AP Sample Essay Questions for Catch-22

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AP English Language and Composition Sample

The format of this question is constant every year – at least one of the essays in this AP test takes on this format: you read a quotation from a famous person, and you’re asked to share your opinion on it, and then share your experiences that have brought you to that opinion.

Here’s the question:

Read the following quotation. Indicate whether you agree, disagree, or qualify the statement. Use examples from what you have read, personal experiences, and personal knowledge to support your argument.

“It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.” (Voltaire)

How to Write the Answer:

With Catch-22 as your supporting text, it would be easiest, of course, to agree with this quotation. Time and time again, the authorities ask Yossarian to just go along with their schemes for carrying out the war. The problem is that Yossarian has come to believe that it is right to oppose the war, and he is courageous enough to protest, to the point where his squadron is disrupted. This brings him into danger.

Some examples of incidents from the story that would help you support agreement with this quotation:

  • Yossarian’s hazy memory of the threatening man who keeps saying he’s got Yossarian’s “pal.”
  • Yossarian’s final negotiation with Colonels Cathcart and Korn, in which he gets offered a free trip home, with a parade, if he will simply just pretend to like the two of them.
  • Doc Daneeka’s official “death,” and the tragic aftermath for him – and for his wife.
  • The brutality that Aarfy shows to the girl that he murdered – and the fact that the MP’s come and arrest Yossarian instead.
  • The dangers of Milo’s bombing of the squadron because he contracted the job out with the Germans as part of his syndicate.

The key in your writing is to show incidences of the government being wrong (morally or practically) in a situation, resulting in danger for those who have not embraced that wrong as of yet.

You also have to write about your own personal experience, and about other events to which you have been exposed. The more specific you can be, and the more closely you can relate to the idea of the dangers of dissidence, the better your essay will be.

Essay Question:

This is somewhat similar to the prior prompt, except that your literary analysis of the work you have read becomes the entire essay. Here, obviously, you’re looking at a deeper analysis of devices, themes, motifs and symbols than you might have been in the English Language and Composition essay.

The Question:

Princess Elizabeth Absquith Bibesco wrote that “irony is hygiene of the mind.” In other words, irony could be seen as a test of whether or not the mind is prepared to interpret it correctly.

Select a work of literature from the list below (here, the work would be Catch-22) that has a character who finds an experience of irony to be a mentally cleansing situation. Write an essay in which you examine a character’s experience with irony and show the various ways the author shows that experience to be a purifying one.

The Answer

It is important to note that, when Yossarian shows up for the war, he is as gung-ho as the rest of them. He flies his missions and excels as a lead bombardier for his flight group. It is when he experiences irony piled upon irony (Snowden blown to bits from the inside, despite the fact that he was wearing a flak suit and initially looked like he just had a leg wound; Yossarian having to fight the oddly buoyant Aarfy out of his tunnel to the main body of the plane; being offered a chance to go home, if he will only turn his back on his convictions).

By the end of the novel, Yossarian feels as well as he ever has throughout the book. The difference, of course, is that he is running away from the military hospital so he can row from Italy to Sweden in a rubber lifeboat.

You will want to write about the ways that paradox is used – seeming contradictions that turn out to be actually true. While these contradictions throughout Catch-22 befuddle Yossarian through the novel, they also bring him clarity in time to attempt his escape at the end.

This post is part of the series: Study Guides for Catch-22

Important quotations, plot summary, themes, symbols and motifs, and test prep questions involving Heller’s classic novel.

  1. Catch-22: Summary & Plot
  2. Important Quotes from Catch-22
  3. Guide to the Major Themes in Catch-22
  4. Symbols and Motifs from Catch-22
  5. AP Test-Style Questions for Catch-22