“Is it working?”

A draft of a five-paragraph personal narrative essay before I start teaching Introduction to College Writing.


I remember being so offended at my score on the AP Lit Exam: Four. I was a senior at Franklin Community High School, where everybody knew I was going to be a writer. It was 2012. We called ourselves the “Last Class” because the world was supposed to end that year or whatever. I remember the daywhenmy Probability and Statistics class counted down together to the moment that something unimaginable was supposed to happen — to end it all. Of course, it didn’t, whatever. But getting a Four on the AP English Literature and Composition felt a little world-ending because it meant that I wasn’t even close to being the best writer in Franklin, and it was the thing— the one thing — I was good at.

What I was really upset about was that only a Five would have allowed me to “test-out” of First-Year Composition at Purdue University. My score of Four did at least turn my year in AP Lit into transferable credit, but it still meant I’d be stuck in a class I was (in my 18-year-old brain) already beyond. I felt this especially when everyone shared their scores, and one of my classmates waved a hand in my general direction and said, “We all know Kailey got a Five. How’d you do?!” I laughed and played with my fingers, ready to confess that I hadn’t actually gotten a perfect score, but then I saw how many of their smiles said Five! and I let the moment pass. My Four was really no big deal, I thought, still glowing from the assumption of perfection. And besides, I was truly proud of them. I think it’s the runner in me — there were days, races, when I woke up and knew I would win, but I generally embrace the inevitability that anyone might just blow right on by me.

My favorite tests were the ones I failed most often — it was different with math: when I got a wrong answer, there wasa clear explanation for how and why. Even though I was never great at math and never claimed to like it, the measurable growth of my own abilities was empowering. Writing required an investment to work. What I came up with must be in my own words. No matter how long I’ve had to consider the question, nevermind the context. Feedback on that AP Lit Exam would have helped me understand the college criteria better than a stupid FOUR in the mail that I couldn’t muster the courage to be proud of amongst my peers. I would never understand how I could have gotten a Five or why I only deserved a Four.

As with sprinting, I liked the way writing always pushed me to take it get to my next PR (personal record). I had just finished writing my second book, which made two published works in my high school career. Going to Purdue to study Creative Writing felt like betting on my strengths — at a school for astronauts, chemists, and engineers, I thought I was sure to stand out in a liberal arts program at a public university. But I was only 19, and I still thought that I was working for my education instead of the other way around.

It wasn’t until I started grad school in January of 2020 that I finally realized that whether or not a Four was a good score didn’t matter. What mattered — what matters — is whether or not I learned. “Is it working?” is a question education should answer first. What does it matter if I end my sentence in a preposition if I’m supposed to write in my own words? In the present and future, I want students to know that their words are worth more than any score I could prescribe.


by Kailey Ann

First Draft:
WORD COUNT – 640

Final Draft Goal:
WORD COUNT – 800

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