GUIDE FOR PASSAGE ANALYSIS IN ADVANCE PLACEMENT ENGLISH LANGUAGE
Passage analysis questions on the AP exam often suggest which
stylistic terms of the writer should address. Even if the questions mention no
stylistic terms, it is wise to include references to diction, syntax, figures of speech,
and tone. Students should pay particular attention to the main verbs in the
question: verbs like “characterize” and “analyze” call for the writer to emphasize style with appropriate terms; verbs like “evaluate” an “defend”, “challenge” or “qualify” call upon the writer
to consider broader issues of argument and logic (“Qualify” means to identify and defend which aspects of the
passage are valid and which are not.) even in these broader discussions students are advised to use appropriate stylistic
terms when possible.
When analyzing diction, consider such questions:
Is the language concrete
Are the words monosyllabic
Do the words have interesting connotations?
Is the diction formal
Is there any change
in the level of diction in the passage?
What can the reader infer about the speaker or the speaker’s attitude from the word choice? (see tone below)
When analyzing syntax, consider such questions:
Are the sentences simple
and direct, or complex and convoluted?
How do dependent
clauses relate to main (independent) clauses?
How does the author use repetition
or parallel structure for emphasis?
Does the author write periodic
or cumulative sentences?
Are there instance of balance
sentences or antithesis?
Are there rhetorical
questions in the passages?
When discussing figures of speech, consider such questions:
Are there interesting images
or patterns of imagery in the passage?
Does the author create analogies,
like similes and metaphors or broader
Does the author make use of personification or apostrophe?
Is there deliberate hyperbole
or understatement in the passage?
Does the author employ
paradox or oxymoron to add complexity?
What part do rhythm and sound devices like assonance, consonance, or onomatopoeia play in
When discussing tone, consider such questions:
What seems to be the speakers attitude in the passage?
Is more than one attitude
or point of view expressed?
Does the passage have a noticeable emotional mood or atmosphere?
Can anything in the passage be described as irony?
ALWAYS connect the
literary term (and example) directly to the effect it creates in the passage. NEVER
substitute terminology for analysis.