Ap Lang Synthesis Essay College

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. 

 

AP English Language FRQs

Have you ever wondered what it takes to get the best score possible on the AP English Language exam?

In this guide we have compiled the do’s and don’ts of the 2014 AP Language test to provide you with the best information to conquer the exam. As you prepare, keep a close watch for the best practices for each type of essay, and the things to avoid.

Let’s breakdown the test to see how it is scored and what you’re expected to do.

Test Breakdown

The Free Response Questions (FRQs) are the essay portion of the AP Language exam. The exam itself has two parts: the first is a multiple choice section, and the second is the FRQs. This guide provides an overview, strategies, and examples of the FRQs from the CollegeBoard. There is a guide to the multiple choice here.

The FRQ section has two distinct parts: 15 minutes for reading a set of texts and 120 minutes for writing three essays. The 15 minute “reading period” is designed to give you time to read through the documents for question 1 and develop a thoughtful response. Although you are advised to give each essay 40 minutes, there is no set amount of time for any of the essays. You may divide the 120 minutes however you want.

The three FRQs are each designed to test a different style of writing. The first question is always a synthesis essay – which is why they give you 15 minutes to read all of the sources you must synthesize. The second essay is rhetorical analysis, requiring you to analyze a text through your essay. The third is an argumentative essay.

Each essay is worth one-third of the total grade for the FRQ section, and the FRQ section is worth 55% of the total AP test. Keep that in mind as you prepare for the exam, while the multiple-choice section is important, the essays are worth more overall – so divide your study time evenly.

The scale for essay scores ranges from 1-9. A score of 1 being illegible or unintelligible, while a score of 9 is going to reflect the best attributes and aspects of early college level writing. You should be shooting to improve your scores to the passing range, which is 5 or above. Note that if you are struggling with the multiple choice section, a 9-9-9 on the essays will help.

The Tale of Three Essays

If you are currently taking an AP class, you have probably experienced the style and formats of the three assignments. You may have learned about the specifics of the different types of essays in class, and you may have already found out which of the three is easiest for you. However, you must possess skill in all three to master the AP test.

The First Essay (Synthesis)

The first essay on the test is going to be the synthesis essay. This essay can be the trickiest to master, but once you do get the hang of it, you will be one step closer to learning the others. The synthesis requires you to read six texts, which can be poems, articles, short stories, or even political cartoons.

Once you have read and analyzed the texts, you are asked to craft an argument using at least three of the documents from the set. The sources should be used to build and support your argument, and you must integrate them into a coherent whole.

On the 2014 FRQ section of the AP exam, the synthesis essay focused on the value of a college education. The complete prompt for the section is below:

If we break down the task, it is asking you to use the six sources to create a “coherent, well-developed argument” from your position on whether or not college is worth the cost. As you read this, you might have some experience with discussions of college costs and the value of a degree; perhaps you have had the discussion with your parents or at school. You can use that experience, but your response needs to focus on the given texts.

To find the actual documents you can go here. Taking a look at the documents will provide some context for the essay samples and their scores.

The question is scored on a scale from 1-9, with 9 being the highest. Let’s take a look at some examples of student essays, along with comments from the readers – to break down the do’s and don’ts of the FRQ section.

Do’s

You should always strive to get the highest score. Writing a high scoring paper involves learning some practices that will help you create the best possible synthesis essay. Let’s look at two examples of student writing:

Create a Clear Argument

One of the key elements of scoring high on the synthesis essay is to make your argument as clear as possible. Let’s look at the clarity in the example below:

This sample comes from a high scoring essay. If we examine the words closely, we can pick out some specific ways that this essay is clear:

  1. The student identifies one of the key components of the debate when he talks about “dollars and cents” – showing that he understands most people associate the worth or value of a college education to cost and future earnings.
  2. The student redirects the argument though to encompass “so much more” – giving the reader a clue that he is going to be discussing other definitions or explanations of the value or worth of a college education.

For the reader of this essay, it was laid out clearly by the student. The student addressed the main arguments usually made about the value of a college education, but then using clear wording redirected his argument to focus on a more broad definition of value.

Integrate Sources Seamlessly

Another essential part of scoring well on the synthesis essay is to integrate sources into your writing. The student example below demonstrates the skill:

The student who wrote this essay was able to integrate the different sources into his writing. Notice that in this particular passage the student was able to integrate a negative source (A) and positive source (B). The sources are integrated into the essay, supporting the student’s point about the emotional value of college.

When using sources, whether they support or oppose your point, you should always strive to integrate and explain how they connect to your argument. This student demonstrated the ability to have his writing flow through embedded quotes, which only added to the idea that he has a strong command of language.

Don’ts

There are some practices that students should avoid on FRQ 1 of the test. Students who do these things can expect to receive low scores on their essays, and if you wish to score above a five, you should avoid them at all costs.

Don’t Use the Wrong Tense or Words

One of the simplest changes you can make to score some extra points is to ensure you use the correct diction and grammar. The example below demonstrates what you shouldn’t do on the test:

This student doesn’t demonstrate his command of the English language. Instead, he shows that he does not have a grasp on simple structures like grammar. The student says, “…many of my friends and families yell and start to panic” – which shows that his command of language is weak because the word families should not be plural.

Unless the student has “many” “families” the correct word he should use would be family, and then it wouldn’t go with the verb “yell” in the sentence. This could be easily fixed with a re-read of the essay and changing the word “families” to “family members”.

It seems like it shouldn’t matter that much, but using the wrong word or tense can decrease the confidence a reader has in your writing skills. Students that make these “simple” mistakes, generally have more glaring errors in their essays – meaning they will be reading the rest of your paper more closely than before.

Make sure you proofread your essay before you move on – it could mean the difference between a high score and a low score. Even if it saves you just one point, that point could make the difference.

Don’t Misuse Sources

One of the easiest ways to fail question one is to write an essay that doesn’t utilize sources correctly. The student in this example doesn’t integrate the source they use:

This student doesn’t use the information provided by source F correctly. They give a quote, but then do not explain how the source relates to his argument, or what the given quote even means.

The information provided by source F is an argument against college education – stating that it isn’t as valuable as a good work ethic or being personable. The student cites this evidence, but then gives an argument against what it says without substantiating his argument.

The student provides no proof as to how college benefits the character of people. Instead the student writes some vague examples of how college can benefit the character of a person, which doesn’t refute the evidence he cites from the text.

If you want to score high, make sure you understand the sources you use and that they add to your argument. If you are using a source that opposes your argument, use another source that supports it in your refutation. Don’t use sources if you don’t know what they are saying.

AP Readers’ Tips:

  1. Read every text before you start your essay. One of the pitfalls of many students is that they do not use enough sources and try to fit them in after the fact.
  2. Plan ahead. Ensure that you understand what you are going to be saying and how you will incorporate the different sources into your writing. You will need at least three sources to get above a 6, so ensure you have at least that many mapped in your plan.

The Second Essay (Rhetorical Analysis)

The second essay on the FRQ section is always a rhetorical analysis essay. This essay will focus on analyzing a text for an important aspect of the writing. In the case of the 2014 FRQ, the analysis was supposed to concentrate on rhetorical strategies:

The prompt asks the reader to carefully read a letter written by Abigail Adams to her son and write an essay analyzing the rhetorical choices she uses in the letter. Rhetorical choices are simply another term for rhetorical strategies and include things like the rhetorical appeals, and rhetorical devices.

Let’s examine the do’s and don’ts for the second essay.

Do’s

When analyzing rhetorical strategies, you should pay close attention to the details within the text. The students below use some valuable strategies to enhance their analysis.

Provide Different Reasons to Support Your Argument

In this high scoring essay, the student provides many reasons that support her argument. In particular, she points out how Adams uses “maternal tone, historical allusions, qualified flattery, patriotic appeals, and lists” as the concrete rhetorical strategies in the letter.

Each of the reasons the student highlights provides support to the essay’s primary claim that Adams is writing to convince her son to be diligent and apply himself. The student makes it clear how she is going to argue in the rest of the essay by laying out these reasons in the beginning.

To make your essay easier to read, you should have distinct reasons and that each supports your claim in a different way. The more reasons you have, the stronger your argument will be by the end.

Use Outside Knowledge Effectively to Strengthen Your Argument

The ability to pull in outside knowledge from your classes or books you have read will help enhance your analysis. Let’s take a look at how a student did this on the 2014 exam:

In the example above, the student can provide a more in-depth analysis of Adams’ words by connecting her mention of “difficulties” to the American Revolution and rebellion from Britain.

The student can connect what she has learned in her history and literature classes to what is being discussed in the letter. This brings a new dimension to her writing and allows her to go into more detail in her analysis. It gives the student an edge over others who don’t use their background knowledge.

Whenever possible, bring in background information that will help with your analysis. It might only seem like extra knowledge about the topic or author, but it could provide some insight into why they chose to write about something or show the full effect of their argument.

Don’ts

Some things to avoid on the literary analysis essay include misreading the passage and providing inadequate analysis of the text.

Don’t be Vague about Your Argument

One way to receive a low mark on your essay is to be unsure about your claim, reasons, or evidence. Any essay grader is going to want to see proof of thought and planning throughout the essay, so you cannot afford to be vague. Let’s look at one of the examples of this from a student essay:

The student seems to have been rushed for time, but that is no excuse for leaving out necessary details. This is the entire first paragraph of the student’s essay. The student at the very least provides the reader with an idea that will be analyzing “pathos, repetition, and diction,” but she doesn’t go into detail about their argument.

The student is very vague about her overall argument. The student doesn’t specify a claim, and she does not go into detail about what the rhetorical strategies are doing in the letter. Leaving out those essential details led to the essay receiving a low score.

In your essay be sure to specify your claim and the reasoning behind your analysis in your thesis. It is a clear sign of good writing when the thesis makes sense, and you can connect your claim to the specific reasons you give for why your argument is correct.

Don’t Miss the Chance to Include Textual Evidence

Textual evidence is the bread and butter of a rhetorical analysis – so you will want to include as much evidence from the passage as possible. Here is an example of a student not including enough textual evidence:

The student references lines from the text, mentioning this as the primary rhetorical strategy she is showing, but doesn’t give enough evidence to show what the choices in diction do in the letter. The student would need to cite an example of how Adams uses diction.

Whenever there is a chance to show evidence from the text that supports one of your reasons, you should insert a quote from the evidence you’ve collected. Explicitly putting the evidence in your essay in the form of a citation is one way to make your essay stronger. Never give a reason without supporting it with evidence, otherwise you might as well not include it.

AP Readers’ Tips

  1. Pay attention to both the holistic (overall) and analytic (particular) views of the piece. You will need to understand both the text as a whole and the specific parts of the text to analyze it effectively.
  2. Don’t just analyze the rhetoric used, but instead connect the rhetoric to the specific purpose of the author. This rule applies to any rhetorical analysis essay.

The Third Essay (Argument)

The third and last essay of the FRQ does not respond to a particular text. Instead, the prompt focuses on crafting an argument about a particular issue. Your essay will need to argue a particular position, though most of the questions put forth by the exam will not be simple either/or questions.

Let’s look at the prompt for the third essay from 2014:

Before we get into the do’s and don’ts of the essay, let’s talk about the particular challenge of this task. You are presented with a scenario, in this case, it deals with the need for creativity in the world, and you are asked to create an argument dealing with that issue.

For 2014, the scenario asks you to argue the value of creating a specific class to teach students creativity. You are invited to use your experience and understanding to write to your school board arguing for or against the idea of a class in creativity.

It is important to note that students are not being asked to argue about the value of creativity. The prompt assigns a significant value to creativity, so in the essay, a student would need to argue from that knowledge. The student must focus on the value of a class in creativity, if he instead discussed the importance of creativity itself he would lose points for the task.

The Do’s

A few of the most important things you can do to ensure you score well on the essay include providing strong examples and define the examples you discuss.

Provide Strong Examples to Substantiate Your Reasoning

There is always a need when arguing to provide strong examples to make your reasons and argument clear. In the student writing below, he goes to great lengths to provide strong examples of his argument:

The student gives a very thorough explanation and many good reasons why he is against the idea of a creativity class. In this case, he gives his reasoning why a separate class would be detrimental to the act of thinking creatively, and then the student gives an example from his experience.

The concrete example of his creativity class, coupled with his explanation of why a class on creativity would not be useful both serve to further his argument. The amount of detail present in the paragraph is indicative of a high scoring essay.

When you write, you will want to ensure that you give credible and concrete examples that are then supported with thorough explanation and detail.

Define the Terms and Reasoning You Use

An excellent essay should provide a definition for the terms used or an explanation of the ideas presented in the argument. If you are arguing that a class in creativity is not useful, it would be helpful to define or articulate what creativity needs to look like to be helpful.

Let’s take a look at one example of how one student articulated creativity:

The student gives a definition to what creativity looks like in the real world. He says that it is, “being able to develop novel ideas, apply, and adapt them…” This definition gives the student a way to explain the process of creativity – and show how a class in creativity is not useful.

If you are going to write an essay about the value of a topic or idea, it will suit your needs to determine what that topic or idea entails. In the case of the student above, by defining what valuable creativity looks like, he was able to explain then how it is only useful in the context of other issues – not in a disconnected class focusing on creativity.

Don’ts

If we take a look at the essay samples from 2014, there are few examples that stand out as don’ts. In particular, you should avoid going off topic and rambling in your essay.

Don’t Go Off Topic

One of the cardinal sins of essay writing is to go off topic. Students that fail to address the prompt are sure to get a very low score.

Let’s take a look at a sample from an essay that goes off topic and fails to adequately address the prompt:

The student does not address the prompt properly in his essay. He starts off the paragraph by talking about how some people are creative, and others are not. He goes on to explain how creativity is just thinking outside the box, and finally, he offers the idea that there are pros and cons to having a creativity class.

At the end of the paragraph, despite all of the words he has written, he has said nothing of importance. He has not formed an argument; he has not presented new ideas, instead he has just danced around the issue and offered some ideas that are off topic like “some people are born with creativity”.

You must always address the prompt. It is important that you take a stance. It may be a moderate or middle of the road position, but there has to be something concrete that you are arguing. It doesn’t do any good to write an essay that goes off topic and doesn’t address the prompt.

Don’t Ramble

It seems simple, but many low scoring essays show that the student didn’t know what he was going to say ahead of time. This type of “word vomit” leaves the reader confused, and shows that the writer didn’t have a good grasp of the subject. Let’s look at the example below:

The student seems to be rushed in this essay, but he writes whole sentences that do not add anything to his points. The first sentence in the example above doesn’t tell the reader anything new and simply serves as fluff. It is useless and will not earn you extra points to include sentences that say nothing.

The rest of the writing doesn’t go into any more detail, and the entire paragraph above could be cut from the essay without costing it any of its argument, evidence, or support. If you find that you are writing just to write, and not saying anything important – you should stop and figure out if you have anything left to write that will add to your argument.

AP Readers’ Tips

  1. Keep track of all parts of the prompt. One of the easiest ways to drop points is to forget to answer an important aspect of the prompt. In the case of the 2014 prompt, the essay needs to discuss the creation of a creativity class.
  2. Try to reference literary examples in your writing. There wasn’t much opportunity to reference readings in the 2014 prompt, but if you can reference the different literature you have read as evidence, it can help boost your scores.

General AP Readers’ Tips

Make a plan. One of the best things you can do for any essay you are writing under a time crunch is make a thought-out plan. Sometimes, in the heat of writing, it is easy to forget where you are in your arguments. Having a simple outline can save you from that misfortune.

Answer the question in your introduction, and be direct. Directly answering the prompt is one of the easiest ways to ensure you get a higher score.

Clearly, indent your paragraphs, and ensure that you always have an easy to navigate structure. Topic sentences are a must, so make sure those figure into your structure.

Use evidence, especially quotes, from the texts, and explain what they mean. You need to make an explicit connection between the evidence you use, and how it supports your points.

Part of all great writing is variety. Vary your sentence structures, don’t make all of your sentences short or choppy, but instead try to inject some creativity into your writing. Utilize transitions, complex sentences, and elevated diction in your writing.

Use active voice, and make every word add to the paper as a whole. Avoid fluff – you don’t want your paper to look bad because you are trying to pad your word count.

Go Forth and Conquer

Now that you better understand the expectations of the AP English Language FRQ section, you are one step closer to getting your five on the exam. Take what you have learned in this guide, and work on applying it to your writing. So, now it is time to go practice to perfection.

If you have any more tips or awesome ideas for how to study for the AP English Language FRQ add them in the comments below.

Looking for AP English Language practice?

Kickstart your AP English Language prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.

0 comments

Leave a Reply

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