Expert Preparation Tips for the AP Language and Composition Exam
AP testing season is upon us, so let’s discuss the most writing intensive Advanced Placement exam: AP Language and Composition.
After the multiple choice section, the second and final portion of the exam requires test takers to answer three free response questions: a synthesis essay, a rhetorical analysis, and an argument. Students are given a total of 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete all three essays, and the section makes up 55% of your overall score on the exam.
On all three essays, scoring ranges from 0-9. A 0 is off topic, crossed out, a drawing, or written in a language other than English. A 9 must be “especially sophisticated in argument, thorough in development, or impressive in control of language.”
Crafting three essays in about two hours may seem like an overwhelming task, but below we’ll explain the directions and scoring for each of the three essay questions, in addition to providing tips for how to prepare.
AP Synthesis Essay
For the synthesis essay, you’ll be presented with a public issue and seven informational texts relevant to the topic. After reading the seven texts, you must select at least three to include in your essay.
Your essay should state your position on the public issue and incorporate your chosen sources to support and defend your position.
In order to achieve a score of 8 (Effective), you must synthesize at least three sources, cite your sources accurately, use appropriate and convincing evidence and explanations, and “demonstrate consistent ability to control a wide range of the elements of effective writing.”
To write a successful synthesis essay, you should:
- Determine your position on the issue.
- As you read through the provided sources, underline the best pieces of evidence that support your stance. (If you can’t find enough evidence for your position, you may need to argue the other side for the sake of writing an effective essay.)
- Choose to include information from the three sources with the strongest evidence in support of your position.
- When you include evidence from your sources, you don’t need to use formal citations, but be sure to mention the source by using phrases such as, “According to…”
- Be sure to explain how each piece of evidence from your sources supports your argument.
- Organize your essay by mentioning your position and 2-3 reasons you’ve taken this stance in your introduction. Develop each reason with evidence and examples in separate body paragraphs.
AP Rhetorical Analysis Essay
The rhetorical analysis essay requires you to analyze the rhetorical strategies in a provided piece of non-fiction writing. Typically, the text is historically significant and argumentative in nature.
Your goal is not to state whether you agree or disagree with the text, but to analyze the effectiveness of the author’s use of rhetoric, including how the author’s use of language contributes to the purpose and intended meaning of the text.
An “Effective” rhetorical analysis essay should provide an effective analysis of rhetorical strategies, develop this analysis with appropriate and convincing evidence and examples, and refer to the provided passage.
To write a high-scoring rhetorical analysis essay:
- Take your time carefully reading the provided passage.
- As you read the passage, underline key persuasive strategies used by the author, take notes in the margins, etc. to help you plan and organize your thoughts.
- Make sure that you avoid stating your own opinion on the passage; this is not the purpose of the rhetorical analysis essay.
- Instead, explain how the author crafts his or her argument and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies used by the author.
- Use quotes or details from the text to support your response.
AP Argument Essay
For your final essay, you’ll craft an evidence-based argument in response to a provided topic. The prompt usually includes opposing quotes or opinions from two or more well-known philosophers on the topic.
You’re instructed to incorporate evidence from your reading, experiences, or observations to support your argument. In this case, “readings” refers to anything you have read in the past, not to a set of provided sources.
An argument essay that scores an 8 must effectively argue a position, include appropriate and convincing evidence and explanations, and make an argument that is especially coherent and well-developed.
In order to achieve a score of 8 or higher, you should:
- Consider multiple perspectives, listing reasons and evidence in support of each.
- Choose to argue the perspective for which you have the strongest and most convincing evidence.
- Introduce your argument and your strongest 2-3 supporting reasons in your introductory paragraph.
- In each body paragraph, expand on one reason with strong evidence and examples.
- Mention 1-2 counterarguments in your essay and explain why you disagree with these points. This shows that you have considered both sides of the issue. If they don’t fit naturally into your body paragraphs, you can include counterarguments in your conclusion.
How to Successfully Prepare for AP Language and Composition Essays
Of course, writing practice essays is most effective if you receive feedback on your writing. A fast, easy, and helpful way to do this is by uploading your essays to WriteLab. Within 15 seconds, WriteLab provides feedback on your essay’s Clarity, Concision, Logic, and Grammar.
WriteLab’s comments help you strengthen your writing by encouraging you to revise weak or vague word choice, vary your sentence structure, and use specific, active verbs.
As you consider WriteLab’s suggestions about deleting unnecessary words and revising overly wordy sentences, you’ll learn to write with improved concision and clarity.
In addition to comments, WriteLab also asks questions that are designed to help you think critically and analytically. For instance, if areas of your essay are lacking in development, the software pushes you to include specific details or add evidence to strengthen your claims.
The AP scoring guide specifies that under no circumstances can an essay with excessive errors in spelling or grammar score higher than a 2. WriteLab’s suggestions about conventions include clear examples and explanations that can teach you how to improve your spelling and grammar, thus avoiding a low score on your essays.
If you write practice AP essays, upload them to WriteLab, and consider WriteLab’s comments and questions, you’re sure to sharpen your writing skills and earn a higher score on AP Language and Composition.