Is AP English Language Hard?

What is the AP® Lang Exam, how I got a 5, and why it matters — everything you need to know to study for the AP® English Language Exam.

“Eminent domain, chicken lo-mein, Eminem’s rap game. What do these three things have in common? They aren’t suitable for everyone’s tastes.”

When I told my teacher, friends, and family that I started all of my AP Language and Composition essays with a joke they were concerned. But I wasn’t. When I took my AP Language and Composition class in my junior year of high school, I was pushed to be both analytical AND creative. Understandably, this exam can be daunting with 28.1% of students not passing, and only 14.5% achieving a 5, but this exam/course is much more than that. It teaches students to combine analysis and creativity in the creation of synthesis, rhetorical analysis, and argumentation essays. As a Communications Minor at the University of Florida, I can whole-heartedly say that the skills I learned in this class have held true throughout the classes I have taken and will hold true for the rest of my life.

Scores in 201954321
Ap® English Language9.9%18.2%26.2%31.2%14.5%

Structure of the AP Lang Exam

The structure of the AP Lang & Comp exam has remained consistent. 52-55 multiple choice questions in 60 minutes (a similar question to time ratio compared to that of the SAT Reading section) and 3 free response questions in 2 hours and 15 minutes.

When it comes to the multiple-choice questions, students will have to analyze five different nonfiction passages. Questions range from testing knowledge of rhetorical devices to testing the author’s intent and purpose. Sound familiar? These multiple-choice questions have not only a similar structure to that of the SAT Reading, but also similar question types. There are many notable similarities, such as comprehension questions and purpose questions.

It is important to recognize that these similarities are seen in about half of the exam, whereas the other questions revolve around rhetorical strategies and long form essays. When it comes to the writing section, students will have to respond to three different essay prompts.

  1. A synthesis essay
  2. A rhetorical analysis essay
  3. An argumentitive essay

Within the synthesis essay, students will utilize sources given to them in order to analyze and answer the question prompt. My synthesis essay was on Eminent Domain… see above. In the rhetorical analysis essay, students will use rhetorical strategies to analyze a passage. Lastly, in the argument essay, students will be required to develop their own argument for or against a given quote.

How to study for the AP Lang Exam?

But how do YOU take this prior knowledge and use it to your advantage? In my preparation process, I started off a foot ahead because I was studying for the SAT Reading section. I knew exactly how to attack any passage and answer questions efficiently and correctly. We recommend you take the AP Lang multiple choice section the same exact way you would take an SAT Reading section, just bear in mind that this exam will contain some questions covering material not used on the SAT. So also be sure to study specific rhetorical devices and strategies that authors tend to use within the nonfiction passages.

By combining these two methods, you can effectively prepare for the 60 minute multiple choice section. The multiple choice accounts for 45% of the test, and can help to bolster your score if you struggle writing the essays.

Don’t be scared of the AP Lang Free Response Essays

Speaking of the essays, scoring a perfect anything on the essays is not exactly easy. The first recommendation I have is outlining your essay. Keep rhetorical devices and topics learned in class at the back of your mind as you do this.

When writing the rhetorical analysis essay, use those devices and strategies to develop a thesis and effectively analyze the passage at hand. As for the synthesis essay, choose specific sources to develop your synthesis essay. Consciously think about what matters and what doesn’t and then write. Most importantly, outline your argumentative essay before writing it. This will give your essay the structure it needs to receive a high score. Now we understand that you’ve already been taught to outline your essays in class, but it is important to know.

My personal advice comes down to writing in your own voice. Your personal style will stick out and engage your AP reader, whereas writing in a boring style you think will impress readers will have them gloss over your essay. Utilize a joke here and there (if it’s your writing style) to not only keep your reader engaged, but also keep yourself invested and ready to continue writing a strong essay. Follow the structure given to you in class and make it your own with a personalized set of rhetorical devices and writing strategies. This can truly make the difference between a 2 and a 3 or even a 4 and a 5.

Why the AP Language and Composition Exam matters

But past preparing you for college (which may be enough for you), why does this matter? Developing your own personal writing style in accordance with rhetorical strategies can benefit you in many different aspects of your life. Personally, AP Lang helped take my Speech and Debate career in high school to the next level, using a powerful rhetoric and humor combination to perform better than ever.

In College, the lessons from AP Lang helped me engage more actively in discussions as well as analyze long readings. Since I have taken this class, my writing skills have been more defined and my reasoning/logic skills have become set in stone. I honestly credit AP Language and Composition as my favorite AP class — and I took a decent amount of them. Its great mixture of creative writing and analytical reasoning drove me to love language, which is something I will value forever.

Now that we have covered what the exam is, how to do well, and why it can be important for you, I hope that if you decide to take this course and use these tactics and tricks to your advantage come test day to get that 5.

Check out our other blog posts: Is AP® World History Hard?

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