SparkNotes Blog

AP English Freakout

Today I heard from a Sparkler in an AP English panic:

Dear Miss Marm,
I have this killer AP English assignment due the first day back to school (August 24) and it goes like this:


President Washington’s Farewell Address reflects upon his time as president and lays forth his policy beliefs as the country transitions to a new presidency.

Read the passage carefully. Them write an essay in which you analyze how Washington uses language to convey how he believes the country should proceed in matters of policy.

Hint: When writing about language consider the tone, diction, and syntax used in the passage.

I have no idea what that assignment is asking of me. Should I write the essay in five paragraphs format? Do I make a thesis statement? If it is in a five paragraph format, what are the body paragraphs about?

Help me Miss Marm!

I would say, yes, absolutely, you should come up with a thesis. Your teacher has provided the skeleton of that thesis: Washington believes the country should [fill in the blank with your take on how he thinks the country’s policy should unfold].

Then, in your body paragraphs, make ONE point about how Washington’s use of language supports your thesis. For example, say your thesis is “Washington thinks the U.S. should aggressively pursue an exploration of Mars” (I’m being absurd on purpose, obvs). Your body paragraphs might argue

–He suggests that the U.S. is a nation of explorers

–He emphasizes humanity’s possible similarities to little green men from Mars

–He implies that if we don’t conquer space, our sense of self-worth will suffer

In each body paragraph, pull apart and analyze around THREE sentences that prove the point you’re making. Keep your focus small. You want to talk about individual words and phrases.

For example, say your thesis is that Washington urges caution first and foremost, and one of your body paragraphs argues that Washington holds up the specter of England in order to frighten people into cautiousness. You might write something like, “Washington uses words associated with the monarchy to remind people of the system they rejected. When he says, ‘The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism’, the strong word ‘despotism’ is meant to remind listeners of kings run amok.”

See what I mean? You want to dig into a few key sentences and phrases and show exactly how they prove your thesis.

Hope that helps!