Read this guide and guarantee yourself an A in AP English Lit or World History!
Are you a procrastinator? The kind of person who starts an essay at 3 AM when it’s due in your first-period class the next day? Would you rather do anything but write? And are you tired of constantly receiving papers dripping in red ink, filled with corrections and notations? Of seeing, on the bottom of the page, a circled “See Me”? Do you watch in awe as your teachers praise your friends’ writing while criticizing your own? Do your parents constantly tell you to apply yourself more?
This is the guide for you.
In your hands, you hold seven top-secret methods for crafting an analytical essay worthy of an A+. Be warned, though: if you are looking for ways to actually improve your writing, you should close this document now.
The following methods are tried and true, tested by a variety of high school students all over the country. In just a few pages, we’ll go over the top three myths of essay writing, as well as four strategies to improve your abilities. By carefully following these points, you’ll become the teacher’s pet in no time!
Myth #1: Essay topics should be controversial.
Fact: Controversial essay topics can easily lead to confusion. If you choose a multi-sided issue with many perspectives, you will struggle to solidify your stance. So instead of writing about the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, try choosing a simpler thesis, like one about the dangers of texting while driving. By choosing a topic no one could possibly argue against—hello, distracted driving is not okay—you’ll guarantee yourself a rock-solid argument.
For extra credit, take notes on teacher likes and dislikes. What political events are your instructors passionate about? What themes seem to interest them? Don’t piece together a thesis using the available evidence; rather, center your paper around teacher-approved topics, and bingo: you’ve got yourself a 100%.
Note: This approach is critical for advanced students. AP teachers often ask for a concession in the thesis, so it is vital that your opposing argument be as simple and inarticulate as possible. How else can it be completely and utterly demolished in your body paragraphs?
Although Roman women did not improve their social standings during the Carthage Era, they bettered their lives politically and economically.
Although some may argue race-based discrimination is ethical, it is actually a violation of human rights.
Myth #2: The quality of your ideas means more than the quality of your writing.
Fact: A poorly-formed argument can easily be obscured by high-level prose and convoluted sentences. Hot take: your teachers should be baffled by your writing. Really. Especially if your words are taken from the recesses of the dictionary, or if your sentences are long and impenetrable, looping and folding back upon themselves, lined with lists upon lists upon lists—filled with commas and em-dashes and semicolons—so winding and contradictory that you lose your initial subject and predicate (see what we did there?), your teacher should end up giving you an A. Why? Teachers are busy. They’ve got homework to grade, comments to write, lesson plans to create… they don’t have time to read an essay more than once. So if your sentences are confusing, your educator simply won’t remember your argument. What they will note, however, is your advanced language and sentence structure. The better the writing, the smarter the kid; the more intelligent the child, the stronger the ideas. So, rather than trying to weed through your essay, teachers will simply hand you a good grade.
Extra: Instead of improving your vocabulary with flashcards and dictionaries, simply use the synonym tool on your computer! Write a sentence, right-click on a word, and then hit “Synonyms.” You’ll see a list of terms similar to yours. If you don’t know the meaning of a synonym in the list, click on it to replace your current word with the new one. Repeat this process for every word in the sentence, and you’re good to go!
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
The nippy char stump bounces around the languid pooch.
Myth 3: Quotes should serve only as support for your ideas.
Fact: Never underestimate the importance of a well-placed quotation. Quotations not only serve as textual evidence but also fill up space. Picture this: ten minutes before your essay on Ulysses is due, you realize that the assignment actually calls for a five-page paper… and you only have three pages. What do you do?
Run around in a blind panic.
Stride straight into your English classroom and boldly ask your teacher for an extension.
Calmly open your book and copy down a few twenty-to-thirty line quotes to sprinkle liberally into your essay.
If you answered c, you are correct! Extra-long quotations take up pages, especially if you place MLA citations after every one. This technique not only increases your word count but also lifts up your essay: teachers can’t fault your writing, because that quote isn’t your writing—it’s a primary source!
Extra: If you want to really up your game, place an inspirational quote at the start of every essay, preferably a statement filled with heightened language. Struggling to find a particularly juicy passage? Simply write ten-to-fifteen cliché, overwrought lines and ascribe your creation to “anonymous.”
Do it yourself!
Write a quote on the theme of “gentrification as it relates to rising rents.” Here are a few (made-up) lines to get you started:
“We look out at the world and witness the vicissitudes of injustice, the rages of tyranny, the ineptitude of modern man and his creations. The vagaries of time, the flagrant disavowals of justice, all these prejudices unite to form the evil that is our nation’s housing crisis…”
Now that we’ve cleared up a few issues, let’s move on to some tips and tricks curated by high school seniors around the country. These students, who have been slacking off for four years, have a behind-the-scenes understanding of how to beat our nation’s educational system.
Tip #1: Have a template essay.
“My template essay has absolutely saved my life,” says Margaret M.*, a student at Lake City High School, “I’ve pre-written my introduction, conclusion, and topic sentences, so all I have to do is plug in evidence, and I’m good to go!” Last September, Margaret wrote her generalized intro and closing paragraphs, which feature a topic easily applied to any essay: our inability to apply lessons of the past to the present. Come essay-writing time, her hard work set her up for success. “I’ve never received a grade lower than a 93%,” she says. “I thought people would notice that I had used the same argument in literally every single essay, but everyone just praises my work.”
If you’re not willing to write an entire template essay, simply come up with a list of canned “hooks” and “buttons” to start and end your piece with, then mix and match for each paper. Lines such as “We cannot move forward until we take stock of our present,” “Our world is constantly changing,” or “The cycle of life and death is never-ending,” are great choices for essay beginnings or conclusions. Remember, the more generalized the sentence, the more applicable it will be to a variety of situations!
Tip #2: Ask for an extension.
Some students believe it’s a sign of weakness to ask teachers for extra time on assignments. Don’t be one of them! “I asked for an extension in November, and my teacher agreed to give me two extra days,” says George Washington High School student John P.*, “It’s now June, and he still has not collected my assignment. I think he’s completely forgotten about it.” Harried teachers will often lose track of who still needs to turn in their work. Take advantage of this forgetfulness and ask for extensions, especially if you don’t have enough time to write a great piece.
“But I’m the kind of person who makes procrastinating look like a full-time job!” you say. “Asking for an extension isn’t going to help me actually write my essay!” Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong, my friend. YOU don’t have to write the essay. As we’ve said before, the majority of your work should be quotations. But the rest can be written by your peers. (Since they’ve already turned their work in, they now have even more time to help you out.) We all know those students who are generous, like to help others, and write beautifully. Ask them to help you brainstorm ideas, then start talking about how hard your life has been over the past few weeks. Really sell the drama: your sister murdered your nephew; your parents ran away from home to join the circus; you got struck by lightning. Tears should be rolling down your cheeks by the end of your monologue. If luck goes your way, your friend will get so savior-complex-y that they’ll end up writing your paper for you.
Tip #3: Work smarter, not harder.
Do not read the book. We repeat, do NOT read the book. We don’t care whether it’s a novel you enjoy, whether you like reading, or whether you feel obligated to carefully annotate every chapter. The book should not be read. The book should not even be opened. The book should be shoved so far into a closet somewhere that, twenty years from now, your children stumble upon it during spring cleaning. Say it with us: out of the loop? The answer is Shmoop. And keep in mind that all this time saved by not reading can be used to write your template essay.
Tip #4: Less is more.
Oh, how we love a good minimum page or word count. If your paper is seriously under the requirements, and the previous tips simply aren’t working, you’ve got to go old fashioned and mess with the formatting. Start by widening the margins, putting extra spaces in the section headers, and hitting the return key a couple of times after your title. If you’ve still got acres of white space left, try re-reading the requirements to see if a font size is specified. If not, go ahead and pump that baby up to 20 point. Finally, if you really can’t fill up those pages, try using two or three spaces between words, like Becky M.*. “I always hit the space key three, four, even five times,” says Becky. “If I use this trick throughout my entire paper, it just seems like a weird computer issue. My teachers don’t even look twice at my work. And thanks to this hack, I’ve had a 4.0 GPA since elementary school.”
Remember, if you’re thinking critically, analyzing historical or textual evidence, or worst of all, learning, you need to stop, reassess, and fix your mistakes. The ideal A student should not be doing any work at all. If you follow these tips, you will get the results you deserve.
Click here to buy our full-length guide, which includes information on how to tackle foreign language essays, scientific abstracts, and—gasp—the dreaded personal narrative.
* All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the students involved.