Types Of Essays On Ap Language Exam

 

Perhaps because the free-response section of the AP Language and Composition exam is worth more than the multiple-choice section, some teachers spend much more time preparing you for free-response than multiple-choice. While it’s great to be prepared for the essays, this might leave you feeling like a lost and confused lamb when it comes to the AP English Language and Composition multiple choice section.

But never fear, the guide is here! This guide will give a brief overview of the AP Language and Composition multiple-choice section, the eight question types you can expect to see on the test, three preparation strategies, a slate of AP practice question resources, and finally some tips for success on test day.

 

The Multiple-Choice Section: An Overview

Section I of the AP English Language and Composition test is the multiple choice section. This section will have 52-55 questions testing you on how well you can read and understand nonfiction passages for their use of rhetoric.

On the exam, you will be presented with 4-5 nonfiction passages. You will receive a bit of orienting information at the beginning of this passage, for example “this essay originally appeared in a major national newspaper in the 1980s.” Each passage will have about 10-15 questions associated with it. 

The AP Lang multiple choice section is worth 45% of your total exam score. You will receive one point to your raw score for every question you answer correctly. However, as on other AP exams, your raw score will be converted to a scaled score from 1-5.

But what’s actually on the multiple-choice section? The next section explores what kinds of questions you can expect to actually be asked on the exam.

 

The 8 Types of Multiple-Choice Questions

There are eight kinds of multiple choice questions on the AP Language exam. In this section, I’ll go over each type, provide an example question, and walk you through answering it. All of the example questions come from the “Course and Exam Description.” You can find the original passages these questions are referring to there as well.

 

Type 1: Reading Comprehension

As you might expect, reading comprehension questions are about testing if you understood the passage on a concrete level: what does this particular sentence mean in a literal sense? And so on. You can usually identify them from phrases like “according to” and “refers.” To succeed on these kinds of questions, your best strategy is to go back and re-read the part of the passage the question is asking about. Do so carefully, and when you then answer the question, focus on what the passage is actually saying outright. Don’t infer on reading comprehension questions!

Example:

Let’s go back and look at Lines 23-26 to answer this question: “But ‘books are not about schedules,’ author Stephanie Nolen argues; rather, they are ‘about submerging yourself...about getting consumed.’”

To return to the question, what is her “primary criticism of book clubs,” then? Well, she says, “books are not about schedules.” So, they shouldn’t have to be a scheduled-in obligation. The only answer that choice that resembles what she actually says in the passage is that the problem with books clubs is that they (A), “are too programmed.”

 

Type 2: Implication

This question style moves beyond basic, concrete reading comprehension into the realm of implication. Implication is what the author seems to say without actually coming out and saying it directly. However, even though the answer may not be written out clearly in the passage, the question will still have a clear correct answer based on textual evidence. You can identify implication questions from phrases like “best supported,” “implies,” “suggests,” and “inferred.”

As for reading comprehension questions (and indeed, all multiple-choice questions on the AP) turn and look back at the relevant part of the passage before you answer. Then ask yourself: Which interpretation put forth by the answer choices does the passage *most* support?

Example:

First, we need to find where in the passage names for hurricanes and tornadoes are discussed. We can find this in lines 14-17: “A tornado, although more violent than a much longer lasting hurricane, has a life measured in minutes, and weathercasters watch it snuff out as it was born: unnamed.”

What answers about why tornadoes are unnamed and hurricanes are named are at all supported by this line? Choice (A), “there are too many of them,” is clearly incorrect as the line says nothing about the frequency of either weather event. Choice (B) says, “their destruction is not as great as that of hurricanes.” This is a trap! You may know based on your own knowledge that hurricanes generally incur much greater damages overall than tornadoes, but the passage doesn’t say that. You have to choose an implication that is actually supported by the passage, and the passage doesn’t say which causes more destruction. Choice (C) says “they last too short of a time.” The passage does say that hurricanes are “much longer lasting” and that the life of a tornado is “measured in minutes.” This could be a reasonable answer, but let’s make sure it’s the best one before we select it.

Choice (D) says “they move too erratically to be plotted” and Choice (E) says tornadoes “can appear in any area of the world.” It doesn’t matter if either of those statements are true since the question asks what the passage implies, and the passage does not discuss either their movements or where they appear. Thus, (C) is the answer most supported by the passage.

 

It's a trap! Don't be fooled.

 

Type 3: Overall Passage and Author Questions

Overall passage and author questions want you to identify key, overarching elements of the passage or author's views, like the purpose of the text, the author’s audience, the author’s attitude toward the subject, and so on. These questions are identifiable because they won’t refer back to a specific place in the text but will instead ask general questions that apply to the entire excerpt.

These questions can be a little more difficult to answer than those where you can look to a specific place in the text to answer your questions. You’ll really need to have an overall impression of the passage based on its overarching details. It might be helpful to jot down a couple overall impressions of the excerpt right after you read it, to refer back to when faced with overall passage questions.

Example:

This passage is about the rise of book clubs. The first paragraph gives examples to demonstrate that book clubs have become a popular phenomenon. The second discusses book club backlash and some book club guides. The third paragraph asserts that book clubs are positive and sharing literary experiences is a good thing.

Which of the answers fits with the passage? Answer (A) can be eliminated right away because there is no personal narrative. Answer (B) can also be eliminated because the passage begins with an example about Oprah, not any “empirical” (numbers-based) data. Answer (C) can be eliminated because the passage never introduces any questions related to the practice of book clubs. Choice (D) could be good--the first two paragraphs give mostly description, and the third and final paragraph gives an evaluation. Choice (E) doesn’t fit because there is no initial condemnation of “the practice” (i.e. of book clubs). So (D) is the correct answer.

 

Type 4: Relationships Between Parts of the Text

Another question type will require you to identify or describe a relationship between two specific parts of the text. This could be paragraphs or shorter line segments, or a specific part of the passage compared to the rest of the passage or the passage as a whole.

My advice for answering these questions is similar to my advice for most questions--go back and read the parts of the passage in question! You may want to jot down an overarching impression of what each part of the text is accomplishing or saying as you do, which should help you compare them and identify the relationship.

Example:

Because this passage is only two paragraphs long, this question is essentially asking us about the relationship between the first and second halves of the passage. What is the main idea of each of the sections? Well, the first paragraph describes essentially what makes a strong writer. The second paragraph establishes that Carlyle is “such a writer” and then discusses some of his works and why they are important.

When we look at the answer choices, what matches up best with our main idea descriptions? Clearly (A), which describes how the first paragraph describes the strengths of a writer (which we know Carlyle has based on the topic sentence of the second paragraph), and the second describes Carlyle’s “legacy.”

 

What kind of relationship do the parts of the text have?

 

Type 5: Interpretation of Imagery/Figurative Language

This type of question is concerned with the underlying meaning or implication of imagery or figurative language used in the excerpt. What is the author trying to accomplish with this particular phrase or this metaphor?

Again, it is critical that you go back and read the part of the passage that the question refers to, or you will be completely lost on these questions (more so than on most others). You may want to re-read a few lines before and after as well so you can get a sense of the imagery in context.

Example:

For this to make sense, we need the entire sentence the “acorns” appear in: “It is an idle question to ask if his books will be read a century hence: if they were all burnt as the grandest of Suttees on his funeral pile, it would only be like cutting down an oak after its acorns have sown a forest.”

What could this mean? Well, acorns come from oak trees and make more oak trees. So this must refer to something that comes from Carlyle and is somehow a replication of him or his works. The best choices if we think about that, then, would be (A) his children, or (C) the ideas in his books. However, since the passage doesn’t mention anything about his children that would be an irrelevant detail and can’t be what the acorns represent. So the answer must be (C).

 

Type 6: Purpose of Part of the Text

These questions will ask you to choose the answer that best states the purpose that a given part of the text serves in the piece. What is the author hoping to accomplish with this specific example/sentence/device? These questions can usually be identified because they will ask specifically about purpose or function of a specific moment.

To address these questions, you will need to, of course, re-read the part of the text in question. Think about what point the author is trying to make in that specific moment, and how that would serve their larger argument. All parts of a given text will serve the larger argument if they are well-constructed, so if it seems like an interpretation of the text presented in the answer choices doesn’t work with the main argument, eliminate it.

Example:

These lines read, “You may meet a man whose wisdom seems unimpeachable, since you find him entirely in agreement with yourself; but this oracular man of unexceptionable opinions has a green eye, a wiry hands, and altogether, a Wesen, or demeanor, that makes the world look blank to you, and whose unexceptionable opinions become a bore; while another man who deals in what you cannot but think ‘dangerous paradoxes,’ warms your heart by the pressure of his hand, and looks out on the world with so clear and loving an eye, that nature seems to reflect the light of his glance upon your own feeling.”

This sentence is really overwhelming, so let’s try to break it down and re-write it in a simpler way. “You might meet a man who seems wise because he agrees with you, but this man might eventually become a bore; while a different man who presents challenging ideas may warm your heart and eventually convince you.” This fits into the larger argument because Carlyle is the writer who presents challenging ideas, and this piece is in praise of Carlyle and his legacy. Let’s go through the answers and see which choice fits best.

Choice (A) describes a contrast between a writer who reinforces reader viewpoints and one who challenges them. This sounds like it could be right--let’s keep it. Choice (B) describes an analogy between kinds of people and types of writing they prefer. There’s no analogy in these lines, so we can eliminate (B). Choice (C) says that these lines challenge the idea that writers modify their ideas to appeal to readers. But since this passage overall refers to Carlyle’s legacy and doesn’t give any indication that he modifies his views to appeal to readers, so we can eliminate it. Choice (D) doesn’t even refer to writers, and Choice (E) doesn’t work because the lines say nothing about good and evil. So (A) is the best answer choice.

 

Good and evil? Aren't all these questions evil?

 

 

Type 7: Rhetorical Strategy

For these questions, you’ll need to identify the specific rhetorical strategy used by the author in the specific place in the passage. Essentially, you’ll be identifying the particular argumentative “move” that the author is deploying to try to convince the audience of their position.

Example:

The passage identified in the question says: “The character of his influence is best seen in the fact that many of the men who have the least agreement with his opinions are those to whom the reading of Sartor Resartus was an epoch in the history of their minds. The extent of his influence may be best seen in the fact that ideas which were startling novelties when he first wrote them are now become common-places. And we think few men will be found to say that this influence on the whole has not been for good. There are plenty who question the justice of Carlyle’s estimates of past men and past times, plenty who quarrel with the exaggerations of the Latter-Day Pamphlets, and who are as far as possible from looking for an amendment of things from a Carlylian theocracy with the ‘greatest man’, as a Joshua who is to smite the wicked (and the stupid) till the going down of the sun. But for any large nature, those points of difference are quite incidental. It is not a theorist, but as a great and beautiful human nature, that Carlyle influences us.”

So which of the rhetorical strategies in the answer choices makes the most sense? Choice (A) says the author berates Carlyle’s opponents. This doesn’t seem accurate--while she mentions those who disagree with him, she doesn’t berate or insult them. Choice (B) says she acknowledges but discredits other arguments. While, again, she acknowledges that there are those who disagree with Carlyle, she doesn’t really mention their specific arguments or discredit them.

Choice (C) suggests she claims most people don’t recognize Carlyle’s genius. This can’t be right; she says “few men will be found to say that this influence on the whole has not been for good” and describes how many of his ideas are now “commonplace.” Choice (D) says she cites facts. She doesn’t--she gives examples of his works and describes reactions. Thus, choice (E), which says she gives examples that reflect his influence, is correct. This is the best choice as the passage repeatedly emphasizes that even those who don’t agree with him are affected by his thoughts.

 

Type 8: Style and Effect

The last question type asks you about stylistic moments in the text and the effect created by those stylistic choices. Essentially, what does the author accomplish by making that particular stylistic choice? To address these questions, re-read the sentence or moment in question with an eye for how it sounds and feels. Don’t just think about what it says--what does it evoke?

Example:

The sentence says, “‘Oh God, that I were a writer!’ She cried. ‘Surely a writer could not string words together about Henry Irving’s Hamlet and say nothing, nothing.’”

The stylistic choice in question is the italicization of “nothing, nothing.” We may notice that this mirrors the italicization of “writer.” Italics generally indicate emphasization--so what’s the effect of emphasizing “writer” and “nothing, nothing”?

Be careful here, because it might be tempting to choose (B) - indicate a sarcastic tone. This kind of emphasis is often used to communicate sarcasm. However, that doesn’t fit with the rest of the passage, or the fact that she “dropped her pen in despair” just before. The best choice is (A), that it emphasizes her frustration.

 

With the eight question types addressed, we can move on to more general strategies to prepare to take the multiple choice section of AP Language and Composition.

You are the general of your own AP preparation army!

 

How to Prepare

There are several key strategies you can use to prepare yourself to rock the multiple-choice section of the AP Language and Composition exam.

 

Read and Engage With Nonfiction

A key prep strategy is to read nonfiction of all different types, particularly nonfiction that argues a position or advances an agenda of some kind. When you read, you should work on identifying and understanding how the author makes use of rhetorical strategies and techniques. Ask yourself:

  1. What is the author’s argument?

  2. What evidence do they use to support their position? What is the nature of their evidence--anecdotes, statistics, illustrative examples?

  3. What rhetorical techniques and strategies do they use to build their argument?

  4. Are they making particular kinds of appeals?

  5. Is their argument strong? If yes, what makes it strong? If no, what makes it weak?

Constantly considering these questions as you read will help you learn to analyze passages quickly and informally, which is an essential skill for answering multiple-choice questions focused on rhetorical analysis.

 

Learn Rhetorical Terms and Strategies

In order to analyze works, of course, you need to know rhetorical terms and strategies.  You will undoubtedly learn many techniques and strategies from your teacher, and you should definitely review those before the exam. You can also check out my essential list of 55 AP English Language terms you need to know.

Make sure you aren’t just memorizing the terms and the definitions, but that you can actually identify all of the techniques at work in the things you read!

 

Practice Answering Multiple-Choice Questions

To succeed on the multiple-choice section, you need to practice answering multiple-choice questions! This will help you get familiar with the feel of the multiple-choice section and identify any gaps in your understanding.

The next section will suggest tons of sources for practice multiple-choice questions.

 

A whole pile of practice questions!

 

Practice Question Resources

There are a variety of practice test resources you can use to hone your multiple choice skills. The best multiple-choice practice resources come from the College Board. This is because they write the AP exam, so their practice questions are the most like real AP multiple-choice questions. Unfortunately, there are not as many official resources for the AP Language and Composition exam as there are for some other tests.

However, once you run out of official College Board practice questions, there are still some unofficial resources that you can use for multiple choice practice. In this section I’ll go over both.

 

Official Multiple-Choice Resources

The College Board offers both complete released exams and sample multiple-choice questions.

 

Complete Released Exams

Complete official exams are a great resource if you can find them, because they will have complete multiple-choice sections for you to practice with.

Unfortunately, the College Board has not released any official previous exams for AP Language and Composition, as they have for many other tests. You may, though, still be able to find complete official exams from past years by Googling “AP Language complete released exam” or similar variations on that. You might also ask your AP teacher if there are copies of old AP exams you can use for practice. They often have access to past exams and may be able to loan them to you.

 

Sample Questions From the “AP Course and Exam Description”

The AP Course and Exam description for AP Language and Composition includes 50 sample multiple-choice questions. This is actually only two questions short of a complete multiple choice section, so this a pretty sizable collection of questions to add to your practice bank.

 

Better get a safe so you can put it in the bank!

 

Unofficial Multiple-Choice Practice Resources

There are tons of sites out there offering free multiple-choice practice questions and quizzes for the AP Language and Composition exam.  But they aren’t all created equal! In this section I’ll highlight just several of these resources that are most worth your time. For an even more comprehensive list, see my list of all practice tests available for AP Lang and Comp.

 

College Countdown Complete AP Language Practice Test

This site has a complete unofficial practice test. You can ignore the essays for the purposes of multiple choice practice. The wording of questions on the multiple-choice section aren’t exactly the same as on a real AP exam, but the tasks are very similar and the passages are well-selected. This is a great source for sample multiple choice questions once you run out of College Board official options.

 

McGraw-Hill AP Practice Quiz

McGraw-Hill, an academic book publisher, offers this free 25-question multiple-choice “diagnostic quiz.” It has difficult, well-written multiple-choice questions that really look and feel like real AP questions. The passages do open in another window, which is slightly awkward and annoying, but the questions are so good that it’s worth it!

The quiz is supposed to be 25 questions, but you could theoretically get more than 25 questions from this resource since every time you open a new test window you get a subset randomly selected questions from a question pool.

 

Albert.io English Language Practice

Albert.io has a decent number of small multiple-choice quizzes that offer practice questions analyzing the rhetoric of various notable nonfiction passages. The style of the questions is a little more informal and to the point than genuine AP questions published by the College Board, but they are still good practice for answering multiple-choice questions about rhetorical techniques deployed in a passage. So when you’ve exhausted your other resources this is still a solid multiple-choice practice question source.

In order to answer questions, you need to sign up for a free account. It then costs “credits” to answer questions. You can both buy additional credits and earn credits for answering questions correctly, so if you are good at answering questions, you can use this service for free pretty much indefinitely! Otherwise I don’t really advise buying credits since there are frankly better paid resources available (like review books).

 

Review Books

Most review books also have practice multiple-choice questions designed to mimic College Board questions and are a good resource when you’ve used all of your official and unofficial free questions. However, not all review books are of equal quality, and some have questions that are downright poor quality. Be sure to look at reviews and flip through the book to check out its questions and how they compare to College Board questions before buying if you can. As a starting place, Barron’s and the Princeton Review are usually reliable review book sources.

 

You might need a nap after you do all of these questions.

 

Test Day Tips

Here are four key strategies to help you succeed on the multiple choice section on test day.

 

Interact With the Text

When you are initially reading a passage, do some preliminary marking up! Underline things that seem particularly significant, like a thesis statement or major shift in the text. Make notes of motifs or confusing sentences. These marks will help you familiarize yourself with the text and navigate it when you come back to answer the questions.

 

Identify Main Ideas

Once you finish reading a passage through, quickly jot down the main idea/argument of the piece, the author’s purpose, and the intended audience. This will help you answer overarching passage questions. Additionally, preemptively identifying these points before addressing the questions should help make many of them more clear and help you keep the passage framed in your mind as you work through questions.

 

Always Re-read

Never rely on your memory when the question is about a specific place in the text: always go back and read the line in question. If the answer still isn’t clear once you’ve consulted the text, read a little bit around the specified line for more context and clarity.

 

Eliminate Off-Topic Answers

An easy trick to eliminating wrong answers for many questions is to simply identify answer choices that are clearly off-topic. At a first pass these might not be obvious, since they may use a word or phrase from the passage and will sound stylistically similar to the other choices. But a closer look will reveal that the answer has nothing to do with the paragraph or passage topic!

Here’s an example:

The sentence says, “‘Oh God, that I were a writer!’ She cried. ‘Surely a writer could not string words together about Henry Irving’s Hamlet and say nothing, nothing.’”

We might see the words “writing” in answers (C) and (D) and think they are on topic--after all, Ellen Terry wishes she “were a writer.” However, the very point of the sentence is that she is not a writer. So does it make sense for the effect to have to do with writing parts for actors or how to succeed at writing? No! Those answers are completely off-topic.

 

A highly professional and profound production of Hamlet.

 

Key Takeaways

The multiple-choice section of AP Lang and Comp has 52-55 questions and is worth 45% of your exam grade.

There are eight types of questions you can expect to see on the AP Language and Composition multiple choice exam:

  1. Reading Comprehension
  2. Implication
  3. Overall Passage and Author Questions
  4. Relationship between parts of the text
  5. Interpretation of imagery/figurative language
  6. Purpose of part of the text
  7. Rhetorical strategy
  8. Style and effect

The multiple-choice section of the AP Language and Composition exam can be challenging for students who are more used to literary close-reading than rhetorical analysis. However, you can learn to succeed!

Here’s how to prepare:

  1. Read and engage thoughtfully with nonfiction so you can identify essential rhetorical elements quickly and thoroughly.
  2. Learn rhetorical terms and strategies and both how to identify them in other works and how to use them in your own writing.
  3. Practice for the multiple-choice section!

There are a number of resources, both official and unofficial, where you can get practice AP language and composition multiple-choice practice questions. There are some official resources from the College Board and some unofficial free online resources, though you should always be careful to thoroughly investigate unofficial material for quality.

Once it’s time for test day, here are four strategies to succeed on the multiple-choice section:

  1. Interact with the passages as you read them for the first time.
  2. Identify the main ideas--the author’s purpose, argument, and audience--right after the first time you read the passage.
  3. Always go back and re-read the part of the passage in question--don’t rely on memory!
  4. Watch out for answer choices that are clearly off-topic and eliminate them!

 

Ready like a freshly baked muffin!

 

What's Next?

If you need more help with AP Language and Composition, we have a total list of practice tests and a complete guide to the exam.

Taking other APs? See six tips for acing your AP exams, our five-step AP prep plan, and our guide to finding the best AP practice tests. 

Wondering if you can retake AP exams? We have the answer!

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

 

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. 

 

0 thoughts on “Types Of Essays On Ap Language Exam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *