Critical Reading: Breaking Down the Prompt

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Critical Reading: Breaking Down the Prompt
A key element to being successful on the AP Language test, or really any test, is understanding what the prompt is asking you to do. It is not enough to just write an essay, you must answer the specific question being asked in the style being asked. As well, you need to understand the context of the prompt to fully understand your expectations. One way to do this is to break down the prompt using the BAT strategy. For each prompt, complete the following:
B: Background (Parenthesis)

  • The AP prompts will give you background information that will help support your understanding of the passage you are about to read.

  • Use this context to help drive your understanding of the task at hand and your focus.

A: Audience Circle

  • Who is the writer speaking to in the passage?

  • This is NOT who you are writing to. You are always writing to the same audience.

  • Analyze the audience for the passage!

T: Task Underline

  • Specifically, what is YOUR task? What are you to do?

  • The task is more than just write an essay. What is your focus? What specific instructions are they giving you?


(Benjamin Banneker, the son of former slaves, was a farmer, astronomer, mathematician, surveyor, and author.) IN 1791, he wrote to Thomas Jefferson, framer of Declaration of Independence and secretary of state to President George Washington. Read the following excerpt from the letter and write an essay that analyzes how Banneker uses rhetorical strategies to argue against slavery.
Guided Practice:
In a letter, Abigail Adams writes to her son John Quincy Adams, who is traveling abroad with his father, John Adams, a United States diplomat and later the country’s second president. In a well-developed essay, analyze the rhetorical strategies Adams uses to advise her son.

In his 2004 book, Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton argues that the chief aim of humorists is not merely to entertain but “to convey with impunity messages that might be dangerous or impossible to state directly.” Because society allows humorists to say things that other people cannot or will not say, de Botton sees humorists as serving a vital function in society.

Think about the implications of de Botton’s view of the role of humorists (cartoonists, stand-up comics, satirical writers, hosts of television programs, etc.). Then write an essay that defends, challenges, or qualifies de Botton’s claim about the vital role of humorists. Use specific, appropriate evidence to develop your position.

Further Practice: Additionally, determine what type of question is being asked.
Carefully read the following six sources, including the introductory information for each source. Then synthesize information from at least three of the sources and incorporate it into a coherent, well-developed essay that argues a clear position on whether monolingual English speakers are at a disadvantage today.

On June 11, 2004, Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister of Great Britain, delivered the following eulogy to the American people in honor of the former United States president Ronald Reagan, with whom she had worked closely. Read the eulogy carefully. Then, in a well-developed essay, analyze the rhetorical strategies that Thatcher uses to convey her message.

In 1891, Irish Oscar Wilde observed, “Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.”

Wilde claims that disobedience is a valuable human trait and that it promotes social progress. Write an essay that argues your position on the extent to which Wilde’s claims are valid. Use appropriate examples from your reading, experience, or observations to support your argument.

This question requires you to synthesize a variety of sources into a coherent, well-written essay. When you synthesize sources, you refer to them to develop your position and cite them accurately. Your argument should be central; the sources should support the argument. Avoid merely summarizing sources.

Explorers and tales of explorations tend to capture the human imagination. However, such explorations have financial and ethical consequences. Space exploration is no exception. Read the following sources (including the introductory information) carefully. Then, in an essay that synthesizes at least three of the sources, develop a position about what issues should be considered most important in making decisions about space exploration.

On the tenth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., labor union organizer and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez published an article in the magazine of a religious organization devoted to helping those in need. Read the following excerpt from the article carefully. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the rhetorical choices Chavez makes to develop his argument about nonviolent resistance.

“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.”

~Winston Churchill, “Painting as a Pastime,” Thoughts and Adventures 1

Winston Churchill’s description of the process of painting suits anyone approaching a daunting task. Take a position on the value of attempting difficult tasks, particularly when there is a possibility that “you will never get to the end.” Support your position with personal experiences, observations, readings, and history.

NOW…Analyze the prompt from the Douglass timed writing. What is it asking you to do?
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