery – What pictures does the poet create with his or her words? What effect does this have?
    • Metaphor – What metaphors does the poet use? What effects do they have?
    • Rhyme – Does the poet use rhyme? Is the rhyme scheme significant? Why do some words rhyme (between and within lines) and others not? What effect does this have?
    • Form – If the poem adheres to a recognizable poetic form (sonnet, quatrain, etc.), what effect does that have?
    • Oppositions – Look for places where the poet puts two different elements together. The distinction may be obvious (hot and cold, inside and outside) or subtle (pity and horror, irony and satire), but it will probably be there. Address it.
  • Your Job is to Score Above a 5
    • ETS essay readers mentally divide essays (in the first few sentences, usually) into “above 5”, “5” and “below 5”.
    • Your first task is to get into that first category. Once you’re above 5, it’s all a matter of degree.
  • Tips and Tricks
    • Get your mechanics right—neat handwriting, correct grammar/spelling/punctuation, etc.
    • Make your first paragraph perfect.
    • Don’t wed yourself to your structure. If your ideas change as you’re writing, work it in. Perfectly structured essays are boring (and anything good written in just 40 minutes will not be perfectly structured).
    • Don’t restate the prompt. Paraphrase.
    • Don’t summarize. Use quotations to support your points, but analyze more than you quote.
    • Use clear transitions and topic sentences.
    • Don’t pad, and don’t ramble.
    • Have a hook and a conclusion.
  • The Ultimate Essay Secret
    • Be confident in your writing—no matter what you’re writing about!

The Poetry Essay

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Lesson Overview 0:10
  • Passage Sources 0:36
    • There's an effort to avoid duplication
    • May have introductory text
    • If given two poems to compare, may be from same or different poets
    • There may be footnotes
  • Two Questions to Ask 1:19
    • What does this poem mean?
    • How does the poet make me understand that?
  • Elements to Include 2:13
    • Content
    • Diction
    • Imagery
    • Metaphor
    • Rhyme
    • Form
    • Oppositions
  • Your Job is to Score Above a 5 3:59
    • Get mechanics right
    • Make first paragraph perfect
    • Perfectly structured essays are boring
    • Don't restate the prompt
    • Don't summarize
    • Use clear transitions and topic sentences
    • Don't pad, don't ramble
    • Have a hook and conclusion
  • The Ultimate Essay Secret 7:49