AP Exam

Exam Components

The AP English Language and Composition Exam is comprised of two main sections: one multiple choice section and three written essays. It is overall scored 1-5. 1 being the lowest, 5 being the highest score possible. Most colleges require a 3 or above to accept the credits for the class.

Section 1

The multiple choice section; it lasts 1 hour, has 52-55 questions, 4 passages; one of them being a pre-20th century text (expect verbose, syntactically-complex texts), one tone-intensive piece, one minority voice text (focuses on speaker and social constructs) and one writing arts piece. Each question weighted equally, but each wrong answer is -.25 points and any unanswered questions is 0 points (45% of your total exam score).

Section 2

Section 2 is a 2 hour and 15 minute block reserved for writing three essays: rhetorical analysis, synthesis, and argument (55% of total Exam score). Rhetorical analysis is what seems to be the hardest part of the test and you should spend around 45 minutes of your time on this. Argumentation should also take about 45 minutes, and synthesis should take around 55 minutes, using a recommended 10 minutes to read, and 45 minutes to write your response although you may start writing at any point


All essays are graded on a 9 point scale (9 being the best, 1 being the worst). Based on the quality of the claim, the supporting argument, and the overall prose. There are minor technical differences for the scoring each essay that you can find on the individual pages for these essays, Rhetorical Analysis, Synthesis, and Argument.

General Scoring:
9: Nearly flawless (A+)
8: Exceptional or impressive (A)
7: Adequate or good (B+)
6: Adequate and includes all requirements (B)
5: Inconsistent (C)
4: Inadequate (C-)
3: Inadequate and a little bad (D+)
2: Bad (D)
1: Very bad (D-)
0: You didn't do it (F)
-: Something else entirely

Rhetorical Analysis (AP Exam)

After reading a randomly chosen author's text you will write an essay in around 45 minutes making a claim about how well or how poorly the author's language and rhetorical decisions contribute to the author's goal/purpose of the text.

Synthesis (AP Exam)

After reading a prompt and multiple sources regarding a topic you will write an essay in roughly 55 minutes that cites at least three of these sources to confirm your unique claim about the prompt.

Argument (AP Exam)

After reading a prompt you will write a unique argument essay within 45 minutes with no given sources.

Tips for Essay Writing

Rhetorical Analysis

Make a definitive claim the characterizes the author's writing techniques and overall style and the value that has for working towards the author's goal
When making sub-claims about specific rhetorical decisions within the text be sure to do more than just list the rhetorical decisions that the author uses, take it one step further and explain how the rhetorical decisions works towards or against the author's themes/goal
Understand the rhetorical situation, because all aspects of the rhetorical situation are factored into the text. Know your components of the text itself, like each of the appeals: ethos, logos, and pathos. Know the different aspects of the arrangement and style: diction and tropes, syntax and schemes, tone.


~ Use the sources to support YOUR argument about the topic - don't steal an argument from the sources, and don't write about the sources.
~ Use multiple sources to support each of your claims — a source by source approach is ineffective.

  • Use simple citations; e.g., "(Source A)."
  • You have 55 total minutes for the synthesis response — try to spend no more than 15-20 minutes reading the source packet.
  • Take notes while you read, you can write on the test.


Developing arguments
To prove any claim:

  • Deductive reasoning (general to specific)
    • If premises are assumed to be true and conclusion is certainly true as a result, then conclusion is valid
    • If premises are actually true and conclusion is valid, conclusion is sound
  • Inductive reasoning (specific observation to general conclusion)
    • If premises are assumed to be true and conclusion is probably true as a result, conclusion is strong
    • If premises are actually true and conclusion is strong, conclusion is cogent

To prove very heavily qualified claims:

  • Abductive reasoning
    • Inference to the best explanation
    • Form of induction
    • Always formally fallacious — affirms consequent

General tips for the AP Exam

Tips from students

  • “Knowing the format of the test and what to expect is helpful for anyone. Make sure that you know what is being asked of you in the free response questions and include all the necessary components.”
  • “As for the multiple choice section, eliminating wrong answers is helpful if the correct one can't be picked out immediately. Timing is also important, so I'd suggest not getting hung up on one question for too long.”
  • “Any tips you’ve been given in the past for standardized testing apply to the AP test as well.”
  • “Remember to talk about specific rhetorical strategies. Don’t use vague language like ‘the author uses diction.'”
  • “Try to build up your vocabulary for describing rhetorical strategies.”
  • “For the multiple choice, I made sure to pay really close attention to qualifying words, because that's where they mess you up a lot. Sometimes, noticing crossover between answers helps me on tests because it's likely that you can eliminate the answers that aren't similar to one another this way."
  • “For the essay portion, I cannot stress the importance of not wasting time enough. You have to just go for it. What I mean when I say that is this: I tend to, when looking at a prompt, naturally think of multiple different theses/stances/arguments I could make regarding it, and I spend too much time debating over which viewpoint will provide the most solid essay. For a class, that works great, but when you're being timed, you can't do that. Go with your gut feeling about what to argue and go from there. Here's what I would say about figuring out what to use for a ‘strategy’:
    • I tend to first scan the prompt. Don't look at it too in depth, because they're mainly the same. Just make sure that there's nothing out of the ordinary about what they're asking you to do.
    • Next, read the literature. While doing this, I focus less on what the prompt is asking me to do and what I immediately notice as a.) a member of the audience, b.) acritically thinking analyst of literature, and c.) someone who reads and writes. What jumps out at you as a reader? Focus on that, and make a connection to what they're asking you to do through that. Does that make sense? Whatever YOU notice, whatever YOU want to write about, whatever YOU can back up with evidence— go with that. Then find out where the connection lies— if it's a short story and you're drawn to the complexity of the character but the prompt calls for style analysis, write about the character as you'd like but make sure you take the time to include what choices diction, tone, &c. makes this character possible.
    • What bits don't you understand? Ignore those. Get the BIG PICTURE, draw an analysis, then find details you DO understand to support your thesis and use that.”
  • “You should always make an educated guess on the multiple choice section, even if you have no idea what the answer is.”
  • “Probably 1/3rd of the MC questions are figurative language or reading comprehension. Ifyou can read and follow the logic in metaphors, you can answer them.”
  • “The rest are a bit more complicated, and deal with the passage as a whole as well as the writer's intentions and methods. It's all about figuring out what strategy works for you:personally, I probably end up reading the passage about five times. Then again, it doesn't work for my brain to skip around, and I'm a fast reader. Practice! Find what works for you!”
  • “The vocab is important. Read through all the vocab lists you can find, but don't overload, it won't help much on the test if you don't remember which one's anachronism and which one's aphorism.”
  • “For the essays, read the prompt first, so you know what you're working towards. Then read the material once, very carefully. Take your time on the first read through. You can write on the test (!!!!!) so underline important phrases and write helpful words around theedges. MAKE SURE YOUR ESSAY FULFILLS THE PROMPT.”
  • “I don't outline. At all. I develop bullet points in my head, and run with them from there. This only works because I don't get too carried away— if you go off on tangents, you're going to need to outline. Whether you choose to outline or not, definitely leave lots of space to jot down key words and points that you want to cover— this is useful in the middle of an essay, when you come up with an idea that you don't want to forget but you're already on a roll with your current paragraph.”
  • “Practice writing HUGE amounts at a time. It's easy to underestimate how much your hand starts cramping up around the second hour of a 3 hour test.”
  • “Snacks are key. Bring snacks.”
  • “Listen to Mr. Johnson and take the class seriously.”
  • “Choose the most correct answer to each multiple choice question – most of the choices are plausible.”
  • “Study vocabulary – the MC test will ask you about rhetorical figures.”
  • “Study outside of class!”
  • “The synthesis essay can be really hard if you don’t have an opinion on the topic. Look back at previous synthesis prompts to get an idea of what the topics are like, and then try to form an opinion about each of them.”
  • “Make sure you know exactly how each part of the rhetorical diagram works.”
  • “Studying vocabulary can save you a lot of time on the analysis essay.”
  • “Argument is one of my favorite parts of the test because it is the most open-ended. Unfortunately, there is also a downside to this. Prompts are either a hit or miss for me, and if it is a miss, there is minimal information that can be used to form an opinion, since the prompt does not offer biased passages (like synthesis). It helps to have background knowledge of the topic, but even if you don’t, the prompt should at least be controversial enough to help you come up with an opinion. Learning about minor/less well-known issues could potentially help you with this essay, as well.
    • On the other hand, controversial topics can be difficult for some students to write about because in most cases, their options have been formed in their upbringing. Most students believe what their parents taught them, and they have not looked at the other side of the argument. They may have passion on the matter, but it can make it tough to express their thoughts with the evidence that the AP Exam wants.”
  • “Practice coming up with persuasive arguments that contradict your beliefs.”
  • “Get used to writing under a time limit – try to write as much as possible when you write your journal responses.”

Tips from Mr. Johnson

  • Make your brain stronger! Subject yourself to mental anguish at least once a day. Challenge every single one of your assumptions about the world. A few precautions:
    • The only intellectually honest and responsible way to respond to cognitive dissonance is to confront it and use your understanding of rhetoric to negotiate with it.
    • Don’t give yourself an existential crisis unless you know that you can resolve it before the test – stay away from infectious or potentially crippling ideas like determinism and solipsism.
  • Find a way to be interested in everything.
  • Write because you want to write; being required to write is seldom a good enough motivator to write anything worth reading.
  • Improve your standards for logical argumentation! Facts are not inherently “logical” – if you don’t understand why, you don’t know what logic is. Start with universal assumptions and examine their implications.
    • You can form a sound argument without evidence, but you can’t argue at all without reasoning – understand the difference between the two.
  • Don’t use words that you don’t fully understand – it is more important to communicate your intended meaning and effect than it is to “sound smart.”
  • Never stop thinking about the author’s purpose. You can’t analyze rhetoric unless you know who the audience is and what the speaker wants them to do.
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