How to Score a 9 on an AP English Essay

Three Parts:Developing a Strong EssayWriting the EssayPolishing Your Essay

Are you a high school AP English Student? The AP English essay is part of the final exam to determine if you get your Advanced Placement (AP) English credit, freeing you from one or two composition classes in college. To formulate a top-level AP English essay, some preparation is required in addition to your AP English class. Remember that you will be working under a time constraint of 2 hours for 3 essays (the College Board calls them "free response").[1]

Part 1
Developing a Strong Essay

  1. Image titled Score a 9 on an AP English Essay Step 1
    Try some practice essays. Practice writing this essay before the exam by looking over past essay prompts and examples that students have written. Underline when an example essay uses evidence to support a claim, and identify how often a writer uses transition words.[2]
    • Be aware of the time constraints as you do your sample essays. Practicing with the time pressure will help you fit everything in on exam day. Keep in mind that you have 120 minutes to write 3 essays.
  2. Image titled Score a 9 on an AP English Essay Step 2
    Read each prompt carefully. Your initial strategy for getting a high mark on the AP English essay is to forget writing for a moment and focus on reading the prompt. You need to fully understand what the prompt is saying before attempting to write about it. This is because your job is to analyze it, not summarize it.[3]
    • Make notes in the margins and underline key parts of the argument.
    • Follow the acronym SOAPSTone to help you answer key questions about the prompt: Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Subject, Tone.[4]
    • Look for action words in the prompt that indicate what kind of argument the prompt wants you to make, words like “qualify,” “support,” and “refute.”[5]
  3. Image titled Score a 9 on an AP English Essay Step 3
    Connect the source’s arguments to the prompt’s task. Basically your job after analyzing the prompt is to decide how the main argument of the prompt text (if one is provided) connects to what it is asking you to do.[6] For example, if it asks you to defend the assertion that a quote makes, you would need to put this assertion in your own words and build an argument for why it is valid.
    • If no text is provided—such as if the prompt asks you to analyze a general topic based on your experience—you would instead need to consider how to use aspects of that topic to make your argument.
    • For example, decide whether you agree or disagree and make a diagram of the strong points on each side.
  4. Image titled Score a 9 on an AP English Essay Step 4
    Write down your argument. After analyzing the prompt and any source text, go ahead and formulate your argument. Are you for or against the statement the prompt gives you, or the issue it asks you to examine? This step is not about making a thesis. Just write down your argument at this point.
    • The highest-scoring AP essays are those that employ an argument that “qualifies” rather than simply defends or agrees with. To qualify an argument means to consider both sides. [7]
    • Ability to do this demonstrates that you have an understanding that most issues in society are not cut and dried.
  5. Image titled Score a 9 on an AP English Essay Step 5
    Gather evidence. After deciding what your argument will be, you need to gather evidence to support your argument. The key to getting a 9 on an AP English essay is coming up with plenty of evidence.[8]
    • If the prompt provides you with a passage to analyze, underline quotes that will support your argument. Then think of examples independent from the text that will support it.
    • If the prompt asks you to use your knowledge of an issue, brainstorm and make a list of as many examples you can think of.
    • If you have memorized quotes from famous people that will help your argument, list these as well.
    • Having a list of evidence to choose from as you go makes writing your essay that much faster.
  6. Image titled Score a 9 on an AP English Essay Step 6
    Make a thesis sentence out of your argument. Now that you have formed an argument and made a list of examples and underlined quotes to support it, you can make a solid thesis sentence. A thesis directly answers the prompt and makes a claim that can be disputed.[9]
    • You may want to include the basic gist of the evidence you have gathered as part of your thesis sentence. For example, a thesis statement can follow this format: your argument + 3 reasons why.
    • ___________ is true because ___________, _________, and ___________.
    • A thesis statement may sound like this: By combining the concepts of artistic expression and creative license, Van Gogh’s Starry Night becomes the epitome of the ideal night sky.
    • A thesis sentence usually appears at the end of the intro paragraph, often as the very last sentence.
  7. Image titled Score a 9 on an AP English Essay Step 7
    Create an outline. One you have identified your argument, made a list of evidence to draw from, and formulated a clear thesis statement, it is imperative that you now create an outline. This is because an outline helps you organize your ideas so that your essay is clear and direct.[10]
    • Make sure the flow of the argument is logical, going in order of occurrence if you are using events as examples, or making sure that you don’t present one example without first introducing where you might find it.
    • The first paragraph is the intro paragraph, followed by at least three body paragraphs, and ends with a conclusion sentence. Map out this outline on paper before starting the essay.[11]
    • You may find it useful to fill in topic sentences in the outline before writing the essay so that you can stay focused when writing the essay.

Part 2
Writing the Essay

  1. Image titled Score a 9 on an AP English Essay Step 8
    Make sure the opening is strong. Although AP readers are told to grade the essay in its entirety, essays that stand out are the ones that begin with a strong lead-in.[12] Start your essay with a hook sentence to get the reader’s attention, followed by three or four sentences explaining your topic, and end with the thesis sentence.
    • In this paragraph, you should introduce the author and title of any literature you are analyzing, followed by a reiteration (though not repetition) of the prompt. You should also include any literary elements that would help your analysis.[13]
    • Literary elements include character, setting, tone, etc.
  2. Image titled Score a 9 on an AP English Essay Step 9
    Use topic sentences. If you haven’t included topic sentences already in the outline, it is important to create them now. Topic sentences guide each paragraph and create a claim for each one. Make sure each topic sentence relates back to the thesis sentence.
    • It is also useful to use transition words in the topic sentences to make the essay flow better. Use words or phrases like “also,” “likewise,” “in addition,” and so on.[14]
  3. Image titled Score a 9 on an AP English Essay Step 10
    Include specific evidence and explain it. You should include quotes and examples within body paragraphs to prove that your thesis sentence and each topic sentence is true. Evidence gives your essay credibility, because other people and circumstances agree with you. Evidence is how you convince a reader to agree with your argument.
    • Make sure you frame each quote or example so that it connects to the topic sentence.[15]
    • You can accomplish this by “sandwiching” the quotes/examples between a sentence that introduces them followed by one or more sentences that explain them.
    • Avoid using quotes longer than 4 lines. In MLA format, which is standard for many English papers, a quote that is longer than 4 lines (or 3 lines of a poem) must be “blocked,” or given a one-inch margin. This formatting can take valuable time away from your writing, and you need every moment you can spare.[16]
  4. Image titled Score a 9 on an AP English Essay Step 11
    Write a strong conclusion. When you get to the conclusion, it is wise to re-state your thesis and the main idea of each body paragraph. However, be careful not to simply swap out words you have already used for new words that mean the same thing. Re-state the thesis in new words entirely. The same goes for summarizing body paragraphs.
    • Finish the conclusion paragraph with a sentence that challenges the reader without bringing in new ideas. This sentence can push the reader to think about your topic for themselves.
    • For example, your last sentence might be, “In this day and age, this topic is definitely something every college student should be thinking about.”

Part 3
Polishing Your Essay

  1. Image titled Score a 9 on an AP English Essay Step 12
    Vary your sentence length. Your writing will be very choppy and not flow well if you do not use sentence length variety. It is ok to use some basic sentences like, “The people hate the government,” but this type of sentence should be used in the midst of longer, more complex sentences. Such variety displays an understanding of writing and reading.[17]
    • Use transition words to connect sentences within paragraphs, not just between them, such as “also” and “likewise.”
  2. Image titled Score a 9 on an AP English Essay Step 13
    Ensure that your vocabulary fits. The AP English essay is a good time to employ your knowledge of vocabulary, of course, but make sure that each word makes sense when you use it. Don’t use big words just because you can. Using them appropriately is just as important for scoring a 9 on this essay.[18]
    • For example, make sure your large vocabulary word makes sense: "The methods were carried out with perfect punctilio."
    • You could also write, "The defalcation of the government this fiscal year is appalling."
  3. Image titled Score a 9 on an AP English Essay Step 14
    Make sure you use proper grammar. As you write, sound out the words in your head to make sure they “sound” correct. Whenever something you write sounds wrong, this is usually an indication of incorrect grammar. Proper grammar is imperative for making a 9 on this essay.
    • Grammar is learned over time through reading and school classes, but a basic review of grammar during your AP studies is helpful.
    • Review things like sentence structure, subject-verb agreement, pronoun agreement, and so on.


  • If you're given a topic you don't much care about, or simply can't relate to, make it relate to you. Use metaphors and life experiences you actually enjoy to bring an element of passion to the piece.
  • Become an avid reader of all different types of literature in order to get a good sense of how to use vocabulary and grammar usage to its advantage in your writing. This will also help you develop the ability to vary types of sentences and use solid transition words appropriately.

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