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Best Practices for Teaching Essay Writing

How to Progressively Teach Essay-writing for the AP

o Explain the difference between AP essays in your content and classic English essays
! Like learning "another language"

o Try to use real AP essays where ever possible

! Save other AP essays on the same topic to review with later, for the May exam
! Always post grading rubrics so that students can compare their essays and
check for mistakes

o First Essay
! Give them the topic for the first essay in advance
! Grade leniently, share previous excellent, moderate and poor essays on the topic
on the overhead
• See if students can pick out where the essays received points and why

o Second Essay
! Give 3 possible topics for the second essay in advance

o Third Essay
! Have students generate a list of possible essay subjects for the 3rd essay,
narrow to 3
• Try peer-grading, with a teacher-generated rubric
• Require positive comments and a critique for improvement

o Fourth Essay
! Don't give students hints about topics on the 4th essay
• Give them a choice of 2 essays on the exam
• Go over the essay in class, using a top, un-named paper to review with

o Practice "timed" writing for the national exam after the winter break

o Stress ONE new requirement only to really focus on each time you give an essay
! Learning to "splash down" a quick outline before beginning to write
! Abandoning a classic "introductory" paragraph and a "Summarizing" or
"Concluding" paragraph
• Learning to just use an introductory sentence and then address the
prompt without any fluff
• Never repeating the prompt to begin your essay with - shows you're killing
! Learning to use transitional sentences, to show logical thought
! Learning to "regurgitate" everything they know about the subject, right or wrong
! Using diagrams, drawings or equations to illustrate a concept while explaining it
in words
! Using headings or highlighters to emphasize sections or major concepts
• AP Readers are less likely to get lost and miss a point

Developed by Anne F. Maben, UCLA Science Coach, Center X

Writing the Essay on AP Exam Day: Hints for Students
• You have 90 minutes to write 4 essays. Since each essay is of equal value
(10 points), divide your writing time equally. Plan to use 22 minutes per
essay. Divide that time into three segments: 3 minutes to read, think
about, organize and outline the question; 17 minutes to write the essay;
and 2 minutes to read and edit the essay.

• Read each question thoroughly. Be sure that you understand all parts of it and what they want
you to repond to.

• Make sure to look for "key words" or "buzz words" within a prompt that sum up a concept

• Outline each answer on your green sheet to help you organize your thoughts and to help you
stay on topic while writing.

• Write an essay that answers the question thoroughly. Go into detail as long as it is on the
subject and to the point. You only receive points for sentences that specifically answer the
question or provide examples. Don't shoot the bull" or write innocuous statements about how
wonderful nature is. Forget that beautiful introductory paragraph that restates the question and
the go right to the meat of the essay; concluding paragraphs are also not necessary - readers
consider these "fluff." DO, however, write logically and use transitional sentences to begin the
next topic.

• Divide you essay clearly into the major topics asked for in the question by using paragraphs or
giving a section heading to each part. This helps keep the reader's focus and makes sure YOU
have not forgotten to address all sections of the question. For example, on an essay on
evolution, you might be asked to address: "Darwin's Voyage," "Scientists Who Influenced His
Theory," "Darwin's Theory of Evolution" and "Evidence to Back up the Theory." Your essay
should then be broken up into 4 major parts, with section headings.

• Outlines are unacceptable substitutes for essay and will receive no credit. Diagrams, however,
will receive credit if they are relevant, if they are well-labeled and if they are described in the text
of your essay ("see figure 1".) Try to include one in each essay!

• Write clearly and neatly using a ball-point pen with black or dark blue ink. Neatly cross out
mistakes; there is no need for white-out. Do not write sloppily. If the grader can't read what you
wrote, you will receive no credit. Don't write sloppily a term you can't spell or can't remember.
You will not fool the reader. (Use phonetic spelling for a term you think you know. Explain the
concept or structure if you don't remember the term to describe it.) If you have time, highlight
important concepts within the essay after you are finished.

• Do not worry about perfect spelling, grammar or sentence structure. Although these are
important, you will not lose points as long as you get your ideas across.

• Do not panic or get angry if you think you are unfamiliar with a question. Be calm and think. You
will know something about the topic, so write what you know. In any event, do not give up and
leave the question blank. (Remember that there is no penalty for a wrong guess and that each
point you earn on an essay is equal to two correct multiple-choice questions.)

• If you are given a choice of topics to write about make your choice(s) and stick with them. Don't
second guess yourself halfway through the essay.

• If a question asks you to make a relationship between two or more processes or concepts and
you aren't sure you know, at least tell what you DO know about each process or concept

Developed by Anne F. Maben, UCLA Science Coach, Center X