AP Writing Tips for Successful Essays and Exams

Updated August 12, 2021
Student Taking a Test AP Writing Tips
    Student Taking a Test AP Writing Tips
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When you take an AP (Advanced Placement) exam, there is an essay section to assess your writing skills. Based on all the writing you've done in your AP classes so far, you probably feel ready for these essays. However, these essays can be trickier than they seem. Keep reading to find a few helpful advanced placement writing tips that can help you elevate your AP writing from good to great.

Tip #1: Identify the Question

It may seem obvious, but it's important to know what question you're answering before you get started. Follow these steps once you receive your exam:

  1. Read the essay prompt several times.
  2. Circle the important action words, such as "explain" or "defend," so you know what kind of essay you're going to write.
  3. Underline the important words that relate to the subject of the essay. For example, if it's an AP History exam, underline the words that are specific to that history topic.
  4. Rephrase the prompt as a question.

Even if there's no question mark in the writing prompt, there's a question in there! Identifying the main parts of the prompt will help you center your writing.


Tip #2: Brainstorm and Outline

Even though AP writing is timed, it's still important to create an essay outline. Take 10 minutes to plan out your essay structure, especially your body paragraphs. It may feel like a waste of your time, but it will make your AP writing process much faster and more efficient.

Tip #3: Avoid Certain Words

Readers of advanced placement tests examine word choice in their grading rubric. They're looking for how well a student uses advanced vocabulary, as well as how well they avoid using filler words in writing. Many AP students find themselves gravitating towards the following words and phrases while writing:

  • whole
  • very
  • the reader
  • in order to
  • this means that
  • really
  • all of a sudden
  • due to the fact that

When AP students get flustered, they may find themselves leaning on these filler words in essays. If you catch yourself using these words (or overly negative words) in your writing, try to eliminate them before test day.


Tip #4: Don't Overreach With Vocabulary

Not only is it important to avoid filler words, it's also a good idea to avoid words you don't know how to use. It's best to only use words you are confident you know the meaning of. Trying to be impressive through savvy use of words could very well end up backfiring and making you look bad as both a writer and a student. Practice your advanced vocabulary before you enter the exam.

Tip #5: Don't Start Sentences With Pronouns

Try not to begin a sentence or a paragraph with a pronoun. Be wary of beginning your sentence or paragraph with I, you, he, she, it, we, or they. To do so would be limiting in many instances. Starting sentences with pronouns tends to keep your sentences simple, leading to a tedious read with a lack of sentence variety.


Tip #6: Avoid Fragments

Make it a point to avoid the use of fragments in sentence structure. Using a sentence fragment is like conveying a half-thought in your writing. It is important to use full sentences in order to convey full thoughts. You can quickly check for sentence fragments by making sure each sentence has both a subject and a verb before you turn in your exam.

Tip #7: Keep Track of Your Time

There's nothing more stressful than being halfway through an AP exam and realizing you only have a few minutes left. To avoid this problem, put yourself on a time schedule. Since AP students have around two hours to complete an essay, a sample schedule might look like this:

  • analyze writing prompt - 5 minutes
  • brainstorm/outline - 10 minutes
  • introduction paragraph - 15 minutes
  • body paragraphs - 15 minutes each
  • conclusion - 15 minutes
  • proofread/edit - 10 minutes

This schedule gives you lots of time to spend a few more minutes on the sections where you may need more help. Don't get stuck in one section, as that's what can really use up your time.


Tip #8: Ask Yourself Questions

A good AP writer will always ask themself a series of questions about their work. Take time out to review your work as if you were a member of the target audience. This is where you can ask yourself if what you are saying is making sense. Continue to ask yourself questions like:

  • Are my ideas connected and flowing?
  • Did I convey the message that I intended?
  • Is my essay easy to understand?
  • Are there any obvious spelling or grammar mistakes?
  • Did I answer the question?
  • Do I sound knowledgeable about this topic?

Read through your essay from start to finish at least once. You can find spelling or grammar mistakes more easily this way, or you can read the essay backwards (which is a surprisingly helpful proofreading tool!) Doing this will help you ensure your writing is structured properly and will give you confidence once the exam is over.


Become an AP Writing Pro

Writing can be both refreshing and enlightening if you do it right. If you follow these advanced placement writing tips, you will find that your writing will improve in little to no time. Learn how to extend an essay that might feel too short if you find yourself with extra time during your test. You can also check out several tips for scoring well on the SATs if you've got more exams coming your way.