AP® English Literature: That Elusive Sophistication Point

by Michelle Lindsey

With AP Exams approaching, I needed some support to offer my students that would be quick and effective. We already looked at sample high-scoring essays, reviewed the rubric, and wrote an unbearable amount of sample responses, but something was still missing.

My students still struggled to wrap their heads around that elusive sophistication point on the AP English Literature Exam. No matter how many high-scoring papers we combed through, they just couldn’t grasp the difference between their own papers and the high-scoring ones provided by the College Board because these older essays were scored using the outdated version of the rubric.

They needed something more concrete—something easier to digest. They needed a checklist. And, I love a good checklist.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I combed through every high-scoring sample paper for Question 1, ranging from 2016 to 2019. 2020 was a wild year and I excluded those essays from my research. Anything before 2016 felt irrelevant and less timely.
  2. While deep diving into these papers, I collected data. I not only collected word count ranges per paper, but also word count ranges per paragraph!
  3. Not only did I determine average word counts, but I also compiled a massive list of everything these sample essays did RIGHT that is NOT necessarily detailed within the rubric.
  4. Once I had my list for each essay, I cross-referenced. I found commonalities between those high-scoring papers.
  5. Once I found those commonalities, I created a checklist for my kids.
16-19 High Score Exam Checklist

Does this magical list that I labored over for weeks equal the sophistication point? Who knows! I can never guarantee that point to my kids. Did their essay writing improve vastly after giving them this list? Oh, yes, my friends, it did!

Because the success of this list absolutely blew my mind, I felt I had to share the wealth with other teachers like you. In my classroom, we use this list not only for planning purposes, but for self-reflection and peer editing as well. This was such a solid win for me that charts for Questions 2 and 3 are currently in the works. Stay tuned!

Feel free to download this checklist and use it in your classroom!


Michelle LindseyMichelle Lindsey has been a high school teacher in Florida for nine years, and currently teaches AP® Capstone as well as literature and writing courses.