Welcome to 3.5! In this guide, we’ll be discussing how to write a literary analysis argument for longer works.
Let’s do this by breaking down the rubric for the Question 3: Literary Argument FRQ.
Looking at the requirements for the highest possible scoring criteria for each row will not only help you get a 5 on your AP test, but will also reveal critical aspects of Good Essay Writing.
Responds to the prompt with a thesis that presents a defensible interpretation of the selected work.
A thesis statement is defined by the College Board as a statement that expresses an interpretation of a literary text.
Put another way, your thesis statement is an argument about the text. This means it can’t be a summary of the text — it needs to be an argument. A good way to make sure of this is to ask yourself: could someone disagree with this statement?
“Hamlet is about a Prince of Denmark who is called upon to kill his uncle by the ghost of his father” is a summary, not a thesis.
“Hamlet is about the ambiguity of language, as exemplified through Hamlet’s soliloquies” is a thesis statement because someone could argue that Hamlet is not about the ambiguity of language or that Hamlet’s soliloquies do not exemplify ambiguity of language.
Your thesis statement must further be a defensible interpretation. This means that you should need to and be able to defend your thesis from potential counterarguments or questions.
Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, your thesis must, must, must respond to the prompt. It is possible to write the best essay in the world and get a bad grade because your essay doesn’t respond to the prompt.
It may be helpful to restate the prompt in your thesis statement to ensure that you’re addressing it, although this isn’t necessary. For example, if your prompt was “Analyze how a house contributes to an interpretation of a work of literature as a whole…” (The actual Question 3 from 2021
), you might start your thesis statement by saying “The house contributes to the interpretation of this work as a whole because…” (Of course, your actual line would be more specific.)
Writing Tip: Your thesis statement can be anywhere in your essay, although in practice you’ll want it to be near your introduction. However, it can be helpful to restate your thesis in your conclusion, so if your graders don’t see it in the opening paragraph they’ll see it in the closing paragraph.
Evidence: Provides specific evidence to support all claims in a line of reasoning.
Commentary: Consistently explains how the evidence supports a line of reasoning.
A line of reasoning is defined by College Board as the logical sequence of claims that work together to defend the overarching thesis statement. (The same idea also pops up in AP Seminar and Research!) If your thesis statement is the argument your paper will be about, the line of reasoning is the link of claims that back up that argument.
In order to show your readers (and graders) what your line of reasoning is, you need commentary. Commentary is the reasoning that explains how your evidence connects to your line of reasoning. It answers the question “so what?” Whenever you use a piece of evidence, you should be asking yourself: why am I using this evidence? What point am I trying to make?
What is the evidence we’re referring to? Unlike your other essays, where you’ll have the text of the poem or short story firsthand, in this essay you won’t have the book in front of you. Therefore, your evidence in this case should be details from the work of literature you’re analyzing. You won’t need to include quotes (unless you have them memorized and want to show off a little~)
Here are examples of the evidence you could use…
Facts: For example, the fact that Hamlet wears black or that the name Catherine repeats in Wuthering Heights.
Summaries of Scenes: You could use a brief summary of a scene to support your argument.
Major Plot Events: Events such as Hamlet meeting his father’s ghost or Romeo meeting Juliet on her balcony could be used as evidence.
Character Developments: You could use the general shape of a character’s arc — how they change from the beginning to end of the work — for evidence as well.
Any information from the book you can remember that would support your claim counts as evidence in this essay. That said, your evidence should be as specific as you can manage it, in order to make your argument all the stronger.
It can be helpful to start with the evidence you have first, and then figure out an argument from there. It can also be helpful to outline your argument before you start writing. This will help you express what you want to say and you may find that your argument changes as you outline.
Writing Tip: Although the above remains true for all manner of English essay, there’s one big difference: when you have access to the piece of work you’re writing about, all of your evidence needs to be properly cited.
What else do we need to consider for this category, and for writing essays at large?
To begin with, your claims need to be consistently backed by evidence. If you make a claim about a work, you should have evidence from the work in question to back that claim up.
Furthermore, your arguments should be structured in a format that’s roughly a claim - evidence - reasoning structure. This is not only the most obvious way to structure a paragraph with a claim, evidence and reasoning in it, but also makes it clear to your graders what you’re trying to argue.
Finally, in order to earn all four points in this category, you need to make your essay as grammatically correct as possible.
Demonstrates sophistication of thought and/or develops a complex literary argument.
So what does this category mean, really? Let’s look at some of the suggestions the rubric gives us:
Identifying and exploring complexities or tensions within the selected work.
Illuminating the student’s interpretation by situating it within a broader context.
Accounting for alternative interpretations of the selected work.
Employing a style that is consistently vivid and persuasive.
Simply put, you can earn this point by 1) exploring complexities, 2) adding a broader context, 3) accounting for counterarguments and 4) being really good at writing. (There are other ways you can earn this point as well!)
I would focus on making sure my essay does what it needs to do, and think of earning the sophistication point only at the very end, before the conclusion. This could be by introducing complexity or responding to a counterargument. However, keep in mind that if you write a strong essay you may earn this point without needing to specifically allocate for it — and if you don’t get this point, you can absolutely still get a 5 on the exam.
That brings us to the end of Unit 3! In the next Unit, we’ll be looking at some of the complexity of characters and their worlds.