Introductions & Thesis Statements

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Tips for Successful AP Summer Essays
Introductions & Thesis Statements

  • Restating the prompt as the first line of your introduction makes you seem disinterested and mechanical. It’s too formulaic and robs you of your stylistic personality.

  • Internalize the prompt question and begin your introduction with a focus on the text. (If you must begin your introduction with some general remarks about your topic, be sure they are thought-provoking and insightful. Simply explaining that “all people in this world go through some sort of change” to a college-level reader is not the most powerful way to start an essay.)

  • On that note, your introduction paragraph should be more than one sentence. An introduction paragraph comprised of just one sentence (the thesis) does not adequately develop your ideas and move your reader towards you argument. Set up your thesis by introducing a key concept before presenting your “how,” “what,” “why” argument.

  • Your thesis is one of the most specific, thought-provoking sentences in your introduction. As such, you should be direct and outline your argument for the essay. For example, saying that a particular symbol in The Poisonwood Bible “gives meaning to the text” is hollow. It’s your job to explain exactly what that meaning is in the thesis.


  • There is a difference between plot summary and analysis. Only select the plot details that directly support your argument; there is no need to include plot details that don’t pertain.

  • Assume your reader is extremely familiar with the text you select. Consider your AP audience (high school literature teachers and college professors), and present your argument without rehashing the chronological plot details.

  • Remember this general rule when writing anything: show, don’t tell. If you spend your time telling your reader your argument, it often rings hollow. If you allow the textual details you select to show the validity of your argument as it pertains to the text, the essay will hold water.

  • Avoid speculation. You can only analyze what is on the page and cannot surmise what might have been; therefore, avoid such statements as “if Nathan had never been injured in the war, he most likely would not have taken his family to the Congo.” While that may be true, we’ll never know for sure. Work with what you can prove.

  • Top tier essays often go beyond what is explicitly said in the text. It is accurate to say that the shame Okonkwo feels regarding his father motivates him in life; however, it’s not particularly insightful. After all, Achebe makes it abundantly clear that Okonkwo’s pride is fueled by his feelings for his father. If you spend your essay arguing what is explicitly said in the pages of the text, you will find yourself stuck in the middle of the scoring rubric.

Concrete Terms > Abstract Terms

  • A writer should always favor specific and concrete diction over abstract and vague terms. Do not say “character” if you mean “Okonkwo.” Do not say “actions” if you mean “murder.”

  • Carefully select your words. You will find that the more specific you are, the more condensed your writing becomes.

Yes, Grammar Rules Matter

  • Watch your homonyms! AP students must correctly differentiate between “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” That also goes for “its” and “it’s,” “your” and “you’re,” and “whose” and “who’s.”

  • Do not use “etc.” in your essay. Ever.

  • "However" has two jobs and neither of them is to start a sentence (Okay, I guess there is one way to start a sentence with “however.”) You can use the word as a conjunctive adverb to connect two independent clauses between a semicolon and a comma; however, these ideas should be related. You can, however, use the word to signify and intensify a link to an idea in a previous statement.

  • Remember this basic rule: “i” before “e” except after “c.” With that in mind, the following words are incorrect: recieve, percieve, and concieve.

  • Capitalize proper nouns. There is no excuse for writing “nathan” in your essay.

  • Possessives of names that end in "s" still get an "apostrophe s" unless they are ancient.  For example, Jesus' sandals and Chris's notebook both contain the correct use of an apostrophe.

  • Use paragraphs! Paragraphs are a system of organization used by writers. As you shift your focus from one character or topic to another, begin a new paragraph. It helps the reader follow your argument.


  • Themes cannot be summarized in one word. For example, “religion” is not a theme in Things Fall Apart. The conflict that arises when humans wield religion and seek to force it on other cultures is a theme.

  • You absolutely must get the title of the book and the names of major characters correct. Barbara Kingsolver wrote The Poisonwood Bible, not Poisonwood Bible. Okonkwo’s father is Unoka, not Unebe.

  • Watch the tone of your essay! You want to sound knowledgeable, not arrogant. Words such as “obviously,” “surely,” and “clearly” can make a writer sound pompous.

  • Take the necessary time to outline your argument before writing. By having a game plan, you can cut down on the number of additions you have to make to your paragraphs.

  • Texts always exist in the present; therefore, write about them in the present tense. That said, there are some occasions where the past tense feels more natural and is acceptable (e.g., flashbacks, deaths).

  • Be authentic. Don’t say what you think your reader wants to hear even if you don’t believe it to be true. Don’t simply regurgitate word-for-word the things that your teacher says in class. Trust your ideas and your words. Synthesize the ideas we discuss in class to create your own voice.

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