Skip to content

Ap Language And Composition Argumentative Essay Example

To score an 8 on the AP English Argument FRQ question, the CollegeBoard outlines that students need to write an essay that effectively argues a position, uses appropriate and convincing evidence, and showcases a wide range of the elements of writing. Essays that score a 9 do all of that and, additionally, demonstrate sophistication in their argument.

An essay that does all of that is an essay that is well constructed. Such an essay needs a solid framework and excellent support. To construct an essay like that, it is important to have a clear idea of what you are being asked, to not waffle, to spend time and care with your thesis and outline, and to support every claim you make.

The best way to write an AP English FRQ that does all of that is to understand what you are going to see on the AP English Language test.

What You are Going to See on the AP English Argument FRQ

The AP English argument FRQ is the most straightforward of the AP English FRQs because it is the most like essays you are already used to writing. It’s exciting to have free reign and make your own argument, unrestrained from rhetorical analysis devices or documents. But, like most AP writing, it also can be a little overwhelming. There’s nothing to read to provide evidence for you or to help you form an argument. Whether you’re feeling excited or overwhelmed by the AP writing argument FRQ, being strategic about forming your thesis, crafting a strong, chronological argument, and utilizing good, supportive evidence will lead to a better overall essay response.

Determine the Question

The first question to ask yourself is what am I being asked to do? Look for keywords and phrases that will answer that question.

Here’s an example from the 2016 AP English Language argument FRQ.

Though there are just two short paragraphs, there is a lot of room for confusion here. In this case, “Write an essay that argues your position on the extent to which Wilde’s claims are valid” is the key sentence you are looking for. In 2016, AP English Language test takers were asked to argue either for, or against, the idea that disobedience is the virtue through which progress is possible.

If you cannot determine what the question is, go back and reread the prompt. Knowing the question you are answering is the most important part of AP writing. You will not be able to answer the question effectively if you aren’t certain what the question is. Pick out a specific sentence or two to determine the question, and thereby ensure that you aren’t just writing an essay that responds to the general sense of the prompt.

Pick an Opinion and Stick to it

The next step is both simple and difficult. Identify your own opinion on the subject.

But remember — the AP argument FRQ is designed to test how well you can craft an argument. Questions like the 2016 question seem so daunting, because how one feels about disobedience has ramifications. It is a bigger question than students are used to encountering on an AP test.

But there is no right or wrong answer for this AP English FRQ. And whatever argument you choose will not come back later in the exam or in your final grade in the class. This is not to say that you shouldn’t believe in what you are writing. Only that you should remember that both sides are arguable, pick one, and stick to it. Don’t waffle.

Craft a Thesis Statement

The thesis statement should be both simple and elegant. It should encompass your entire essay in just one sentence. So, for the 2016 argument FRQ:

Good thesis: As Wilde claims, disobedience is a valuable human trait without which progress could not be made because, in situations like the American Revolution, it is only deviance from the norm that can change the norm.

This thesis breaks down a) that the author is claiming to agree with Wilde, b) that the author will support that claim with examples from the American Revolution, and c) that the author will continually return to the idea that only deviance from the norm can change the norm.

Not a Good thesis: Disobedience is a good trait for humans, because historically, disobedient men and women made history.

This thesis doesn’t really answer the question. It says that disobedience is good but doesn’t mention Wilde. It alludes to the idea that disobedient men and women made history but doesn’t mention progress. Plenty of people, like Franz Ferdinand, made history without progressing the human race. This thesis isn’t specific and doesn’t give you a clear idea of what the author will be saying next.

See the difference?

After you’ve determined your thesis, use it as a jumping point to sketch a quick outline. Then, follow your outline, bringing in your own concrete examples and evidence. Doing so will improve your AP writing.

Craft a Chronological Argument

A good argument builds as you move through the essay. It does not simply repeat the same points. Instead, the different points of the argument build off one another and work together to advance the author’s point.

Let’s look at the 2014 AP English argument FRQ for an example.

In this case, students are being asked to both define creativity and to argue for, or against, the creation of a class in creativity.

All students are likely to have their own definitions of creativity and their own opinions about a creativity class. For the purposes of example, let’s use Steve Jobs’ definition of creativity and quickly outline an argument for the creation of a class in creativity.

Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” Jobs sees creativity not as the art of making something completely new from scratch, but instead the art of connecting dots differently.

A chronological argument builds off itself. So, in this question’s case, an outline would look something like this:

  1. Creativity is best thought of as making connections.
  2. Making connections is a type of thinking that can be taught.
  3. Making connections is best taught in school, as opposed to outside of it.

First, a student would have to argue why creativity is best thought of as making connections. The second point, that making connections is a type of thinking that can be taught, cannot be proven until the first point has been sufficiently supported. And the final point, that this is a skill that is best taught in school, cannot be made without the other two. The points of the argument cannot be moved around, changed, or removed. This shows the argument is chronological and has built on itself.

When you sketch your outline, quickly ask yourself if the outline would make just as much sense if you rearranged it. If the answer is no, start writing your essay. If the answer is yes, try to structure your argument so that your points build off one another.

Support Your Claims

All arguments need evidence. This is the proof you need to support your thesis. And in the case of the AP English argument FRQ, the evidence all comes from you. What exactly that evidence is will vary from question to question and from student to student. But make sure that every point you make is supported by evidence.

Here’s some good news — you already know quite a bit about effective evidence from what you have learned in AP English about rhetorical devices. Your main purpose in this essay is to persuade. What have you learned in class about effective ways to persuade? What rhetorical devices can you utilize? Try to pick the best devices to support your argument that you can.

Here are some examples of supportive and non-supportive evidence that students could use to support their claims.

The 2015 AP English language argument FRQ asked students to argue what the function of polite speech in a culture they are familiar with.

Supportive evidence: Polite speech is useful for conveying tone, especially in the world of the Internet. A great example of this need is email. Because emails are virtual communications, they are completely stripped of the context that non-verbal cues, like body language, eye contact, and physical touch, can provide. Polite, formal speech conveys that the sender of the email respects the receiver. Phrases like “How are you?” help convey friendliness between e-mailers. Taking the time to ensure an email sounds friendly can, for example, help ease the sting of a virtual scolding from a boss to a subordinate. As more communication becomes virtual, polite speech is more important than ever to provide context.

In this paragraph, the student chooses to discuss the role of polite speech in the culture of the Internet. The student claims that polite speech is necessary to convey tone in communication without context and uses emails as a frame. The student uses examples of situations where email and polite speech are directly involved to support her claims. Every one of the claims is followed up with an example.

Non-supportive evidence: Polite speech is useful for conveying tone, especially in the world of the Internet. In forums, people are never polite, and it is bad for discourse, which is bad for democracy. The world would be a much better place if when people online disagreed with one another, they were polite instead of angry and ready to form a new subreddit at any time. When people on the Internet aren’t polite, they don’t worry about their tone at all, and it offends people. The lack of polite speech makes the Internet a hostile place.

In this paragraph, the student chooses to discuss the role of polite speech in the culture of the Internet. However, the student does not utilize supportive evidence to do so. The paragraph is full of claims, like that the world would be better if people on the Internet were polite, but does not provide a concrete example to anchor the claim. Additionally, the paragraph does not support the idea that polite speech conveys tone on the Internet because it primarily focuses on the lack of polite speech on some parts of the Internet.

There is so much variance in prompts and students’ prior knowledge; it’s impossible to provide a checklist of what makes evidence supportive. But a good trick to decide if you’ve supported your claims well enough is to talk to yourself. No really, it’s a good idea.

Picture yourself discussing your essay with someone. Imagine that this person disagrees with everything that you say. Every time you make a claim, like that it’s important to be polite in an email, your imaginary person shakes their head and tell you no. How would you try to convince them? What examples would you use? Make sure that for each opinion you put forward; you have provided an answer to someone who would disagree with you.

The evidence is an important part of your essay. If your outline and your argument are a framework, your evidence is the brick and mortar. A house without brick and mortar won’t fall, but it won’t be a very nice house to inhabit. Tie every claim you make to a piece of evidence to ensure the best essay possible.

To Sum up

The AP English argument FRQ varies quite a bit. But it is ultimately about how well you can put forth an argument. So, don’t be afraid to spend some time crafting that argument. Pick a clear position that can offer no confusion, write a clear and direct thesis statement, and make an argument that has to be in the order you write it. Support yourself with concrete, specific evidence and examples. But most of all, have fun. This essay is the one you should be looking forward to, where you have the freest rein. Enjoy it and earn yourself a 9.

Do the examples shown make sense to you? Can you picture yourself moving through the AP writing argument FRQ with ease now?

Test yourself and write a practice essay response. Here are tips on how to score your own AP English Practice Essay.

Featured Image Source

Let’s put everything into practice. Try this AP English Language practice question:

Looking for more AP English Language practice?

Check out our other articles on AP English Language.

You can also find thousands of practice questions on Albert.io. Albert.io lets you customize your learning experience to target practice where you need the most help. We’ll give you challenging practice questions to help you achieve mastery of AP English Language.

Start practicing here.

Are you a teacher or administrator interested in boosting AP English Language student outcomes?

Learn more about our school licenses here.

With the 2016 AP English Language and Composition exam approaching on Wednesday, May 11, it’s time to make sure that you’re familiar with all aspects of the exam. In this article, I’ll give a brief overview of the test, do a deeper dive on each of the sections, discuss how the exam is scored, offer some strategies for studying, and finally wrap up with some essential exam day tips.

 

Exam Overview

The AP Language and Composition exam tests your rhetorical skills. Essentially, how do authors construct effective arguments in their writing? What tools do they use? How can you use those tools to craft effective writing yourself? That is the essence of rhetorical analysis.

The exam has two parts: the first section is an hour-long, 52-55 question multiple-choice section that asks you questions on the rhetorical construction and techniques of a series of nonfiction passages.

The second section is free response. It starts with a 15-minute reading period, and then you’ll have 120 minutes to write three analytical essays: one synthesizing several provided texts to create an argument, one analyzing a nonfiction passage for its rhetorical construction, and one creating an original argument in response to a prompt. You will have about 40 minutes to write each essay, but no one will prompt you to move from essay to essay—you can structure the 120 minutes as you wish.

In the next sections I’ll go over each section of the exam more closely—first multiple choice, and then free response.

 

The AP English Language and Composition Multiple-Choice

The multiple-choice section is primarily focused on how well you can read and understand nonfiction passages for their use of rhetorical devices and tools. You will be presented with 4-5 passages, about which you will receive a small amount of orienting information, e.g. “This passage is excerpted from a collection of essays on boating” or “This passage is excerpted from an essay written in 19th-century Haiti.” You will be asked somewhere from 10-15 questions per passage.

There are, in general, eight question types you can expect to encounter on the multiple-choice section of the exam. I’ve taken my examples from the sample questions in the “Course and Exam Description.” 

 

Magic eight-ball says there are eight types of multiple-choice questions!

 

Type 1: Reading Comprehension

These questions are focused on verifying that you understood what a certain part of the passage was saying on a concrete, literal level. You can identify these questions from phrases like “according to” “refers,” etc. The best way to succeed on these questions is to go back and re-read the part of the passage referred to very carefully.

Example:

 

Type 2: Implication

These questions take reading comprehension one step further—they are primarily focused on what the author is implying without directly coming out and saying it. These questions will have a correct answer, though, based on evidence from the passage. Which interpretation offered in the answers does the passage most support? You can identify questions like these from words like “best supported,” ‘“implies,” “suggests,” “inferred,” and so on.

Example:

 

Type 3: Overall Passage and Author Questions

These questions ask about overall elements of the passage or the author, such as the author’s attitude on the issue discussed, the purpose of the passage, the passage’s overarching style, the audience for the passage, and so on. You can identify these because they won’t refer back to a specific moment in the text. For these questions, you’ll need to think of the passage from a “bird’s-eye view” and consider what all of the small details together are combining to say.

Example:

 

Type 4: Relationships Between Parts of the Text

Some questions will ask you to describe the relationshipbetween two parts of the text, whether they are paragraphs or specific lines. You can identify these because they will usually explicitly ask about the relationship between two identified parts of the text, although sometimes they will instead ask about a relationship implicitly, by saying something like “compared to the rest of the passage.”

Example:

 

Type 5: Interpretation of Imagery/Figurative Language

These questions will ask you about the deeper meaning or implication of figurative language or imagery that is used in the text. Essentially, why did the author choose to use this simile or this metaphor? What is s/he trying to accomplish? You can generally identify questions like this because the question will specifically reference a moment of figurative language in the text. However, it might not be immediately apparent that the phrase being referenced is figurative, so you may need to go back and look at it in the passage to be sure of what kind of question you are facing.

Example:

 

Type 6: Purpose of Part of the Text

Still other questions will ask you to identify what purpose a particular part of the text serves in the author’s larger argument. What is the author trying to accomplish with the particular moment in the text identified in the question? You can identify these questions because they will generally explicitly ask what purpose a certain part of the text serves. You may also see words or phrases like “serves to” or “function.”

Example:

 

Type 7: Rhetorical Strategy

These questions will ask you to identify a rhetorical strategy used by the author. They will often specifically use the phrase “rhetorical strategy,” although sometimes you will be able to identify them instead through the answer choices, which offer different rhetorical strategies as possibilities. 

Example:

 

 

Type 8: Style and Effect

Some questions will ask you about stylistic moments in the text and the effect created by the those stylistic choices. What is the author evoking through their stylistic choices? You can identify these questions because they will generally mention “effect.”

Example:

Some very important stylish effects going on here.

 

The AP English Language and Composition Free Response

The free response section has a 15-minute reading period. After that time, you will have 120 minutes to write three essays that address three distinct tasks. Because the first essay involves reading sources, it is suggested that you use the entire 15-minute reading period to read the sources and plan the first essay. However, you may want to glance at the other questions during the reading period so that ideas can percolate in the back of your mind as you work on the first essay.


Essay One: Synthesis

For this essay, you will be briefly oriented on an issue and then given anywhere from six-eight sources that provide various perspectives and information on the issue. You will then need to write an argumentative essay with support from the documents. If this sounds a lot like a DBQ, as on the history AP exams, that’s because it is! However, this essay is much more argumentative in nature—your goal is to persuade, not merely interpret the documents.

Example (documents not included, see 2015 free response questions):

 

Essay Two: Rhetorical Analysis

In the second essay, you’ll be presented with an excerpt from a nonfiction piece that advances an argument and asked to write an essay analyzing the rhetorical strategies used to construct the passage’s argument. You will also be given some orienting information—where the passage was excerpted from, who wrote it, its approximate date, where it was published (if at all), and to whom it was directed.

Example (excerpt not included, see 2015 free response questions):

 

Essay Three: Argument

In the third essay, you will be presented with an issue and asked to write a persuasive essay taking a position on the issue. You will need to support your position with evidence from your “reading, experience, and observations.”

Example (from 2015 free response questions):

This doesn't look like a very well-constructed argument.

 

How The AP Language and Composition Exam Is Scored

The multiple-choice section of the exam is worth 45% of your score, and the free-response section is worth the other 55%. So each of the three free-response essays is worth about 18% of your score.

As on other APs, your raw score will be converted to a scaled score of 1-5. This exam has a relatively low 5 rate. Only 9.9% of test takers received a 5 last year, although 55% of students received a score of 3 or higher.

In terms of how the raw score is obtained, the multiple-choice section is similar to other AP multiple-choice sections: you receive a point for every question you answer correctly, and there is no penalty for guessing.

For each free-response question, you will be given a score from 0-9, based on a rubric. The rubrics all assess, in general, 3 major things: 

  1. How well you responded to the prompt: Did you completely and fully address all of the tasks presented in the prompt, without misunderstanding any of them?

  2. How convincing and well-supported your argument was: Do you take a clear position that is not overly basic, simplistic, or obvious? Can you comprehensively support your position with evidence? Is your evidence well-chosen and well-explained? Do you tie everything back to your main argument? Have you thought through the implications of your stated position?

  3. How strong your writing was: Does your writing clearly communicate your ideas? Are your sentences not just grammatically correct, but sophisticated? Do you have a consistent style and a strong vocabulary? Is your paper well-organized and logically arranged?

Each rubric broadly assesses these three factors. However, each task is also different in nature, so the rubrics do have some differences. I’ll go over each rubric—and what it really means—for you here.



Synthesis Essay Rubric

Score

What the Rubric Says

What This Means

9

Essays earning a score of 9 meet the criteria for the score of 8 and, in addition, are especially sophisticated in their argument, thorough in development, or impressive in their control of language.

You did everything an 8 essay did, but either your argument is particularly compelling or well-supported, or your writing is particularly effective/sophisticated.

8

Essays earning a score of 8 effectively address the task in the prompt. They develop their argument by effectively synthesizing at least three of the sources. The evidence and explanations used are appropriate and convincing. The prose demonstrates a consistent ability to control a wide range of the elements of effective writing but is not necessarily flawless.

You thoroughly responded to the prompt, successfully using (and citing) at least three of the sources to support your argument. You supported your argument in a persuasive way.  Your writing is competent, although there may be some minor errors.

7

Essays earning a score of 7 meet the criteria for the score of 6 but provide more complete explanation, more thorough development, or a more mature prose style.

Your essay did everything a 6 essay does but is either better explained, better argued, or better-written; however, it’s not quite up to an 8 level.

6

Essays earning a score of 6 adequately address the task in the prompt. They develop their argument by adequately synthesizing at least three of the sources. The evidence and explanations used are appropriate and sufficient. The language may contain lapses in diction or syntax, but generally the prose is clear.

You responded to the prompt in a reasonable way. You used and cited at least 3 of the sources in creating your argument. You supported your argument in a reasonably persuasive way, although not as compellingly as an 8 essay. Your writing is generally understandable.

5

Essays earning a score of 5 address the task in the prompt. They develop their argument by synthesizing at least three sources, but how they use and explain sources is somewhat uneven, inconsistent, or limited. The writer’s argument is generally clear, and the sources generally develop the writer’s position, but the links between the sources and the argument may be strained. The writing may contain lapses in diction or syntax, but it usually conveys the student’s ideas.

You did respond to the prompt. You used and cited at least 3 of the sources in creating your argument, but you did not use all of them particularly effectively. The connection between the documents and your argument is underdeveloped. Your writing is mostly understandable but may have errors.

4

Essays earning a score of 4 inadequately address the task in the prompt. They develop their argument by synthesizing at least two sources, but the evidence or explanations used may be inappropriate, insufficient, or unconvincing. The sources may dominate the essay’s attempts at development, the link between the argument and the sources may be weak, or the student may misunderstand, misrepresent, or oversimplify the sources. The prose generally conveys the student’s ideas but may be inconsistent in controlling the elements of effective writing.

You did not adequately respond to the prompt. You used and cited at least two sources, but you did not effectively link them to your argument. Your essay may summarize sources instead of truly taking a position, or you may have misread the sources. Your writing is not consistently clear.

3

Essays earning a score of 3 meet the criteria for the score of 4 but demonstrate less success in addressing the task. They are less perceptive in their understanding of the sources, or their explanation or examples may be particularly limited or simplistic. The essays may show less maturity in their control of writing.

Your essay did not adequately respond to the prompt. Your interpretation of the sources is incorrect or your argument is overly simplistic. Your writing is overly basic or unclear.

2

Essays earning a score of demonstrate little success in addressing the task in the prompt. They may merely allude to knowledge gained from reading the sources rather than cite the sources themselves. These essays may misread the sources, fail to develop a position, or substitute a simpler task by merely summarizing or categorizing the sources or by merely responding to the prompt tangentially with unrelated, inaccurate, or inappropriate explanation. Essays that score 2 often demonstrate consistent weaknesses in writing, such as grammatical problems, a lack of development or organization, or a lack of control.

You barely addressed the prompt. You may not cite any sources directly, misunderstand the sources, never take a position, or write things that are not relevant to the prompt. Writing is very weak, including grammatical issues.

1

Essays earning a score of 1 meet the criteria for the score of 2 but are undeveloped, especially simplistic in their explanation, weak in their control of writing, or do not allude to or cite even one source

Your writing barely addressed the prompt. Explanations are extremely simple, writing is incredibly weak, or sources are not used or cited at all.

0

Indicates an off-topic response, one that merely repeats the prompt, an entirely crossed-out response, a drawing, or a response in a language other than English.

You made no attempt to respond to the prompt.

-

Indicates an entirely blank response

You didn’t write anything!

 

Time to synthesize this dough into some cookies.



Rhetorical Analysis Essay Rubric

Score

What the Rubric Says

What This Means

9

Essays earning a score of 9 meet the criteria for the score of 8 and, in addition, are especially sophisticated in their argument, thorough in their development, or impressive in their control of language.

You achieved everything an 8 essay did, but the quality of either your argument or your writing is exceptional.

8

Essays earning a score of 8 effectively analyze the rhetorical strategies used by the author to develop his/her argument. They develop their analysis with evidence and explanations that are appropriate and convincing, referring to the passage explicitly or implicitly. The prose demonstrates a consistent ability to control a wide range of the elements of effective writing but is not necessarily flawless.

You successfully and persuasively analyzed the rhetoric of the excerpt in a way that is strongly supported by specific examples in the text. Your writing is versatile and strong.

7

Essays earning a score of 7 meet the criteria for the score of 6 but provide more complete explanation, more thorough development, or a more mature prose style.

You achieved everything a 6 essay did, but your argument was either better explained or supported or your writing was of a higher caliber.

6

Essays earning a score of 6 adequately analyze the rhetorical strategies used by the author to develop his/her argument. They develop their analysis with evidence and explanations that are appropriate and sufficient, referring to the passage explicitly or implicitly. The essay may contain lapses in diction or syntax, but generally the prose is clear.

You successfully analyzed the rhetoric of the excerpt, using appropriate references to the text. Your writing was generally understandable.  

5

Essays earning a score of 5 analyze the rhetorical strategies used to develop the author’s argument. The evidence or explanations used may be uneven, inconsistent, or limited. The writing may contain lapses in diction or syntax, but it usually conveys the student’s ideas.

You analyzed the rhetoric of the excerpt, although evidence from the passage may have been poorly used or deployed. Your writing is mostly understandable but may have errors.

4

Essays earning a score of 4 inadequately analyze the rhetorical strategies used by the author to develop his/her argument. These essays may misunderstand the passage, misrepresent the strategies the author uses, or may analyze these strategies insufficiently. The evidence or explanations used may be inappropriate, insufficient, or unconvincing. The prose generally conveys the student’s ideas but may be inconsistent in controlling the elements of effective writing.

You did not analyze the rhetoric in the passage in a reasonable way. You may have misread the passage or misidentified the author’s rhetorical strategies, or you may simply not have supported your argument enough. Textual evidence may not be appropriate to the task at hand. Your writing is not consistently clear.

3

Essays earning a score of 3 meet the criteria for the score of 4 but demonstrate less success in analyzing the rhetorical strategies the author uses to develop his/her argument. They are less perceptive in their understanding of the passage or the author’s strategies, or the explanations or examples may be particularly limited or simplistic. The essays may show less maturity in control of writing.

A 3 essay has similar weaknesses to a 4 essay, but displays less understanding of the passage or the author’s intent. The writing may also be even more inconsistent or basic.

2

Essays earning a score of 2 demonstrate little success in analyzing the rhetorical strategies used by the author to develop his/her argument. These essays may misunderstand the prompt, misread the passage, fail to analyze the strategies used, or substitute a simpler task by responding to the prompt tangentially with unrelated, inaccurate, or inappropriate explanation. The essays often demonstrate consistent weaknesses in writing, such as grammatical problems, a lack of development or organization, or a lack of control.

You barely analyzed the passage. You may have misunderstood the assigned task, seriously misread the passage or the author’s intent, or responded to something other than the prompt. Writing is consistently weak.

1

Essays earning a score of 1 meet the criteria for the score of 2 but are undeveloped, especially simplistic in their explanation, or weak in their control of language.

A 1 essay is has similar weaknesses to a 2 essay, but is even more poorly supported or poorly written.

0

Indicates an off-topic response, one that merely repeats the prompt, an entirely crossed-out response, a drawing, or a response in a language other than English.

You made no attempt to respond to the prompt.

-

Indicates an entirely blank response.

You didn’t write anything!

 

Examine your texts closely!

 


Argumentative Essay Rubric

Score

What the Rubric Says

What This Means

9

Essays earning a score of 9 meet the criteria for the score of 8 and, in addition, are especially sophisticated in their argument, thorough in their development, or particularly impressive in their control of language.

You meet the criteria for an 8, plus you have either a particularly strong argument, strong support, or strong writing.

8

Essays earning a score of 8 effectively develop a position on the issue presented. The evidence and explanations used are appropriate and convincing, and the argument is especially coherent and well developed. The prose demonstrates a consistent ability to control a wide range of the elements of effective writing but is not necessarily flawless.

You persuasively address the prompt, using strong evidence to support your argument. Your writing is strong but not necessarily perfect.

7

Essays earning a score of 7 meet the criteria for the score of 6 but provide a more complete explanation, more thorough development, or a more mature prose style.

A 7 essay meets the criteria for a 6 essay but is either better-argued, better-supported, or more well-written.

6

Essays earning a score of 6 adequately develop a position on the issue presented. The evidence and explanations used are appropriate and sufficient, and the argument is coherent and adequately developed. The writing may contain lapses in diction or syntax, but generally the prose is clear.

You reasonably address the prompt, using reasonable evidence to support your argument. Your writing is generally good but may have some mistakes.

5

Essays earning a score of 5 develop a position on the issue presented. The evidence or explanations used may be uneven, inconsistent, or limited. The writing may contain lapses in diction or syntax, but it usually conveys the student’s ideas.

You do address the prompt, although the support for your argument may be sparse or not wholly convincing. Your writing is usually clear, but not always.

4

Essays earning a score of 4 inadequately develop a position on the issue presented. The evidence or explanations used may be inappropriate, insufficient, or unconvincing. The argument may have lapses in coherence or be inadequately developed. The prose generally conveys the student’s ideas but may be inconsistent in controlling the elements of effective writing.

You do not adequately address the prompt or form a strong argument. Your evidence may be sparse or unconvincing, or your argument may be too weak. Your writing is not consistently clear.

3

Essays earning a score of 3 meet the criteria for the score of 4 but demonstrate less success in developing a position on the issue. The essays may show less maturity in control of writing.

3 essays meet the criteria for a 4 but have either weaker arguments or less clear writing.

2

Essays earning a score of 2 demonstrate little success in developing a position on the issue. These essays may misunderstand the prompt, or substitute a simpler task by responding to the prompt tangentially with unrelated, inaccurate, or inappropriate explanation. The prose often demonstrates consistent weaknesses in writing, such as grammatical problems, a lack of development or organization, or a lack of coherence and control.

You barely addressed the assigned task. Your essay may misunderstand the prompt. Your evidence may be irrelevant or inaccurate. Your writing is weak on multiple levels.

1

Essays earning a score of 1 meet the criteria for the score of 2 but are undeveloped, especially simplistic in their explanation and argument, weak in their control of language, or especially lacking in coherence.

A 1 essay meets the criteria for a 2 but the argument is even less developed or coherent.

0

Indicates an off-topic response, one that merely repeats the prompt, an entirely crossed-out response, a drawing, or a response in a language other than English.

You made no attempt to respond to the prompt.

-

Indicates an entirely blank response.

You didn’t write anything!


 As you can see, the synthesis rubric is focused on how you used sources, the analysis rubric is focused on how well you analyzed the text, and the argument rubric is focused on the strength of your argumentative writing without outside sources.

Achieving a high score on an AP Lang and Comp essay is no easy feat. The average scores on essays last year were all under 5, with the Synthesis essay at about a 4.7 and the other two at just over 4. So even getting a 7 out of 9 is very impressive!

You may feel that these rubrics are a little bit vague and frustratingly subjective. And, indeed, what separates a 6 from a 7, a 7 from an 8, an 8 from a 9 may not be entirely clear in every case, no matter the pains taken by the College Board to standardize AP essay grading. 

That said, the general principles behind the rubrics—respond to the prompt, build a strong argument, and write well—hold up. If you can write strong essays in the time allotted, you’ll be well on your way to a score of 5 even if your essays got 7s instead of 8s.

So what can you do to prepare yourself for the frenzy of AP English Lit activity?

 

The best kind of frenzy is a puppy frenzy!

 

AP English Language Prep Tips

Unlike its cousin, the AP English Literature and Composition exam, the AP Language and Composition exam (and course) have very little to do with fiction or poetry. So some students used to more traditional English classes may be somewhat at a loss as to what to do to prepare.

Luckily for you, I have a whole slate of preparation tips for you!

 

Read Nonfiction - In a Smart Way

A major thing you can do to prepare for the AP Lang and Comp exam is to read nonfiction—particularlynonfiction that argues a position, whether explicitly (like an op-ed) or implicitly (like many memoirs and personal essays). Read a variety of non-fiction genres and topics, and pay attention to the following:

  • What is the author’s argument?
  • What evidence do they use to support their position?
  • What rhetorical techniques and strategies do they use to build their argument?
  • Are they persuasive? What counterarguments can you identify? Do they address them?

Thinking about these questions with all the reading you do will help you hone your rhetorical analysis skills.

  

Learn Rhetorical Terms and Strategies

Of course, if you’re going to be analyzing the nonfiction works you read for their rhetorical techniques and strategies, you need to know what those are! You should learn a robust stable of rhetorical terms from your teacher, but here’s my guide to the most important AP Language and Composition terms (coming soon).

  • If you want to review, there are many resources you could consult:
  • Another great resource for learning about rhetorical analysis and how rhetorical devices are actually used is the YouTube Channel Teach Argument, which has videos rhetorically analyzing everything from Taylor Swift music videos to Super Bowl commercials. It’s a fun way to think about rhetorical devices and get familiar with argumentative structures.
  • Finally, a great book—which you might already use in your class—is “They Say, I Say.” This book provides an overview of rhetoric specifically for academic purposes, which will serve you well for AP preparation and beyond.

 

Write

You also need to practice argumentative and persuasive writing. In particular, you should practice the writing styles that will be tested on the exam: synthesizing your own argument based on multiple outside sources, rhetorically analyzing another piece of writing in-depth, and creating a completely original argument based on your own evidence and experience.

You should be doing lots of writing assignments in your AP class to prepare, but thoughtful, additional writing will help. You don’t necessarily need to turn all of the practice writing you do into polished pieces, either—just writing for yourself, while trying to address some of these tasks, will give you a low-pressure way to try out different rhetorical structures and argumentative moves, as well as practicing things like organization and developing your own writing style.

 

Not the most auspicious start to an argumentative essay.

  

Practice for the Exam

Finally, you’ll need to practice specifically for the exam format. There are sample multiple-choice questions in the “AP Course and Exam Description,” and old free-response questions on the College Board website.

Unfortunately, the College Board hasn’t officially released any complete exams from previous years for the AP English Language and Composition exam, but you might be able to find some that teachers have uploaded to school websites and so on by Googling “AP Language complete released exams.” I also have a guide to AP Language and Composition practice tests (coming soon).

Once you’re prepped and ready to go, how can you do your best on the test?

  

AP Language and Composition Test Day Tips

Here are four key tips for test-day success.

 

You are one hundred percent success!

 

Interact With the Text

When you are reading passages, both on the multiple-choice section and for the first two free-response questions, interact with the text! Mark it up for things that seem important, devices you notice, the author’s argument, and anything else that seems important to the rhetorical construction of the text. This will help you engage with the text and make it easier to answer questions or write an essay about the passage.

 

Think About Every Text’s Overarching Purpose and Argument

Similarly, with every passage you read, consider the author’s overarching purpose and argument. If you can confidently figure out what the author’s primary assertion is, it will be easier to trace how all of the other aspects of the text play into the author’s main point.

 

Plan Your Essays

The single most important thing you can do for yourself on the free-response section of the AP English Language exam is to spend a few minutes planning and outlining your essays before you start to write them. Unlike on some other exams, where the content is the most important aspect of the essay, on the AP Language Exam, organization, a well-developed argument, and strong evidence are all critical to strong essay scores. An outline will help you with all of these things. You’ll be able to make sure each part of your argument is logical, has sufficient evidence, and that your paragraphs are arranged in a way that is clear and flows well.

 

Anticipate and Address Counterarguments

Another thing you can do to give your free responses an extra boost is to identify counterarguments to your position and address them within your essay. This not only helps shore up your own position, but it's also a fairly sophisticated move in a timed essay that will win you kudos with AP graders.

Address counterarguments properly or they might get returned to sender!

 

Key Takeaways

The AP Language and Composition exam tests your rhetorical skills. The exam has two sections. The first section is an hour-long, 52-55 question multiple-choice test based on the rhetorical techniques and strategies deployed in nonfiction passages. The second section is a two-hour free-response section (with a 15-minute initial reading period) with three essay questions: one where you must synthesize given sources to make an original argument, one where you must rhetorically analyze a given passage, and one where you must create a wholly original argument about an issue with no outside sources given.

You’ll receive one point for every correct answer on the multiple-choice section of the exam, which is worth 45% of your score. The free-response section is worth 55% of your score. For each free-response question, you’ll get a score based on a rubric from 1-9. Your total raw score will be converted to a scaled score from 1-5.

Here are some test prep strategies for AP Lang:

  1. Read nonfiction with an eye for rhetoric
  2. Learn rhetorical strategies and techniques
  3. Practice writing to deploy rhetorical skills
  4. Practice for the exam!
Here are some test-day success tips:
  1. Interact with each passage you encounter!
  2. Consider every text’s overarching purpose and argument.
  3. Keep track of time
  4. Plan your essays
  5. Identify and address counterarguments in your essays.

With all of this knowledge, you’re ready to slay the AP English Language and Composition beast!

 

Noble knight, prepare to slay the AP dragon!

 

What's Next?

Taking the AP Literature exam? Check out our ultimate guide to the AP English Literature test and our list of AP Literature practice tests.

Taking other AP exams? See our Ultimate Guides to AP World History, AP US History, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, AP World History, and AP Human Geography. 

Need more AP prep guidance? Check out how to study for AP exams and how to find AP practice tests.