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AP Language & Composition

Passage Analysis Quick Guide
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Print this out as a "cheat sheet" for your timed writes!

A QUICK 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 of abstract?

          Are the words monosyllabic or polysyllabic?

          Do the words have interesting connotations?

          Is the diction formal or colloquial?

          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      descriptive comparisons?

          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 the passage?

 

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.

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