4 Easy Steps to Better Essay Scores on AP Exams

Ticking right answers

Looking forward to writing essays for the upcoming AP Exams? You are among the few!

For the majority of students, essay writing is one of the most dreaded aspects of the AP Exams. Unfortunately, the pressure doesn’t end there. Essay writing is a fundamental component of academic life in college. Whether you like it or not, the beloved essay, along with the requirement for you to write one, isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.

Understanding this reality, why do so many students from high school to college bemoan essay writing?

There are a number of obvious reasons. First, essays are not multiple-choice. Test takers are left alone to sink or swim in a sea of endless possibilities. (Sorry, there’s no guessing “C” here!) Second, the writer must possess strong analytical skills in order to develop a personal argument and position. (You actually have to think for yourself and be original.) Finally, to compound the challenge, the writer must then organize these original ideas into a cohesive, well-designed package, free of grammatical errors and all within a short amount of time. (Snoozing during English class has finally caught up with you.)

Despite the glaring challenges, this portion of the AP Exam can actually be easier
than you think. Let’s take a look at 4 Easy Steps to improve your score.

1) Know the Test

One of the most effective ways to face a challenge is to understand the threat. Threats create stress and we know that stress, if not handled correctly, can lead to undesirable results. Knowing the test not only reduces text anxiety and stress but also provides the practitioner with time to strategize. The cardinal sin of most test takers is going in blindly to tests without a game plan!

What are the three types of essays you will be required to write on AP exams? How do the grading rubrics differ for each? How do these differences affect your strategy and approach? If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, it is time to get to know the test!

Fortunately for you, there is an abundance of free and premium materials available to help you familiarize yourself with the test, ease your fears, and get you ready to implement the next step.

2) Develop an Action Plan

Once you have gained essential background knowledge of and experience with the AP Essay format and requirements, the next step is to create a plan of action. By now, you have completed at least one practice AP essay and clearly understand the challenges ahead. This is the time to identify your strengths and weaknesses.

While essay organization might not be a problem for you, you may find that you struggle with pacing and lack certain analytical skills to develop your own ideas quickly and effectively. Note these weak areas and start strengthening them now.

Knowing the test is not enough. You must also know yourself as a test taker. After all, you are the one writing the essay.

3) Brush Up on English Grammar

Once you have a good foundation from the first two steps, refine your understanding of English grammar. What is parallelism? Clause organization? What about the rules related to the usage of colons and semicolons? The em dash? If you are struggling to answer those questions as you read this, it is time for a refresher course!

A solid understanding of the “Usage and Mechanics” of the English language greatly enhances the writing process and ensures that vital points are not deducted from the essay through needless grammatical errors. The last thing you want is to write a paper demonstrating strong analytical and argumentative writing skills, only to find that your score was ruined by careless errors in the grammar category. Remember, these errors stick out like a sore thumb to the readers grading your essay, distracting them from the positive elements contained within.

Enhancing your understanding of English grammar can prevent needless reductions in your overall score, as well as help you organize your thoughts and convey your message more quickly and effectively.

Now, let’s talk about the oh-so-important next step!

4) Practice, Practice, Practice

While this is perhaps the most obvious step, it is undoubtedly the most difficult! It amazes me how many students think their scores will magically improve without independent study and practice. I have to continually remind my students of the cliché definition of insanity: doing the same things over and over, expecting different results. Without practice and perseverance, how can positive change occur?

I have seen scores improve dramatically after my students truly realize the power of this step. It is all about defining a clear goal and staying motivated until it is achieved. Knowing the test,identifying areas for improvement, and practicing with that knowledge are all key to AP Exam success.

How can you positively impact your scores on AP Essays? By following these 4 Easy Steps, of course!

1) Know the Test: Familiarize yourself with essay requirements, rubrics, time restrictions, format, etc.

2) Develop an Action Plan: Get to know yourself as a test taker by identifying strengths and weaknesses, targeting key areas you need to improve.

3) Review English Grammar: Become a more effective writer by brushing up on your grammar skills and take a big step toward better essay scores.

4) Practice Until You Can’t Possibly Practice Anymore!: Gain confidence through repeated practice with sample essay prompts until the writing process becomes second nature and pacing is no longer an issue.

Vogel Prep offers AP Exam prep, essay writing courses, and grammar reviews. Choose from our extensive list of programs!

—Alex Sircy, Education Specialist and Vogel Prep Instructor