AP Literature & Composition

The Personal Essay Page

General Advice

• Relax! Enjoy the process of self-evaluation.

• You are the expert, the subject is your life, so consider it an opportunity to share your interesting existence with others. Parents can help jog your memory.

• Don't worry about finding an "original" approach. Your unique experience should shine regardless of the approach.

• If writing for a college, admissions officers desire honesty and enthusiasm. They are interested more in who you are, not just a list of what you've done.

• SHOW, don't tell! Use action verbs and imagery rather than just retelling a story.

• Keep the topic manageable; don't try to tackle big philosophical issues of religion, life, etc.

• Humor is helpful, but don't force it. Also, remember that your audience will likely be MUCH older than you, and that they may not be from the same region as you (may not understand surfer lingo or humor).

• Do EDIT, but be sure not to edit the life out of your essay. Be sure all grammar, spelling, capitalization and punctuation errors are addressed.

• Have someone look over your essay or read it out loud to a trusted friend or relative. Often, the act of reading a piece aloud is helpful in catching errors in logic and low.

Some Common Approaches/Gimmicks

1. "An incident", no matter how big or small, can provide an opportunity for reflection. Explain the incident's greater significance. The incident itself is often insignificant; what you learned about yourself because of the incident is much m ore important.

2. "An object or place you like". You may choose one object, perhaps a chair, a blanket, a teapot, that has special meaning to you. Again, what it reveals about you is most important.

3. "A teaching opportunity". Perhaps there was a time when you were able to teach someone different from you. What did you  learn from the experience? How did it shape you?

4. "The Metaphor" can be intellectually engaging. Perhaps calculus is a metaphor for your life? Or perhaps surfing, or another sport?

5. "A Journey", especially one that changed your life significantly, can help highlight who you are and how you experienced a change. BEWARE: this is not a travel diary, but more an examination of how this experienced profoundly changed/shaped you.

6. "The Literature Connection". How has a book, song, or movie changed your life? How did one of these impact you or inform who you are today? How might the reader gain insight into your personality through one of the above?

Specific Devices to Consider

Alliteration: reinforces meaning and supplies a lovely musical sound.

Allusion: Makes you appear intelligent. Most are historical, literary, mythical, or religious.

Hyperbole: (or its opposite, understatement) can add irony and humor.

Imagery: Comes from all your senses; visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, olfactory. These produce great descriptive writing and can be combined to great effect.

Metaphor: (and extended metaphor and motif) can show great sophistication, intellect, and critical thinking.

Oxymoron: Can be used to describe confusing periods of life.

Paradox: Like oxymoron, can be used to explain contradictory experiences

Personification: Adds vivid detail; the essay comes alive

Repetition: Of phrases a word, or a sound can provide a nice rhythm if one correctly.

Simile: Adds unusual comparison

Wit: Amusing language that delights in its verbal power; adds ingenious perceptive remarks.

More Things to Consider

• Avoid too many  linking verbs and the overuse of the pronoun "I".

• Strive for variety in sentence structure (long and short sentences)

• Be aware that most readers only spend a few minutes reading your essay, so eliminate wasted words. Keep to the point, but do not sacrifice interest for brevity. In other words, if a car is a metaphor for your essay, put it in gear and go!

• Use concrete detail and descriptive phrasing

• Grab the reader's attention immediately

• Be sure to include an introduction and a conclusion.

Helpful Links

Personal Statements

Amazing personal essay


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