Saturday, July 10, 2010

Grading the 2010 AP English Language Exam: Sample Essays

This is the fifth part of a five-part series on the mysteries and realities of the AP English Language Exam and its grading process. For more on the marathon that is AP exam grading, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

You’re probably sick of hearing about the AP exam—but before I go, I want to give you a look at the single worst essay I graded during my time in Louisville and a piece of the best writing on humor I’ve ever seen. First the (worst) essay:

“Many people try to be comedy, act funny, and even draw humorists things but personaly that is just a gift that you have to be born with.

“If Mr. De Botton wasn’t a natural this process was very hard for him probably due to the fact that he has to try to impress people and a lot of people get intimated by that. There are also risk of being talked about and laughed at and even dead silences. So Mr. de Botton probably went through a lot to be as well known as he is now.

“In conclusion success doesnot just happen over night it takes time endurance and patients to make it happen.”

Yikes—wretched writing that has little, if anything, to do with the given prompt. Suffice to say that it earned a score of "1".

Now, an excerpt from the man who is probably my favorite living writer of prose, a mere half paragraph that helped me understand the 1970s—and humor itself—better than any other piece of writing I’ve ever read:

“If we are conducting our lives in the usual fashion, each of us serves as a constant source of embarrassment to his or her future self, and by the same formula, all ‘eras’ can be made to look ridiculous in retrospect. But the seventies have always been prone to more ridicule than their twentieth century cousin-decades, without anyone giving sufficient notice to the fact that it was the seventies themselves that originated the teasing (Annie Hall, Nashville, the Me Decade, ‘You’re So Vain’). It required no retrospection for the occupants of the zone now understood as the seventies to acknowledge the goofiness in all their pieties and solipsisms, and it is a mark of our own naïveté (at least) to suppose straight-faced young tax attorney going out on a Saturday night in 1974 wearing platform boots, glitter mascara, and his hair combed up into a two-foot Isro, for example, did not realize that he looked pretty silly. It’s just that looking like a fool was correctly understood to be a likely if not an inevitable result of the taking of risks. [201] The sense of liberation that resulted from such risk-taking, however conventionalized or routine it became, was felt for a little while to be well worth the price in foolishness. We are crippled in so many ways today by the desire to avoid fashion mistakes, to elude ridicule—a desire that leads atone extreme to the smiling elision of political candidates and on the other hand to the awful tyranny of cool—that this willingness to be foolish is hard for us to sympathize with or understand. In this age of, we have forgotten the seventies spirit of mockery that smirks at the pretensions and fatuities of others in a way that originates with and encompasses ourselves.” (200-201)

If you, like me, are a post-seventies being, I bet you understand the seventies better now. Not that I'd expect a "9" essay to be this good--but you can bet that this particular passage from Michael Chabon's Manhood For Amateurs (a fantastic, if occasionally R-rated, read) would make the grade. Out of the approximately 2,000 essays I graded, I think I probably gave out 10-15 grades of "9" and another 50 or so of "8." So approximately 3% of the essays I read deserved a cumulative score of 5 on the AP exam, which means that the Monk's official nephew, who just got word that he scored a 5 on the Language exam, is officially top 3% material--not that I needed the AP to tell me that.

Hope you enjoyed the blunders of student essays as much as I did; this is the last post on AP exams, and we're back to my regular eclectic fare in the coming days and weeks.


Jan said...

My kids never took the AP exam because they were worried that their writing wasn't good enough. I wish your blog detailing the writing had been around back then...

Becky said...

Proud of your monkish nephew over here. He was very excited to get that score coming home from scout camp.

Becky said...

P.S. That was me. Amy Jo