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Can you apply the rhetorical triangle to a piece of writing? Are you able to argue a position? The AP ® English Language and Composition exam tests topics and skills discussed in your Advanced Placement English Language course. If you score high enough, your AP English Language score could earn you college credit!
Check out our AP English Language Guide for what you need to know about the exam:
- Exam Overview
- Sections and Question Types
- How to Prepare
What’s on the AP English Language & Composition Exam?
The College Board is very detailed in what they require your AP teacher to cover in his or her AP English Language & Composition course. The exam tests your abilities to understand how authors use rhetoric and language to convey their purpose. Students are also expected to apply these techniques to their own writing and research projects. Some of the major skills tested include the ability to:
- Identify an author’s purpose and intended audience
- Recognize rhetorical devices and strategies in an author’s work
- Demonstrate understanding of citations in research papers
- Apply these skills and techniques to their own writing
- Create and organize an argument defended with evidence and reasoning
- Plan, write, and revise cogent, well-written essays
Check out our line of AP guides for a comprehensive content review.
AP English Language Sections & Question Types
The AP English Language & Composition exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long and consists of two sections: a multiple-choice section and a free response section.
Read More: Review for the exam with our AP English Language Crash Course
For AP English Language multiple-choice questions, you are presented with two Reading Passages and three Writing passages. The two Reading passages are nonfiction passages taken from all sorts of works. The idea is to get you to focus on rhetorical devices, figures of speech and intended purposes, under rigid time constraints and with material you haven’t seen before. The three Writing passages are student-produced essays. The idea is to get you to revise the essay that help the writer accomplish his or her goal.
The AP English Language section contains three essay prompts: a synthesis essay, a rhetorical analysis essay, and an argument essay.
- Synthesis essay: You’ll be given a scenario and tasked with writing a response using at least three of six or seven short accompanying sources for support.
- Rhetorical analysis essay: Asks you to analyze the techniques an author uses, and discuss how they contribute to the author’s purpose.
- Argument essay: Presents a claim or assertion in the prompt and then asks you to argue a position based on your own knowledge, experience, or reading.
How to Interpret AP English Language Scores
AP scores are reported from 1 to 5. Colleges are generally looking for a 4 or 5 on the AP English Language exam, but some may grant AP credit for a 3. Each test is curved so scores vary from year to year. Here’s how AP English Lang students scored on the May 2022 test:
Source: College Board
How can I prepare?
AP classes are great, but for many students they’re not enough! For a thorough review of AP English Language content and strategy, pick the AP prep option that works best for your goals and learning style.
- AP Exams
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Breaking Down Different AP Essays
Most AP exams involve a multiple choice section, so being able to answer these questions quickly and accurately is key to success! In most AP classes, your teacher will administer practice multiple choice questions to you in class to get you prepared for the test, and there are always plethoras of practice questions that can be found online.
However, there is more to an AP exam than the Multiple Choice section: AP exams have a free-response component. This can include short-answer questions, document-based questions, long-essay questions, and more.
This can be daunting to some people, but once you take the time to understand what types of questions are asked, you are bound to feel much more confident! This Simple Studies article is here to detail some of the different types of essays you may see on your exams!
The essay types included in this article are the Document-Based Question, the Long-Essay Question, the Synthesis essay, the Rhetorical Analysis, the Argumentative essay, Poetry essays, Prose Passage essays, and Thematic Analysis essays.
1. Document-Based Question
If you talk to someone that has taken a History AP class (APUSH, World History, European History) they most likely will mention the DBQ as part of their experience in that class. That is because the history DBQ is a crucial part of the exams, and it definitely takes time to master.
You are asked to analyze a certain historical issue with the assistance of some historical documents. Usually, there are 9 documents, but in 2020, the altered exams yielded only 5 documents.
Nonetheless, you must quickly analyze the documents to form a coherent argument that can be proven given the information in the documents. This essay is quite difficult because some of the documents can be difficult to decipher, but it also helps to have sources to base your arguments on! In normal years, you are given a 15 minute reading period for the documents and 45 minutes to create your essay.
2. Long-Essay Question
The LEQ is another one of the essays found on AP History exams. In comparison to the DBQ, the LEQ does not provide you with any documents or resources. Therefore, it tests your ability to recall information learned throughout the year, and your ability to mold those events into a strong essay .
You traditionally are given a prompt and must come up with a thesis with specific examples that you’ll be arguing in your essay. Also, for AP History exams, you are given different prompts to choose from, in comparison to the DBQ, where you must write a response to the given prompt and use the given documents. You have 35 minutes to complete the essay.
3. The Synthesis Essay
This is one of the essays you will be writing if you take the AP Language and Composition exam. You are given a variety of sources that relate to a given topic, and you must create an argument that synthesizes at least three of the sources to support your thesis . You are allotted a 15-minute reading period, and a 40-minute writing period.
4. The Rhetorical Analysis
This is another one of the essays written during the AP Language and Composition exam. You will read one non-fiction text and you must analyze how that author’s rhetorical strategies and language choices impact the purpose of the text and the intended meaning .
Just to throw out some examples of rhetorical devices: alliterations, allusions, and metaphors are some common ones. You may have been studying these in all of your English classes, and this essay gives you the opportunity to showcase what you’ve learned and to apply them to a non-fiction work. It is recommended to spend about 25 minutes writing the essay.
5. The Argumentative Essay
For this AP Lang essay, you will be expected to read and understand a quote or a passage in order to form an evidence-based response. An example may be reading a quote from a historical person, and writing an essay that argues the “extent to which” that person’s ideas are valid. Being able to write a very convincing response is key. The suggested time is 40 minutes.
6. The Poetry Essay
This is one of the essays that are part of the AP Literature and Composition exam. For this assignment, you are given a poem and must analyze it on the spot. This can be difficult at first as you don’t have a very long time to dissect the poem and think for an extended period of time as to what the meaning is. In your response to the poem, you must incorporate references to themes, literary devices, persona, and diction. The suggested time is 40 minutes.
7. The Prose Passage Essay
This is the second AP Lit essay. It is somewhat similar to the poetry essay, but instead of a poem, you are given a prose passage to analyze . Some things that can make your argument very strong is paying attention to themes, literary devices, characters/persona, and diction. The suggested time is also 40 minutes.
8. The Thematic Analysis Essay
This is the third and final AP Literature essay type. This essay gives the student a bit more freedom in comparison to the prose and poetry essays because what you write about is more so your choice! For this essay, you will analyze a specific concept, issue, or element in a “work of literary merit”. The suggested writing time is 40 minutes as well.
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A variation of the argument essay, the synthesis essay, debuted in 2007. For this essay, you're given six or seven passages. Each passage is approximately 200 to 350 words in length; however, one of the passages is likely to be a visual document, such as a picture, an editorial cartoon, a graph or chart, and so on. Because of the increased amount of reading, the test development committee has added 15 minutes to the essay section. You will be instructed to read the passages for this essay first, and then open your test booklet to read the essay questions. In other words, you get 15 additional minutes to do the estra reading that the synthesis essay presents, then, when you open your test book, you still have 2 hours to read the other essay prompts and write all three essays. In the synthesis essay, your task is to present an argument that synthesizes information from at least half of the given sources and explores your position on the issues, using appropriate evidence to back up your ideas. In the second argument essay you have only one source to analyze.
A second essay type gives you just a single passage and ask you to form an argument on the validity of the passage's ideas. This topic is similar to the synthesis essay in that it asks you to present an argument, but it differs by having only one source to read, instead of the multiple passages in the synthesis essay. Therefore, these two essays are classified as "argument" essays. You'll want to support your position with examples and ideas from the passage, and add appropriate evidence from your education and knowledge of the world's events.
The third essay type requires you to analyze the rhetoric of a passage and understand an author's rhetorical purpose. You'll want to discuss both the author's point and what the author intends the reader to do with it. Although style analysis is indeed one component of this rhetorical analysis, this essay requires that you go beyond style alone and explore the author's ideas in greater depth. You'll want to analyze the breadth of rhetorical strategies the author uses.
This section tests your ability to demonstrate an understanding of how language works while simultaneously demonstrating your ability to communicate intelligent ideas in essay form. You should read the prose passages very carefully and then quickly articulate ideas, because each essay should be written in approximately 40 minutes. Your discussion of such literary aspects as tone, attitude, and persuasion is essential to earning a good score.
Basic Skills Necessary
The basic skill you need for the essay section is the ability to articulate and prove a thesis through concrete examples. You must be able to write on any assigned subject. Your paragraphs should be well developed, your overall essay organization should make sense, and your writing should demonstrate college-level thinking and style. The basic writing format of presenting an introduction, body, and conclusion is helpful, but to achieve a high score, you must demonstrate depth of thought. Overall, you must show that you can read the question (and any subsequent passages) carefully, plan an intelligent thesis, organize and present valid and sufficient evidence while connecting such evidence to the thesis, and demonstrate college-level skill with your own language.
Each essay topic has its own wording and, therefore, its own directions, but general instructions are printed on the cover of the essay booklet. Although each essay topic has its own specific requirements, use these general suggestions for all of your essays:
Use the test booklet to plan your essay. A poorly planned or an unplanned essay frequently reveals problems in organization and development.
Practice frequently so that you're comfortable with the timing.
Become familiar with the types of topics and comfortable with writing in a variety of modes.
Organize your ideas logically, and be careful to stay on the topic.
Write as legibly as possible; the readers want to be able to read your essay.
Remember the following as you practice writing the essay:
Use the standard format with an introduction, body, and conclusion, but do not force a formulaic and overly predictable five-paragraph essay.
Clearly divide ideas into separate paragraphs; clearly indent the paragraphs.
Stay on topic; avoid irrelevant comments or ideas.
Use sophisticated diction and sentences with syntactic variety.
Be organized and logical in your presentation.
Be sure to address all of the tasks the essay question requires.
Which of the following could be a description of how to begin solving the following system of equations using the substitution method?
replace x with 5 y + 8 in equation I and solve for y
Replace x with 5 y + 8 in equation ii and solve for y, replace y with 4 x – 2 in equation ii and solve for x.
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Tackling the AP English Language and Composition essays: part 1
So, what are the three AP Lang Essays? The College Board shares a lot of general information about these essays on its website, as well as a large number of excellent sample essays. I suggest you take the time to review all of that material, here. But here’s my primer:
On the AP Lang Exam, there are three essays to write, all in a row (during the second half of the exam, after an initial multiple-choice portion). They are:
- The Synthesis Essay: You’ll be given a general topic or question for debate (like: should public libraries continue to exist? Or: is eminent domain just?). Multiple short sources taking positions on that topic will follow the prompt. You will then be asked to write your own, short essay taking a position on the topic, citing at least three of the sources that you read.
- The Rhetoric Essay: You’ll be given a short, rhetorically interesting passage, either taking a position on a topic, telling a story, or performing some other function. You will then be asked to write a short essay analyzing this passage’s use of language/rhetorical approach.
- The Argument Essay: You will be given some position, usually stated in some brief excerpt from an author’s work. For example, you might be given an excerpt from Proust that suggests that people often regret their choices, or an excerpt from Eleanor Roosevelt praising the virtue of courage. You will then be asked to take your own position on the topic. This time, you won’t be given sources to help you make your arguments; all of your arguments must come from your own brain.
The scoring rubric for each essay is roughly similar, with six possible points awarded: there is one point for argument, four points for evidence and analysis, and one point for “sophistication.” What this means is that, in brief, you need to do three things on every essay to get a perfect score:
- Have an argument.
- Back up your argument with evidence and analyze how that evidence supports your argument.
- Have an ineffable, excellent quality to your writing, a sort of dexterity of mind and language, for which the scorers have reserved one, sacred point.
You can’t really control whether or not you can achieve #3, and a lot of that will be based on your prior level of experience writing/reading; but you can control whether or not you achieve #1-2. So, a high score is totally within your power! The TLDR version of this post is: make a clear argument and back it up with concrete, analyzed evidence. But, of course, that’s not as easy as it looks, and I have many more thoughts on how to actually achieve it, and achieve it well...
The six major components of successfully writing a timed essay on an exam are:
- Organizing your time
- Reading and Annotating
- Outlining Part 1: Thesis
- Outlining Part 2: Structure
- Writing Part 1: Paragraphs (Intro, Evidence, Analysis, Conclusion)
- Writing Part 2: Sentence by Sentence
#1 Organizing your time
On the AP Lang exam, you get a total of 2 hours and 15 minutes to write your three essays. This time is split into chunks. First, there is a 15 minute “reading period”; next, there is a 2 hour “writing period.” What this seems to imply is that the exam would like you to read all of the questions and their supplemental texts (the Synthesis Essay question and texts, the Rhetoric Essay question and passage, the Argument Essay question and short question blurb) in the 15 minute reading period, and then proceed to write the essays, in response, in the two hour writing period. This, however, is obviously an insane approach. For one thing, it’s kind of impossible: no one could keep the details of three different essay questions and associated readings together in their head all at once. For another, it’s really time inefficient: if you read all the material for all three essays first, you’re going to have to go back to it, a lot, each time you start to write a new essay, to jog your memory. Basically, no one in their right mind would (or does) advise this approach. And even the College Board seems to know it makes no sense, because they allow you to continue reading and referring to the questions and texts after the reading period.
What you should do instead? Simply treat the whole 2 hours and 15 minutes as a single time block. Divide it into three units of 45 minutes. Then, read and answer each of the three questions one after the other, giving 45 minutes to each. Start with the Synthesis Essay, followed by the Rhetoric Essay, and then the Argument Essay.
Your process should look like this: during the 15 minute reading period, begin work on the Synthesis Essay by reading the question and texts and planning that essay. Then, when the 2-hour timer starts, devote the first 30 minutes to actually writing that essay. Next, spend 45 minutes reading the Rhetoric Essay question and passage, and writing the Rhetoric Essay. Finally, spend the last 45 minutes reading the Argument Essay question/blurb and then writing the Argument Essay. The Argument Essay should actually take you less time than the first two, which means you should end up with 5-10 minutes to proofread your other essays. That said, I advise that you leave time at the end of each 45-minute block to check over each individual essay.
Now let’s talk about the Rhetoric Essay in particular. How should you organize your 45 minutes here? I suggest mapping out your time roughly like this: take about ten minutes to read the passage, take notes, and brainstorm; then, take about five minutes to make an outline for your essay; next, take about twenty to twenty-five minutes to write. Leave an extra five to seven minutes at the end to re-read and edit your work. As you practice, you might notice that slightly different divisions of time work best for you – feel free to be flexible! You don’t have to stick to your timetable exactly . BUT you should try to stick to a version of this timetable so that you have enough time for each of the steps. How? Watch the clock!
#2 Reading and Annotating
The Rhetoric Essay asks you to analyze the language or rhetoric that a passage uses to achieve its ends. In your first ten minutes of reading, you should be keeping an eye out for two things:
- What is this passage trying to achieve? Is it trying to persuade the reader of an argument (often the case)? Is it trying to entertain the reader with a story (sometimes the case)? Is it trying to make the reader laugh? Is it trying to make the reader think? Identify the passage’s main purpose.
- What rhetorical methods or devices does the passage use to achieve its aims? What exactly is it doing to achieve its aims? Yes, you should be watching out for rhetorical devices that already have fancy names, like “allusion” or “alliteration,” but you should also be using your OWN language/descriptive powers to identify the passage’s methods. You might, for example, note things like: “makes argument largely through anecdote” or “addresses counterarguments” or “lists so many absurd situations that they start to feel normal.” Try to identify not just rhetorical methods the passage uses, but also the central ones it uses.
To achieve this, I suggest proceeding as follows: read one paragraph. Once you’re done, stop, reflect, and note (in the margins) the most important rhetorical devices the passage used to achieve its aims (as far as you understand them thus far). Do this for each paragraph you read. Once you’re done, you should have a handy list in the margin of rhetorical tactics the passage uses. Which ones, looking back, seem to come up the most frequently? Which ones, even if they don’t come up frequently, seem particularly central to the passage’s aims? The tactics you identify will soon play a role in your essay’s thesis.
Next, you’ll be ready to write an outline for your essay, mapping out (as best you can) its thesis and structure. In the next blog post , we’ll begin with that step.
Choose Your Test
Sat / act prep online guides and tips, expert guide to the ap language and composition exam.
Advanced Placement (AP)
With the 2023 AP English Language and Composition exam happening on Tuesday, May 9, 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.
The AP Language and Composition exam tests your rhetorical and composition 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, 45 question multiple-choice section. It includes five sets of questions, each based on a passage or passages. In this section, there will be 23-25 rhetorical analysis questions which test your rhetorical skills. There will also be 20-22 writing questions which require you to consider revisions to the texts you're shown.
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 essay where you synthesize several provided texts to create an argument
- One essay where you analyze a nonfiction passage for its rhetorical construction
- One essay where you create 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 tests you on two main areas. The first is how well you can read and understand nonfiction passages for their use of rhetorical devices and tools. The second is how well you can "think like a writer" and make revisions to texts in composition questions.
You will be presented with five 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." Each passage will be followed by a set of questions.
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.
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.
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 questions 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.
Type 4: Relationships Between Parts of the Text
Some questions will ask you to describe the relationship between 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."
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.
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."
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.
Type 8: Composition
This is the newest question type, first seen in the 2019/2020 school year. For these questions, the student will need to act as though they are the writer and think through different choices writers need to make when writing or revising text.
These questions can involve changing the order of sentences or paragraphs, adding or omitting information to strengthen an argument or improve clarity, making changes to draw reader attention, and other composition-based choices.
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 to seven 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 2022 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 2022 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."
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 10% of test takers received a 5 in 2022 , although 56% 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.
The grading rubrics for the free-response questions were revamped in 2019. They are scored using analytic rubrics instead of holistic rubrics. For each free-response question, you will be given a score from 0-6. The rubrics assess three major areas:
#1: Thesis (0 to 1 points): Is there a thesis, and does it properly respond to the prompt?
#2: Evidence and Commentary (0 to 4 points): Does the essay include supporting evidence and analysis that is relevant, specific, well organized, and supports the thesis?
#3: Sophistication (0 to 1 points): Is the essay well-crafted and does it show a sufficiently nuanced understanding of the prompt?
Each scoring 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 Rubrics
EVIDENCE AND COMMENTARY
Time to synthesize this dough into some cookies.
Rhetorical Analysis Essay Rubrics
Examine your texts closely!
Argumentative Essay Rubrics
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— particularly nonfiction 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 .
- We've compiled a list of 20 rhetorical devices you should know.
- A heroic individual from Riverside schools in Ohio uploaded this aggressively comprehensive list of rhetorical terms with examples. It's 27 pages long, and you definitely shouldn't expect to know all of these for the exam, but it's a useful resource for learning some new terms.
- 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.
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 .
Once you're prepped and ready to go, how can you do your best on the test?
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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!
The AP Language and Composition exam tests your rhetorical skills. The exam has two sections.
The first section is an hour-long, 45 question multiple-choice test based on the rhetorical techniques and composition choices.
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 0-6. 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!
Want more AP Lang review? We have a complete collection of released AP Language practice tests , as well as a list of the AP Lang terms you need to know and a guide to the multiple choice section .
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 .
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How to Crush It on the AP® English Literature Exam Essays
How to crush it on the ap ® english literature exam essays.
by Heather Garcia
Many students are far too familiar with multiple-choice tests and they know, relatively, what to expect when they sit down to take one. Even though the AP ® English Literature Exam has multiple-choice questions that are a little more intense than other tests, it is still, at its core, a multiple-choice test. For many kids, that isn’t too scary. (But seriously, all literature and no non-fiction can be a bit daunting, especially when you hit those sonnets. Phew!)
When taking the AP ® English Literature exam, the part that intimidates many students is the Free-Response section. In other terms, the essay section. The AP ® English Literature exam has an essay section where you get the opportunity to show the readers, AP ® English Literature teachers and college professors from around the nation, what you can do. The readers are looking to see how well you read, how well you think, and how well you write in a timed setting. This is your chance to prove to the world (or to the readers) that you have thoughtfully prepared for this exam and you are ready for college-level literary analysis.
The AP ® readers are not expecting perfection in the essays you write. You are writing under a time constraint and the readers are completely aware of this. However, they do expect you to write three essays in two hours, spending approximately 40 minutes on each essay. The three essays are quite different, so it helps to start preparing early for each type of essay. Timed essay writing can certainly improve, but only with repeated practice and constructive feedback (or intense analysis of previously-scores samples).
The three essay types that you will be asked to write are: poetry analysis , prose analysis , and a literary argument .
For each essay that you write, it is my suggestion that you annotate the prompt. Read the prompt once. Then read it again and annotate how many separate tasks the prompt is asking you to perform. Sometimes you only need to identify the purpose and the devices being used. Sometimes there are four components of the prompt you need to address. Either way, number them so you can be certain when you are writing that you aren’t leaving anything important out.
Beyond that, each of the three essays requires a slightly different approach during the testing period. Below you will find specific suggestions for each one:
In this essay, you will be given a poem that you most likely have never read. I am surprised every year by which poem the test writers choose. They work diligently to ensure that they find poems that are rich in interpretive opportunities and that are not frequently included in textbook anthologies. They want students to have an interpretation that isn’t filtered through a textbook company or a teacher. They want thought and analysis from you, the student.
When you approach this essay, it is best to read and annotate the prompt, but also to give the poem a solid first read before you try to do any interpretation. On the first read-through, check to see if you can determine the tone, the purpose, and a general gist of what the poem is about. Then go back and re-read the prompt and poem again. In this read-through, you should start underlining and circling, making quick notes about what you notice so that you have fodder to write about. This should take you about 7-8 minutes.
The next step is to complete a quick, and I mean quick , outline. I use the word outline loosely. This could be a scribbled list of topics you want to cover with arrows pointing to the textual evidence you plan to use. It could be a brain map with lines and bubbles and arrows. It could be just placing numbers beside your annotations so you know what order you want to tackle them in. Regardless of the method you choose, it is important that you choose one. So many students think they are beyond pre-planning for an essay, and sadly, it shows. The essays lack the finesse that they could have had if they had taken the three or four minutes to jot down a map of where the essay was headed.
The final step is to write the essay. This part should take about 30 minutes. It may seem like an impossible task, but with a specific direction to head and with the poem already analyzed, the essay should flow smoothly. You aren’t writing a 200 page dissertation. You are writing a 2 to 4 page essay. In pen. In your best handwriting. Saving a few minutes at the end for proofreading. No problem. Right?
This is just the first essay. There are two more. (See why I said preparing early is key?)
This essay is similar to the poetry essay in many respects. You will be given a passage that you most likely have never seen before, and you must respond to a prompt asking you about it. The main difference is that this excerpt will not be a poem. It will be an excerpt from a novel, a short story, or a play. Again, most likely one you haven’t read or even heard of, but that is half the fun.
Similar to the poetry essay, you will begin by reading the prompt and annotating it, but for this essay, you most likely won’t have time to read the passage in its entirety twice.
You will want to annotate and respond to the prompt as you go. Speed is as essential as analysis. You don’t want to spend more than 10 minutes reading and making notes. You need to save 3 or 4 minutes for a pre-write, just like you did with the poetry prompt. Then, you will spend about 25 minutes writing. Quickly. I like that this essay is in the middle of the Free Response section of the test because even though you can write the essays in any order you choose, if you keep this one in the middle, your brain is already in analysis mode, your hands are warmed up, but not yet beyond achy, and this essay can run smoothly.
This, by far, is my favorite essay. This essay asks you to respond to an open prompt about a novel you read and analyzed deeply. College Board asks that you write about books that are worthy of college-level analysis and that you only write about a single book, but other than that, the options are open. College Board will provide you a list of book titles that would fit the prompt, but you are certainly not limited to that list.
Even though this essay appears last in the test packet, I always encourage my students to write this essay first. My students usually spend the last couple of weeks prior to the exam reviewing specific scenes from their favorite novels, refreshing themselves on the themes, symbols, and how to spell the characters’ names (you think I am kidding, but some of those names are tricky). When they get to the essay section, they feel like their brains are going to explode with all of the information, so they write this essay first. They get it out of the way before the other passages fill them up with more themes and symbols to contend with.
When writing this essay, it is still important to annotate the prompt and to make a pre-writing plan, but there is no text to cite from. You only have your brain. When you choose the book to write about, ensure that you include the full title and the author’s name in the introductory paragraph. Without that the reader is just guessing at your book. And don’t worry if you choose an obscure book. Your reader will most likely have read it. And if not, they will pass the essay on to someone who has read the book.
DO NOT spend time summarizing the plot of the book you choose. It is a waste of time and space and does nothing to influence your score positively. Instead, assume the reader has read your chosen book, and use a phrase to ground them in the plot before jumping into analysis. Instead of giving three sentences to describe a scene, just say, “in the part where Jane and Rochester kiss under the chestnut tree” or “in the section of the play where King Lear cuts Cordelia out of her inheritance.” Nothing more is needed that that. The readers will jump right into the plot with you.
You have to remember that the readers are there to reward what you do well, not bash you on the moments where you might mess up. On test day, it is important to remember to have fun with each of the essays. If you are enjoying the process of writing them, the readers will enjoy the process of reading them. Find interesting perspectives, make cogent observations, and dazzle the readers with your insight and thought-provoking arguments. But leading up to test day…PRACTICE!
While the AP ® English Literature free-response questions can be challenging, practicing will ease your stress on test day!
Heather Garcia is an English teacher at Charlotte High School, Florida, where she teaches AP English Literature and AP ® English Language. She is a professional development leader in her district, running annual new-teacher trainings and is now the Curriculum and Instructional Specialist for her district for grades 6-12. After 16 years of hands-on experience, Heather has developed a series of strategies to help her students navigate challenging texts. Her favorite book is the Steinbeck classic, East of Eden .
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The AP English Language section contains three essay prompts: a synthesis essay, a rhetorical analysis essay, and an argument essay. Synthesis essay: You'll be
The essay types included in this article are the Document-Based Question, the Long-Essay Question, the Synthesis essay, the Rhetorical Analysis
One is synthesis (you're given one document), one is argumentative (use your own experiences), and one is rhetorical analysis (you're given ~7 documents).
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You will take AP English Language next year with Mrs. Derbidge. The course concentrates on how authors and writers craft their ideas, what techniques they use