AP English Language and Composition

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Advanced Placement English Language and Composition is a course and examination offered by the College Board in the United States of America as part of the Advanced Placement Program.

The course[edit]

AP English Language and Composition is a course in the study of rhetoric taken in high school and often followed by the AP English Literature and Composition course. Students choosing AP English Language and Composition should be interested in studying and writing various kinds of analytic or persuasive essays on nonliterary topics, and students choosing AP English Literature and Composition should be interested in studying literature of various periods and genres and using this wide reading knowledge in discussions of literary topics.[1]

The exam[edit]


The AP English Language and Composition exam consists of two sections: a one-hour multiple-choice section, and a two-hour and fifteen-minute free-response section.[2] The exam is further divided as follows:

# of Questions
Percentage of score
Time Allowed
Section I: Multiple-Choice
Approx. 55
60 Minutes
Section II: Free-Response
15 minutes (reading portion)
120 minutes (writing portion)

Section I: Multiple-Choice[edit]

The multiple-choice section of the test is approximately 55 questions, with the exact number of questions varying with each test administration. There are typically 5 passages divided between Pre-20th Century non-fiction prose, and 20th and 21st Century non-fiction prose. The questions typically focus on identifying rhetorical devices and structures from the passage, as well as their general function, purpose in a passage, and/or the relationships between them. Beginning in 2007, questions were added that ask about citation information included in the passages. These citation questions are not designed to test knowledge about MLA, APA, Chicago Style, or any other particular citation format, but instead focus on how the citations reference and enhance information from the passage. Students have exactly 60 minutes to answer all 55 questions.

Section 2: Free-Response Reading[edit]

The Free-Response section of the test consists of three prompts, each of a different type: synthesis, passage analysis, and argument. Beginning in 2007, with the addition of the prompt, CollegeBoard decided that an additional 15 minutes should be added to the exam time to allow students to read and annotate the three prompts as well as the passages and sources provided. Students may write notes in the prompt booklet about the material during that 15 minutes, but may not write in the essay booklets during this time. As the prompt booklets are not collected, any writing in the prompt booklet does not count when scoring the essays.

The synthesis prompt typically requires students to consider a scenario, then formulate a response to a specific element of the scenario using at least three of the accompanying sources for support. While a total of six or seven sources accompany the prompt, using information from all of the sources is not necessary (or perhaps desirable). The source material used must be cited in the essay in order to be considered legitimate. The essay is scored on the 1-9 scale.

The analysis prompt typically asks students to read a short (less than 1 page) passage, which may be from any point in time, as long as it was originally written in modern English. After reading the passage, students are asked to write an essay in which they analyze and discuss various techniques the author uses in the passage. The techniques differ from prompt to prompt, but may ask about strategies, argumentative techniques, motivations, or other rhetorical elements of the passage, and how such techniques effectively contribute to the overall purpose of the passage. The prompt may mention specific techniques or purposes, but some leeway of discussion is left to the student. The essay is scored on the 1-9 scale.

The argument prompt typically gives a position in the form of an assertion from a documented source. Students are asked to consider the assertion, and then form an argument that defends, challenges, or qualifies the assertion using supporting evidence from their own knowledge or reading. The essay is scored on the 1-9 scale.


The multiple-choice section is scored by computer. Formerly, the test was scored by awarding 1 point for correct answers, while taking off a 1/4 point for incorrect answers. No points were taken away for blank answers. However, the College Board discontinued the policy for all AP Exams in 2011; now they only award 1 point for each correct answer (no 1/4 point deductions).

The free-response section is scored individually by hundreds of educators each June. Each essay is read by at least two readers and assigned a score from 1-9, 9 being the best score possible. Scoring is holistic, meaning that specific elements of the essay are not judged, rather each essay is scored in its entirety.

The scores from the three essays are added and integrated with the adjusted multiple-choice score (using the appropriate percentages of each section) to generate a composite score. The composite is then converted into an AP score of 1-5 using a scale for that year's exam.[3]

Students generally receive their scores by mail in mid-July of the year they took the test. Alternately, they can receive their scores by phone as early as July 1 for a fee.[4] Sub-scores are not available for students, for the English Language and Composition Exam.

AP instructors receive a score sheet showing the individual score for each of their students, as well as detailed score information for the test compared to the national averages.

Grade distributions[edit]

The grade distributions for the 2008,[5] 2009,[6] 2010,[7] 2011,[8] 2012[9] and 2013[10] administrations were:

Year Score percentages
5 4 3 2 1 Mean Number of Students
2008 8.7% 18.2% 31.4% 30.5% 11.3% 2.82 306,479
2009 10.5% 19.0% 30.2% 28.4% 11.9% 2.88 337,441
2010 10.7% 20.8% 29.3% 27.6% 11.6% 2.91 374,620
2011 11.1% 20.0% 30.1% 27.5% 11.3% 2.92 412,466
2012 11.0% 20.2% 28.9% 27.9% 11.9% 2.90 443,835
2013 10.2% 16.2% 28.6% 29.8% 15.2% 2.77 476,277

As of 2011, the AP English Language & Composition is the most taken exam. This title originally belonged to the AP United States History Exam.[11]

Composite Score Range[edit]

The College Board has released information on the composite score range (out of 150) required to obtain each grade:[12] This score table is not absolute, and the ranges vary with each administration of the test. With the addition of the synthesis essay in 2007, the scoring tables were revised to account for the new essay type in Section II of the test.

Final Score Range (2001) Range (2002)
5 108-150 113-150
4 93-107 96-112
3 72-92 76-95
2 43-71 48-75
1 0-42 0-47

Recent changes[edit]

In 2007, a new type of essay prompt, the "synthesis" essay, was introduced to the exam.[13] This question, somewhat like the DBQ-type questions found on many AP history exams, asks students to form an argument using at least three of the provided documents, to support their argument. It differs from AP history questions, however, in that students are only required to address three out of six provided sources.

The introduction of the synthesis question resulted in a slight change in the test's format to include a 15-minute reading period at the beginning of the free response portion of the test, during which students may read the prompts and examine the documents. They may use this time to make notes, but not to write the essays.

Also in 2007, there was a change in the multiple choice portion of the exam. It was requested to include questions about documentation and citation. These questions will be based on at least one passage which is a published work including footnotes or a bibliography.[13]


  1. ^ "AP English Course Description". College Board. 2008. p. 12. "students choosing AP English Language and Composition should be interested in studying and writing various kinds of analytic or persuasive essays on nonliterary topics, and students choosing AP English Literature and Composition should be interested in studying literature of various periods and genres and using this wide reading knowledge in discussions of literary topics." 
  2. ^ AP: English Language
  3. ^ AP: The Grade-Setting Process
  4. ^ AP Test Scores - AP Grade Reports
  5. ^ http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/ap08_EnglishLang_GradeDistributions.pdf 2008 Grade Distribution
  6. ^ http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/ap09_EnglishLang_GradeDistributions.pdf 2009 Grade Distribution
  7. ^ http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/2010_EnglishLang_Score_Dist.pdf 2010 Grade Distribution
  8. ^ http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/2011_EngLang_Score_Dist.pdf 2011 Grade Distribution
  9. ^ http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/ap12_engl_lang_ScoringDist.pdf 2012 Grade Distribution
  10. ^ 2013 AP Exam Score Distributions
  11. ^ http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/exgrd_sum/2011.html
  12. ^ AP: The Grade-Setting Process. Retrieved 9 May 2008.
  13. ^ a b 2007, 2008 AP English Course Description

External links[edit]