I’ve been saying half-jokingly for a while that the AP English Language test should take a cue from the AP language tests and include an essay that requires students to compose a formal email.

Granted, this type of assignment might seem a tad simplistic for the AP exam; however, given the redesigned SAT’s purported emphasis on “the skills that matter most,” why not test one of the skills that does incontrovertibly matter most in the hyper-competitive knowledge-based twenty first century economy?

As I wrote about the other day, in light of some of the emails I’ve received, I actually think that this would be a rather challenging assignment for many high school students. Among other things, it would not only require correct grammar and diction (points off for all lower-case!) but also use of a formal register.

And come on, how often in the real world do people really get asked to write an essay analyzing how an author builds an argument? Not very often, I should think — especially if they’re busy inventing the next great app for something that will truly benefit society, like faster pizza delivery.

And since liberal arts education is being dismantled anyway, why not simply do away with the pretense that it matters and test students on a skill that might actually help them land a job?

The assignment would go something like this (adapted from the French AP):

You will reply to an email message. You have 15 minutes to read the prompt and write your response.

Your response should include a greeting and a closing and should respond to all the questions and requests in the message. In your reply, you should also ask for more details about something mentioned in the message. Also, you should use a formal form of address. (Apparently, the people who write the directions for the AP exams never learned that you’re not supposed to start a sentence with “also.”)


This is a message from Jane Smith, who directs a program that places high school students in internships with local businesses. You are receiving this message because you have indicated your interest in this program. The message is being sent to find out more about your interests and qualifications.

From: Jane Smith

To: Internship applicants

Dear Applicants,

We are excited to learn of your interest in participating in our program! For the last 10 years, we have offered high school students the chance to hone their career readiness skills for success in the twenty-first century economy. In order to determine whether you are a good fit for our program, we ask you to provide some additional information.

What attracts you to our program, how do you believe you will benefit from it, and what sorts of skills could you bring to a twenty-first century workplace?

What is your schedule: are you available on weekdays and/or weekends? How many hours can you work each day, and do you have any flexibility?

Which sectors appeal to you most, and why do they appeal to you?

We eagerly await your response.

Jane Smith