Multiple Choice — 52 to 55 Questions | 1 Hour | 45% of Exam Score
- Excerpts from non-fiction texts are accompanied by several multiple-choice questions
Free Response — 3 Free-Response Questions | 2 Hours, 15 Minutes (includes a 15-minute reading period) | 55% of Exam Score
This section has three prompts:
- Synthesis: Students read several texts about a topic and create an argument that synthesizes at least three of the sources to support their thesis.
- Rhetorical analysis: Students read a non-fiction text and analyze how the writer's language choices contribute to his or her purpose and intended meaning for the text.
- Argument: Students create an evidence-based argument that responds to a given topic.
The total Section II time is 2 hours and 15 minutes. This includes a 15-minute reading period. The reading period is designed to provide students with time to develop thoughtful, well-organized responses. They may begin writing their responses before the reading period is over.
The AP English Language persuasive (or argumentative) essay is one of the three long-form free-response questions that will make up 55% of your score on the AP English Language and Composition Exam. While the multiple-choice section and the rhetorical analysis essay will test you on how well you have learned the various rhetorical techniques you have been exposed to this year, the persuasive essay and a similar task, the synthesis (also see our article “5 Tips to the AP English Language Synthesis Essay You Must Know”), will test you on how well you can put these techniques to use yourself.
It’s time for you to follow in the footsteps of the established, respected writers you have been reading all year and put everything that you’ve learned to work in the AP English Language persuasive essay.
How the AP English Language Persuasive Essay Works
Persuasion through essay writing is something you probably learned about a long time ago, but the AP English Language Exam’s persuasion essay requires some more specific tips. You will be given a prompt that may or may not reference a reading sample; it will ask you to then “defend,” “challenge,” or “qualify” a position on a public issue – either the position espoused in the reading sample or one simply stated by the author of the question.
To defend a position is to agree with it and rationalize that agreement, to challenge it is to disagree with it and show holes in its supporting logic. To qualify a position is to attempt to truly understand all sides of the issue and see that both sides may have some valid points. However, you still need to take a definite stand, no matter what you do, although it can be a stand such as “Idea X is ethical in certain situations and unethical in others” – however, expand on that to give the AP Examiners an exact notion of your opinion, and then use logic and beautiful writing to persuade them to see your way of thinking.
No Issue is One-Sided
Although taking a definitive stand is one of the most important things you need to do during the AP English Language persuasive essay, you will often score higher if you show the full complexity of issues and exhibit understanding of the other side of the argument. This can not only show that you are intelligent and appreciate the complexity of the types of issues you may be talking about on the exam, but may actually help strengthen your argument, in that you can foresee potential arguments against your support for your beliefs, then undermine them as you write about them.
Even in issues that you are very passionate about or cannot see the other side’s logic on at all, keep in mind that you should be respectful and mature in all your AP Exam writings.
Draw from All Possible Sources – But Don’t Be Self-Centered!
This AP Language persuasive essay allows you to draw on your knowledge from other subjects, what you’ve read inside and outside of school (be it a classic novel or this morning’s paper), and your personal experience; a well-rounded, well-thought-out essay will use all or at least most of these. That being said, don’t be too focused on using your own experience to justify your beliefs – this is a less mature, less powerfully logical way of arguing than what the Examiners expect. Use personal experience, when relevant, as one facet of a wider, more nationally and globally aware argument.
For example, a prompt on advertising could probably use some personal anecdotes about your experiences with advertising alongside things you may have seen in the news or learned in a statistics class and analogies you can draw using global events or literature. A prompt on the ethics of experimentation on animals probably shouldn’t use much personal experience (unless you have a biologist in the family), because your “experiences” will be limited to feelings, not fully lived and understood events that will hold up in an argument.
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