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For more information, please see full course syllabus of AP English Language & Composition
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The Argumentative Prompt

  • What is an Argumentative Essay?
    • An argumentative essay is a type of essay that asks you to take a stand on a particular issue or idea, usually expressed in the form of a quotation.
    • An argumentative essay prompt always includes the phrase refute, support, or qualify.
    • That means you have to either prove the idea wrong, prove it right, or show that the truth lies somewhere in between.
  • Reading the Prompt—Twice
    • The first time you read the prompt, underline the directions you’re being given. You’ll find the phrase refute, support, or qualify—underline that.
    • Also underline the kind of sources you’re being asked to use—usually literary, historical, or personal sources are best. Keep that in mind as you read the passage—the evidence that pops into your head will be your most valuable asset on this essay.
    • The second time you read the prompt, look for anything you might have missed—like clues to the historical or literary context of the passage. Every little bit helps!
  • Reading the Text
    • Once you’ve read the prompt, it’s time to reread the text—skimming is fine.
    • This text is the shortest one you’ll be given on the exam, so it shouldn’t take you too much time.
    • Now that you’ve got a firm idea of the prompt, you’ll know what to look for …
  • What to Look For
    • Look for the elements of argument:
      • What is the author’s claim?
      • What support does he or she offer?
      • What warrant connects those two elements?
    • Look for “hooks” in the argument that make you think of possible theses for your own essay. Do you instinctively agree? Do you instinctively disagree? Are you somewhere in between? What examples come to mind?
    • Do you see any obvious flaws in the argument? (Remember that a well-written refutation can be your best approach!)
  • Choosing Your Side
    • Chances are, you can see at least two (if not three) sides to the argument.
      • Which side do you feel most strongly about?
      • Which of your arguments is easiest to develop?
      • Do you have two or three strong examples that will support your stance?
      • Do you have enough rhetorical ammunition to refute the author’s argument?
      • If not, do you have enough to support it?
      • If you don’t have enough evidence on either side, can you see a way to qualify the author’s claim?
  • How to Answer
    • Outline before you write. YES, REALLY. AGAIN.
    • Plan to begin with the author’s claim, and your stance on it. Make sure you answer the question you’re being asked!
    • Use multiple types of examples if possible (don’t use only literary, only historical, or only personal examples).
    • Begin with a brief hook, if possible.
    • Clearly state the author’s claim and your stance on it..
    • Provide a “road map” to the rest of your essay (at least, if you’re using the five-paragraph format). Then make sure you stick to that map!
    • Line up your examples with your strongest material at the beginning and end of the list.
    • Don’t spend too much time on any one point. Pace yourself—you’ve only got 40 minutes.
    • Wrap up with a conclusion that puts a little twist on your thesis.
    • Don’t forget to write in the present tense, and use the first-person singular!

The Argumentative Prompt

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
  • What is an Argumentative Essay? 0:35
    • Definition
    • Refute, Support or Qualify
  • Read the Prompt - Twice 1:08
    • First Time: Underline the Directions Given
    • Second Time: Look for Anything You Might Have Missed
  • Reading the Text 2:17
  • What to Look For 2:45
    • Elements of Argument
    • Hooks
    • Obvious Flaws
  • Choosing Your Side 3:42
    • Which Side Do You Feel Most Strongly About?
    • Do You Have Two or Three Strong Examples?
  • How to Answer 5:54
    • Answer the Question You're Being Asked
    • Use Multiple Types of Examples
    • Begin with a Brief Hook
    • Provide a Road Map
    • Write in Present Tense and Use the First-Person Singular