Ap English Language Scoring Guidelines For Rhetorical Essay

Average AP English Language Score

If you’re choosing your junior or senior year classes, you’re probably wondering which AP courses to take with your college choices and intended major in mind. You may want to boost your GPA or take practical classes for your career. Perhaps you need a five on the AP exam, so you want to know which is easiest. In most schools, mostly juniors and seniors take the AP English Language class and exam, but is AP English Language valuable to majors outside writing or the humanities? What’s the average AP English Language exam score?

Whether you’re considering AP English Language on your schedule or you’ve already finished the course and are preparing for the exam, understanding the average AP English Language score will help you evaluate your options.

What’s the Average Score on the AP English Language Exam?

If you look at how prior test-takers performed on the exam, you might have a better idea of the challenges ahead. In the historical data, you’ll get a sense of past exams scores, how many achieved threes or better, and your odds of getting those fours and fives.

The chart below contains the CollegeBoard’s 2010 to 2016 exam results data and score trends on the AP English Language exam.

CollegeBoard National Grade Distribution

Score2010201120122013201420152016
510.7%11.1%11.0%10.2%9.6%9.9%10.7%
420.8%20.0%20.2%16.2%17.9%18.3%17.6%
329.3%30.1%28.9%28.6%28.4%27.3%27.1%
227.6%27.5%27.9%29.8%30.1%29.7%32.1%
111.6%11.3%11.9%15.2%14.1%14.8%12.6%
Mean2.762.922.902.772.962.792.82
# of Students374,620252,262443,835476,277505,244527,274547,575

Trends

From 2010 to 2016, the chart shows that approximately 10% of the total test-takers earned fives, with a slight dip in 2014. Over 75% of the test-takers scored either four, three, or two. Less than one-fourth scored one and five. The mean score held relatively stable in seven years, except for 2013, when the number of those scoring ones increased, and the number of fours and fives decreased. The numbers of test-takers steadily rose from 374,620 in 2010 to 547,575 in 2016.

The average AP English Language exam score hovered around 2.8, which might signal a challenging but conquerable test. However, don’t forget that mostly juniors and seniors take AP English Language (and Literature), many of whom already have had advanced English classes that fostered strong reading and writing skills. Thus, the mean score of 2.8 might suggest a difficult test. On the other hand, upperclassmen probably carry more AP classes than freshmen or sophomores, so may prepare better for some exams than others. In other words, when you’re taking four or five AP exams, you may focus more on some exams and underestimate the difficulty of others.

No scheduled changes in the exam appear on the horizon, so the scoring trends promise some stability and forecasting.

Odd trends

The average AP English Language exam scores of all test-takers remained consistent, with slight downward fluctuations in 2013 and 2015. However, just as the total number of test-takers grew, the percentage of two scores consistently increased, peaking at a whopping 32.1% in 2016. Concomitantly, fours have also declined over the same period.

Despite dips and peaks, the numbers show a roughly 60-65% pass rate. This trend might reflect a difficult exam; the challenges of upperclassmen, who typically carry a steeper load of AP classes than younger test-takers; and the greater number of test-takers, which may include more unprepared individuals.

However, reading historical statistics alone does not give the complete picture of the course or the exam difficulty. The data shows that more students pass the exam than not, but students shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking they don’t need to study as much for the exam since it’s passable. At the same time, nor should they choose not to take the class because the exam’s too hard. To understand the challenges that lie ahead, students should get an overview of the course contents and strategies.

What’s a Good Score on the AP English Language Exam?

Several factors define a “good score”. Good scores and good-enough scores depend on your plans. To help you evaluate your needs and standing, understand AP test scores through four criteria:

1. The CollegeBoard’s Definitions:

The CollegeBoard explains the AP scores of 1 through 5 through the lens of preparation, understanding, performance and college credits.

One – the lowest score on the AP exam, this score reflects little knowledge of the material, little to no preparation, or possibly complications arising during the exam; therefore, the Board offers “no recommendation” on this score. No colleges in the US or abroad accept an AP score of 1.

Two – one below passing, this score shows potential to pass a similar college English Language or writing class but doesn’t get you college credit. Again, a possible bad test day explains this score for some. The Board assesses this score as “possibly qualified” to pass a college course of the same level.

Three – the most common score, this average score moves the bar to “qualified,” which refers both to your sufficient understanding of the course materials and your average chances for passing a similar college course and getting credits accepted at state colleges.

Four – a good score that reflects hard study, good comprehension of the course and high performance on the exam, perhaps showing strong essay writing and adept multiple-choice answering. The CollegeBoard deems you “well qualified,” translating to a B grade.

Five – the highest score, this score means you’re “extremely qualified,” and all colleges will give you credit for your course.

2. In Relation to Other Test-takers

To gain perspective, compare your score to other test-takers’ scores in a particular year to see how you stand. For example, if you were among the 10.7% of 547,575 test-takers receiving a five on the 2016 exam, you would have been among the smallest group of all test-takers but still one among 54,757 students.

That might give you some perspective that a passing score on the test arises more from individual effort and time than the difficulty of the exam. From year to year, the test may not be as hard or easy as the numbers indicate, and your score may not reflect your actual ability to take the course in college successfully. Your real chances of passing a college course similar or related to the English Language are probably higher since you took a rigorous AP course in preparation.

3. Based on College Credit Acceptance

Your score as a gateway to college credits depends on the college and your major. Some colleges accept only an AP score of four and five; others take threes and higher. Each school, and sometimes each department of a school, handles AP scores differently. In other words, an AP score of four may be sufficient in the biology department for credit but not so in the psychology department.

So, for example, California State University, Fullerton accepts an AP English Language exam score of three for six college credits applied to general education English 101 requirements and your degree. But if you’re planning to enroll in any university as a creative writing, composition or literature major, you probably want to score higher than three on the exam. Most schools require students to complete a college writing course, but you need to know the AP credit and major requirements beforehand.

Most Cal State universities accept threes, but more elite colleges take fours at a minimum, and fives earn credit most everywhere nationally and internationally. So, your school choice counts critically in your assessment. Check the AP credit database to find your school.

4. Based on Helpfulness in College Applications

Of course, fours and fives look great on your college application and will attract more attention to college admissions officers. Keep in mind, though, that passing AP courses looks good on high school transcripts regardless of the score. These courses show a capability to tackle rigorous coursework, which the applicant learned well enough to pass the class.

Don’t forget the AP Scholar award that goes to high scorers on multiple AP exams–a definite stand-out on your college application.

How is the AP English Language Exam Graded?

The AP English Language exam consists of 52 to 55 multiple-choice questions on excerpts from nonfiction texts. The multiple-choice section constitutes 45% of the exam. The other 55% of the exam consists of three free response essay questions:

  • One synthesis – of several texts from which examinees write an argument citing three of the documents.
  • One rhetorical analysis – of nonfiction texts that the writer analyzes to illustrate how language contributes to themes and purpose of the works.
  • One argument – based on evidence.

The CollegeBoard describes the multiple-choice categories on the exam as follows:

  • reading comprehension of rhetorically and topically diverse texts
  • rhetorical analysis of individual texts in isolation
  • synthesis of information from multiple texts
  • written argumentation

The average score for the computer-graded multiple-choice answers consists of the total correct answers out of 52 to 55, which is the raw score. AP readers manually grade the free response answers against a rubric: the result is a total possible score of nine points per question (2016 exam). The grading rubric gives acceptable answers for each component of each question.

For example, the synthesis question might require a test-taker to read six or seven articles about how language has become globalized. Then after evaluating the sources, choose three to support an argument for or against the proposition that monolingualism is a disadvantage today. The rubric contains acceptable responses, gauged on completeness, structure, and writing, among other criteria (the 2016 exam rubric). The score for each response measures the overall correctness of the response to the rubric answers. If you got most of a question right, holistically, you could earn six or seven points out of the nine, which would be your raw score.

Then the multiple-choice and free response scores combine to create the composite score, which proportionally weights to each section, in this case 45-55. That score then converts to a scaled score of one to five, based on specific scoring calculations that are designed to keep scores uniform from year to year. The scaled score could represent a range of composite scores for one through five from year to year.

What’s the Best Way to Prepare for the AP English Language Exam?

Knowing the average AP English Language score, what’s on the test, how it’s scored, and how past students performed on the exam, you can clarify for yourself what you need to target. You know your strengths and weaknesses after taking the course and writing essays. Some students have high recall and don’t have to spend as much time memorizing. Some are better multiple-choice test-takers, while others dazzle with their reading and writing skills. Know yourself, what you’ll need more practice on, and apportion your study/practice time accordingly.

As to general tips, learn how to write an organized essay with a clear thesis statement. Hopefully, your teacher requires you to practice essay writing and gives good feedback to help you elaborate on a clear thesis statement with adequate support and development of your ideas. If you need more help here, check out some online resources or books.

You’ll need strong logic, argument, reading, comprehension, and analytical skills. Be sure you know how to evaluate and document sources credibly. Understand how to detect and use rhetorical strategies to fulfill the specific purpose of a nonfiction work. And of course, grammar counts.

Additionally, keep track of your time. Don’t skip questions altogether without trying to answer what you can, as you can earn some points even for incomplete answers. You can’t get any points if you leave questions blank. Complete the multiple-choice questions you know first, and then come back for the more difficult ones.

Outlining before you dive into longer written responses will help organize your thoughts and save time. You only have three and a half hours, so you want to be both efficient and thorough, especially for the coveted five. Get a good night’s rest the night before to ensure you work at full potential.

Take plenty of practice exams available in class or from outside sources. You can review previous tests on the CollegeBoard website to get an idea of past questions and the scoring rubrics that go with the exams. Get supplemental practice tips, materials, and exams from a review book sold in bookstores or from a reliable tutoring or AP prep service.

Be sure you carefully read the practice questions, so you know what you’re called upon to answer and how you need to respond. You get fewer points for responding with too much extraneous information.

Finally, ask other students who’ve taken the course and the exam, or your teacher for suggestions, and consider these sources for tips targeted to your subject:

Averaging the mean of all scores in the past seven exams, you get an average AP English Language exam score of 2.8, which means the exam, though challenging, offers the substantial potential to pass those who put in the time and effort. Don’t forget that your school’s passing rate or average AP English Language exam score may be higher than the national averages, so check with your guidance counselor for your school stats.

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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. 

 

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