What You Need to Know About the AP English Language and Composition Exam

November 21, 2020
By AdmissionSight

What You Need to Know About the AP English Language and Composition Exam

For high school students who are especially passionate about writing and the English language will likely thrive taking the highly popular and highly difficult Ap English Language and Composition Exam.

If your student is interested in taking the AP English Language and Composition Exam, there is quite a lot of information that they will want to know. Luckily, we at AdmissionSight are committed to giving high schoolers all the resources they need in order to succeed.

For that reason, we have broken down every AP course and exam, including the AP English Language and Composition Exam.

Before we go over the AP English Language and Composition Exam in particular, however, let’s spend some time going over why AP courses and exams are so valuable for the most advanced and accomplished students within the United States and Canada.

Why AP Exams are so valuable for high school students

There are several really great reasons why AP exams are so valuable to consider. In order to fully understand why your student may want to take the AP English Language and Composition Exam, let’s quickly go over the top reasons.

1. AP courses and exams help high students stand out in the college admissions process

The very best universities and colleges in the country are looking for students who are well-rounded individuals who are able to demonstrate great personal drive and pursuit of higher learning. In fact, the College Board itself says that AP coursework is a great way for students who show colleges what areas of education inspire and excite you, as well as which areas of learning you excel in.

2. AP courses and exams allow students to develop collegiate learning techniques in high school

AP courses are specifically built to try to replicate courses that are available to students at the collegiate level. This means that they are jam-packed with complex information that will likely need to be memorized and understood if students want to ace the AP exam. The exposure to this level of information and pressure gives high schoolers a small taste of what a course load will be like in college. It is a great way to help high schoolers gain confidence in their future education.

3. Students get the chance to earn college credit

Students who work hard in AP courses and pass the AP exam can really pay off for high school students. The reason why is because the vast majority of colleges in the United States accept AP credit. That means that you can skip many introductory courses in general studies by applying AP credits to your college transcript. Students can start college with anywhere from four to 16 credits already completed! That could mean saving thousands of dollars’ worth of education.

4. Students can jumpstart their college major

Skipping intro-level general courses at the college level means that students could get started on the early prerequisites of their college much sooner than many of their fellow students. That means that you can start taking courses that truly interest you! Isn’t that what college is really for.

5. Students get to challenge themselves

Perhaps the best reason to take AP courses and exams, and the reason they look so great on college applications, is because it proves that students not only are able to but also want to challenge themselves academically. AP courses require students to step outside of their comfort zone and enable students to develop their critical thinking skills.

The AP English Language and Composition Exam

That’s why even if you are not able to get a good enough score on the AP exam to gain college credit, you will certainly gain recognition in the eyes of college admissions officers.

Now that you are aware of the many great benefits of taking AP courses, let’s switch back our focus to the AP English Language and Composition Exam specifically. This AP course and exam is one of the most popular that is taken year after year. In fact, back in 2019, more than 10 per cent of high school students who took an AP course and exam took the AP English Language and Composition Exam.

What students will learn in the course?

When it comes to the AP English Language and Composition Exam, there are many students that choose to self-study. With that being said, whether you are planning on preparing for the exam through self-study or through taking the course, you will want to be able to master all of the content and subject matter that we will now go over together.

When it comes to the AP English Language and Composition Exam, students will want to be able to gain mastery over the study of rhetoric, otherwise known as the way in which an author of a given piece of literature tries to persuade, inform or motivate its audience through the use of established literary techniques.

For students taking this course and exam, the College Board has made it clear that it encourages students to take this course specifically if they are interested in studying and writing and editing many different kinds of analytic or persuasive essays.

Just like many other AP courses, the AP English Language and Composition course and exam can be defined by the big ideas and key concepts that it is taught through. The AP English Language and Composition Exam is built on the foundation of four Big Ideas that act like threads that run throughout the entire course. They are vital when it comes to students being able to make connections between one work to another and understanding the deeper concepts that are found within them.

The four Big Ideas of the course are as follows:

  • Rhetorical Situation: Understanding what an author is communicating, how they convey that message, and what the impact of their rhetorical strategies are.
  • Claims and Evidence: Making claims and justifying them, while acknowledging or responding to opposing arguments.
  • Reasoning and Organization: Guiding a reader’s understanding of the text through its organization and the development of its argument.
  • Style: The stylistic choices writers make and their impact.

Along with understanding and mastering the four big ideas of the course, students will also be expected to develop and master eight-course skills. These course skills are broken up into four sets of two that are necessary when it comes to analyzing and composing arguments within the course and the exam.

Those course skills are as follows:

List of course skills in the AP exam

About the AP English Language and Composition Exam

Now that you understand the basics of the course itself and what you will have to master to get the coveted 5 out of 5 on the exam, let’s break down some more specifics about the exam itself.

First off, you will want to know that the exam itself is quite difficult. While over half of the students who took the exam in 2019 passed the exam with a score of 3 or higher. Just under 10 percent of students who took the exam scored a perfect 5 out of 5. Here is a percentage breakdown of how the scores shook out last year.

Percentage breakdown of the past exam

Something else that you will certainly want to know is that the AP English Language and Composition Exam is one of the longest AP exams that students can take. In fact, it clocks in at a potentially mind-numbing three hours and 15 minutes. We say mind-numbing because if you don’t prepare, you can absolutely run out of mental gas before the exam comes to an end, but we’ll get to that later!

Right now, let the pros at AdmissionSight quickly go over what you will have to prepare for when you prepare for the exam itself.

Simply, the AP English Language and Composition Exam are made up of two different sections. If you’ve taken an AP exam before, or have read one of our blog posts about AP exams, you probably know what they are: a multiple-choice section and a free-response section.

Multiple Choice

The first section of the exam is made up of 45 multiple choice questions and takes up the first hour of the exam. This aspect of the exam will make up 45 percent of a student’s total score. These questions are broken down in a unique way that is meant to test a student’s knowledge and analytical skills.

The questions are broken up into five unique sets with 23-25 reading questions and 20-22 writing questions. Both types of questions will use short stimuli. Here is the overall structure of the questions in the multiple-choice section of the exam.

 Overall structure of the questions in the multiple-choice section of the exam

A set of questions that you can expect in the multiple-choice section of the AP English Language and Composition Exam is below:

Set of sample questions

Set of sample questions for the AP EXAM

Free Response

The second section of the AP English Language and Composition Exam is the free-response question and takes up the remaining two hours and 15 minutes of the allotted time. Here, students will have to complete three different free-response questions that make up the remaining 55 percent of the total score combined. Students will face three prompts of a different type:

  • Synthesis question: The synthesis question asks students to consider a scenario and then from there, formulate a response to a specific element of it using at least three accompanying sources for support. A sample of one such questions is below:

Set of sample question for the AP exam

  • Analysis question: The analysis question asks students to read a short passage and then analyze and discuss the different literary devices that were used by the author in order to influence and impact their readers. An example of an analysis question from the free-response section of the AP English Language and Composition Exam is below:

Set of sample question for AP exam

  • Argumentative question: Finally, students will then tackle the argument question in which a student is posed with a given position in the form of an assertion from a document source. From there, students will have to form their own arguments to defend, challenge, or qualify using evidence to support their claim. An example of the argumentative question is below:

Set of sample questions for AP exam in English

The very best way to prepare for the AP English Language and Composition Exam

Here at AdmissionSight, we make it priority to ensure the success of all high school students, whether they end up working with us or not! Quite simply, we want all young minds to succeed. For that reason, we will go over the very best way to study for this (and any) AP exam. The name of the game is not only preparing for the subject matter that you will need to master, but also preparing for the format of the exam itself!

Test your skills

The very first step to seeing where you are on your path to mastering the subject matter of the  AP English Language and Composition Exam, you will first want to take a practice exam. The best place to do that is here.

Once you have taken some kind of assessment, you will want to make sure that you cross-reference your answers with the answer that are provided by the sample test. That way, you will be able to get a better idea of what kinds of questions you are already strong with and what kinds of questions you still need to work on.

Master the material

Every AP course challenges the students who enrol in it to master a wide range of skills and abilities. When it comes to the AP English Language and Composition Exam, the primary skills to focus on is – unsurprisingly – reading and writing. More specifically, students who want to ace the exam will have to perfect their abilities when it comes to analytical reading and argumentative writing.

When it comes to the ideal approach to reading for the exam, there is a technique known as the SOAPSTone that is known to be especially effective. This acronym goes a long way in helping students remember what they will want to be absolutely certain about when they are reading a passage during the course or exam. SOAPSTone stands for:

  • Who is the Speaker?
  • What is the Occasion?
  • Who is the Audience?
  • What is the Purpose?
  • What is the Subject?
  • What is the Tone?

When it comes to writing, the primary thing to train for is how to best present your argument and organize your defence. As you are writing, make sure that you are taking advantage of the rhetorical elements that you have sought to master throughout the course. This is the exact kind of writing that is considered ideal for students to utilize during the exam.

Practice the questions

The next step to prepare yourself for the exam is to test yourself by taking advantage of the many resources that offer sample multiple-choice and free-response questions. This way, you will not only be able to make sure that you are expanding and increasing your knowledge on the types of questions that you may face, but also that you are getting comfortable with all the different questions formats that you may face.

Make sure to cross-reference your answers with the answers that are provided and also be sure to take note of any information or types of questions that are repeatedly tripping you up.

Take another practice exam

The final way to best prepare for the AP English Language and Composition Exam is to take another full practice exam. Ideally, you will have the time to take quite a few of these. While we’re on the subject of time, make sure that you are giving yourself the allotted time that you will actually get on the day of the exam. That way, you will be sure that you are used to answering the number of questions that you will face in the amount of time you will actually be given on the day of the exam. That way, you can be sure that you will not be overwhelmed by the speed and length of the AP English Language and Composition Exam.

Good luck!

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