In this lesson, our instructor Rebekah Hendershot, goes over The Open Essay in detail. Youll learn what the open essay actually is, what ETS wants from you, and how writing an essay about anything isnt as scary as it sounds. Rebekah breaks the lesson down into picking your first book to write about, your second text, and eventually your third as a backup. She also gives some good choices to make if you cant think of any and then teaches you how to prepare. Because it is your job to score above a 5 on the exam, Rebekah will also teach you a few dirty tricks, some tips and tricks, and the Ultimate Essay Secret.
The open essay is usually the third essay question on the AP English Literature and Composition exam.
The open essay prompt gives you a theme (for example, motherhood or the importance of minor characters or internal conflict) and asks you to write about it, using a work you have already read and studied closely.
This sounds like the hardest essay of the three, but it’s actually the easiest because you can study for it!
What ETS Wants
So far, the exam has tested your ability to think on your feet—to improvise, basically, analyzing texts that you’ve probably never seen before.
The open essay, however, is all about your ability to think deeply. It allows you to use a work you’ve already studied in order to gauge how well you express yourself after prolonged thought. That’s why this essay gives you your entire reading life to prepare for it!
ETS makes sure the prompts are truly open and applicable to a wide range of literary works so that everyone who has read broadly and deeply has a roughly equal chance to get a high score.
In short, ETS wants :
A well-written essay (just like the other two)
An essay that shows complex thought and deep understanding of the work
An essay that applies the given theme to the work of your choice
An Essay About Anything
Because you don’t know the theme you’ll be asked about, the best way to prepare for the open essay is to study a couple of different works of literature and work out in advance how their different themes play out.
Use the sample prompts available on the College Board’s website and apply them to whatever works you’ve chosen. How would you write about those works in response to those prompts?
But if you don’t know the theme in advance, how will you know which books to prepare?
Your First Book
You need to prepare at least one major work of literature (play or novel) so you have something to write about.
Choose something you’ve read in class—your teacher has probably chosen a good slate of books for you.
Choose something versatile and complex with a lot of different themes, to cover more bases.
Choose something you like and/or find interesting. It will make all this studying easier.
SHAKESPEARE! He’s always a good choice, because he’s well-known, his works are rich and complex, and you’ll never have trouble convincing anyone that he’s literary enough for the AP Exam.
Some Good Choices
Shakespeare plays—Hamlet, Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, King Lear
Jane Eyre—Charlotte Bronte
Wuthering Heights—Emily Bronte
David Copperfield, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities—Charles Dickens
Crime and Punishment—Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Catcher in the Rye—J.D. Salinger
Moby Dick—Herman Melville
The Scarlet Letter—Nathaniel Hawthorne
Your Second and Third Books
It’s a good idea to prepare another book or two as a backup, just in case your primary work is completely inappropriate to the prompt.
For example, if you prepare Macbeth and the prompt asks you to discuss a story where much of the conflict occurs internally …
For your second and third works, choose something as different as possible from your primary work—different gender, different time period, different subject matter. If your primary work is a tragedy, choose a comedy for your secondary or tertiary.
You’ll probably want to choose something shorter, but still long enough to write about—a novella, short novel, or shorter play.
Some Good Choices
The Awakening—Kate Chopin
The Great Gatsby—F. Scott Fitzgerald
Heart of Darkness—Joseph Conrad
The Turn of the Screw—Henry James
Death of a Salesman or The Crucible—Arthur Miller
Antigone or Oedipus Rex—Sophocles
The Glass Menagerie or A Streetcar Named Desire—Tennessee Williams
The Old Man and the Sea—Ernest Hemingway
How to Prepare a Book
Reread your work(s) within four weeks of the test.
Work from critical editions. Read the extra materials—introductions, text notes, appendices, as much as you can handle. Learn about the historical and social context of the work.
Write your own study guide for each work, including:
A plot outline—what happens in each part and why it matters
A character list—who’s who and why they matter
A list of themes, explored briefly
A list of symbols and what they mean
A collection of notable quotations and what they mean
A Dirty Trick You’ll Want to Use
Download several sample prompts from the College Board website, or copy them out of reputable prep books.
Write the beginning of an essay for each, using your primary work if possible and your secondary/tertiary work if necessary. Make sure you’ve got:
A bang-up opening with a good hook
A strong thesis
A firm idea of how the rest of your essay would go.
You can’t prepare for everything, but you’d be amazed how often this helps.
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 Open 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.
This book includes five full length practice exams with all questions answered and explained. It includes a review of test topics covering details test takers need to know, such as poetry,prose fiction, and drama. It also includes sample student essays with critiques of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as a detailed glossary defining 175 literary and rhetorical terms.
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd; New ed edition
This book is a reprint of the Shakespeare Head Press edition, and it presents all the plays in chronological order in which they were written in an easy to read format. It also includes Shakespeare's Sonnets, as well as his longer poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece.
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