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AP English Language And Composition: A Complete Guide

AP English Language And Composition: A Complete Guide

10 min Read|March 19 2024
|Written by:

George Christofi


Are you curious about the world of AP English Language and Composition? Maybe you're wondering why it's a crucial part of your high school curriculum. This course is more than just studying English; it's about mastering the art of communication and understanding the language itself. But what exactly does this journey entail, and how can it shape your academic and professional future?

Why should you invest time and effort into this course? College Board's AP English Language and Composition is not just another high school class; it's a way to advanced critical thinking and analytical skills. It's a unique challenge that prepares you for college-level coursework and beyond. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore everything from the syllabus to the exam format, and even the secrets to scoring a 5. Ready to embark on this enlightening journey?

Why study AP English Language and Composition?

Studying AP English Language and Composition offers substantial benefits, not just for improving language skills but also for fostering critical thinking and analytical abilities. This course, undertaken by a significant number of students globally, is more than just an academic requirement; it’s a pathway to success in various fields and can be one of the best AP subjects to choose.

  • Develops Advanced Language Skills: This AP course sharpens your language proficiency, particularly in understanding and crafting arguments, a skill highly valued in many professional domains.
  • Preparation for College: The course format and content mirror college-level expectations, preparing students for the academic rigor they will encounter in higher education.
  • Enhances Critical Thinking: The course emphasizes not only language use but also critical analysis, reasoning, and effective organization of ideas​​. These are essential skills for any field of study or career.
  • Cultural and Authorial Diversity: The course also exposes students to a diverse range of authors and perspectives, broadening their understanding and appreciation of different viewpoints and writing styles​​.
Number of students who gave AP English Language and Composition Exams

Graph showing number of students who gave AP English Language and Composition exams

AP English Language and Composition is not just about mastering the English language, it's an opportunity to develop a set of valuable, transferrable skills that will serve you well in both academic and professional settings.

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Is AP English Language and Composition Hard?

The perceived difficulty of AP English Language and Composition can vary widely among students. However, understanding its challenges and success rates can help in assessing its difficulty level.

  • Exam Performance Statistics: In 2023, the pass rate (scores of 3 or higher) for the AP English Language and Composition exam was around 56%​​. This suggests a moderate level of difficulty for the average student.
  • Comparison with Other AP Exams: When compared with other AP courses, English Language and Composition falls as the number 6 hardest AP subject.
  • Skill Development Challenges: The course demands strong skills in critical reading, writing, and analysis. Students are expected to understand and articulate complex concepts and arguments, which can be challenging​​.
  • Varied Content Complexity: The course covers a wide range of topics and texts, some of which may be more complex and challenging than others.
  • Dependence on Individual Strengths: The difficulty can also depend on a student's prior experience with English courses and their personal strengths in language and analytical thinking.
Mean scores of AP English Language and Composition in past 5 years (2019-2023)

Table showing mean scores of AP English Language and Composition in past 5 years

Is AP Lit or language harder?

AP English Language and Composition is harder than AP English Literature and Composition. The AP literature statistics are significantly better than AP language, which gives a strong reason to believe that AP English Language and Composition is the harder subject. Students often find one course more challenging than the other based on their personal aptitudes in these areas.

AP English Language and Composition (2023):

  • Mean Score: 2.82
  • % Scoring 5: 10.3%
  • % Scoring 3 or Higher: 56.1%

AP English Literature and Composition (2023):

  • Mean Score: 3.26
  • % Scoring 5: 14.9%
  • % Scoring 3 or Higher: 77.2 %

Overall, while AP English Language and Composition presents certain challenges, its difficulty is balanced by the valuable skills and knowledge students gain, making it a worthwhile endeavor for those willing to engage with the material.

What is the AP English Language Syllabus?

The AP English Language and Composition syllabus is designed to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of writing and rhetorical arguments through varied learning activities. Here's a breakdown of what the syllabus typically includes:

  • Core Skills Development: The course focuses on enhancing skills like critical reading and writing, analyzing and interpreting texts, evaluating sources, and drafting evidence-based arguments.
  • Exploration of Rhetorical Situation: Students learn to analyze how a writer's choices reflect the rhetorical situation, with an emphasis on both reading and writing skills.
  • Understanding Claims and Evidence: A key part of the syllabus is identifying, describing, and analyzing claims and evidence in texts.
  • Style and Organization: The course teaches students how to understand and use stylistic choices in writing and to organize their thoughts in a coherent and persuasive manner.
  • Practical Application through Units: The syllabus is organized into units that cover specific topics and skills. These include understanding and analyzing claims, examining the organization of information, exploring perspectives, making stylistic choices in writing, and developing complex arguments.
  • Flexibility in Content and Themes: Teachers have the flexibility to choose texts and themes that align with the course objectives, often focusing on short nonfiction pieces to develop reading and writing skills.
AP English Language and Composition Syllabus

Table showing AP English Language and Composition Syllabus

Overall, the AP English Language and Composition course offers a robust and comprehensive curriculum that equips students with advanced skills in language and composition, essential for college-level studies and professional communication.

AP English Language and Composition Exam Format

The AP English Language and Composition exam is structured to assess students’ skills in reading, analyzing, and writing. Understanding its format is crucial for effective preparation:

Section I: Multiple Choice

  • Number of Questions: 45
  • Time Allotted: 1 hour
  • Exam Weight: 45% of the total score
  • Content: Reading and analyzing nonfiction texts

Section II: Free Response

  • Number of Questions: 3
  • Time Allotted: 2 hours and 15 minutes (includes a 15-minute reading period)
  • Exam Weight: 55% of the total score
  • Content: Writing essays in response to prompts on synthesis, rhetorical analysis, and argument.

Types of Free-Response Questions:

What are the 3 essays for AP Lang? They are:

  • Synthesis Essay: Requires students to formulate a position on a given topic using provided sources.
  • Rhetorical Analysis Essay: Involves analyzing a non-fiction text and discussing the author's use of rhetorical strategies.
  • Argument Essay: Students must develop an evidence-based argument on a given topic.

Scoring Rubric: The free-response section is graded using an analytic rubric, focusing on the student's ability to develop an argument, use evidence, and exhibit a clear writing style.

The exam's structure is designed to test a broad range of skills, from close reading to sophisticated writing, mirroring the syllabus's emphasis on analytical and compositional proficiency.

When is the AP English Language and Composition Exam?

According to College Board, the AP English Language and Composition exam is scheduled for Tuesday, May 14, 2024, at 8 AM local time. This is the regular date set for this specific AP exam. For students preparing for the exam, it's essential to note this date and plan their study schedule accordingly.

What is a good score in AP English Lang?

Defining a 'good' AP grade depends on a student's goals, such as college credit or placement:

  • AP Exam Scoring System: Scores range from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. A score of 3 is generally considered passing, and a 4 or 5 is often viewed as an excellent score.
  • College Credit and Placement: Many colleges and universities offer credit or advanced placement for scores of 3, 4, or 5, but this varies by institution.
  • Statistical Context: As mentioned earlier, in 2023, about 56% of students scored a 3 or higher on the AP English Language and Composition exam. Only 10.3% achieved a top score of 5, making it a noteworthy accomplishment​​.
  • Personal Academic Goals: A 'good' score may also be subjective, based on individual goals. For some, it's about achieving a personal best, while for others, it's about meeting the specific requirements of their preferred colleges.
AP English Language and Composition Grades Distribution

Bar graph showing AP English Language and Composition Grades Distribution 2021-2023

While a score of 3 or higher is generally favorable and often meets college credit requirements, students should consider their personal and academic goals, as well as the specific requirements of the colleges they are interested in, when determining what score they should aim for.

Best AP English Language Resources

To excel in AP English Language and Composition, utilizing the right resources is key. Here are some of the best resources available:

  • College Board’s Official Materials: Start with the source of the exam. The College Board provides a range of materials, including practice questions, previous exam questions, and course descriptions.
  • Review Books: Publications like Barron's AP English Language and Composition and Princeton Review AP English Language & Composition Premium Prep are popular for their comprehensive content reviews and practice tests.
  • High Quality Study Notes: AP English Language and Composition study notes provided by TutorChase are one of the best available resources for preparation of your AP exam.
  • AP Classroom: This is a vital resource offered by the College Board, featuring videos, practice questions, and feedback tools specifically tailored for AP courses.
  • Study Groups and Forums: Engaging with peers through study groups or online forums like Reddit’s AP Students community can provide additional support and insights.

Remember, the best resource for one student might not be the same for another. It's crucial to explore various options and find the ones that align best with your learning style and study needs.

How to get a 5 in AP English Language and Composition?

Achieving a top score of 5 in AP English Language and Composition involves a combination of comprehensive preparation strategies:

  • Understand the Exam Format: Be thoroughly familiar with the structure of the exam, including both multiple-choice and free-response sections.
  • Master the Course Content: Gain a deep understanding of the course material, focusing on both reading comprehension and analytical writing.
  • Regular Practice: Use past exam papers and sample questions for practice. Time yourself to simulate actual exam conditions.
  • Sharpen Writing Skills: Develop your essay writing, focusing on clarity, structure, and argumentation.
  • Seek Feedback: Have teachers or peers review your practice essays for constructive criticism.
  • Use Quality Study Materials: Employ reputable study guides and online resources for revision and practice.
  • Engage in AP Tutoring: Consider personalized AP tutoring, which can provide targeted assistance and address specific areas of weakness. This can surely help you achieve a perfect 5.
  • Utilize Study Notes: Make use of study notes and resources as mentioned earlier from platforms like TutorChase, which offer concise summaries and key insights into the course content.

Diligence, practice, and the right resources are key to scoring a 5. It's about understanding, applying complex understanding, and effectively communicating your knowledge under exam conditions.

Here is what an expert AP English Language and Composition tutor says:

"English Language and Composition has been the most popular AP subject for many years. Even this year 562,328 took the test which is remarkable! Even though it is considered a difficult subject with an average score of 2.82, the number of students taking it every year shows how important it is for a good start at college in any major."

Opportunities with AP English Language and Composition

Exceling in AP English Language and Composition opens up various opportunities for students. AP English Language and Composition offers valuable skills and pathways in higher education and career development:

Majors in Higher Education:

  • English and Literature: Develops advanced skills in analyzing texts, essential for literary studies.
  • Communications and Media Studies: Enhances understanding of rhetoric, crucial for media-related fields.
  • Journalism: Provides foundational skills in writing and critical analysis, key for journalism.
  • Education: Ideal for those planning to teach English, language arts, or humanities.

Career Paths:

  • Writing and Editing: Develops strong writing skills for careers in publishing, editing, and content creation.
  • Public Relations and Marketing: Improves persuasive writing and communication skills, essential in PR and marketing.
  • Law: The analytical skills are advantageous in legal professions. The course's focus on argumentation and analysis is beneficial for pre-law students.

Skills Development:

  • Critical Thinking and Analysis: Sharpens abilities to analyze texts and construct arguments.
  • Writing and Communication: Enhances writing proficiency, useful in various professional contexts.

Overall, this AP course can significantly impact academic and career trajectories, providing foundational skills that are beneficial in a wide range of future endeavors.

Big Ideas covered in AP English Language and Composition

Image showing ideas covered in AP English Language and Composition

Common Mistakes to Avoid in AP English Language and Composition

To maximize success in AP English Language and Composition, students should be aware of common pitfalls:

  • Overlooking the Importance of Thesis Statements: A clear, concise thesis is crucial in essays. It guides your argument and provides structure to your writing.
  • Neglecting the Rhetorical Triangle: Failing to consider ethos, pathos, and logos can weaken your analysis and argumentation.
  • Ignoring the Audience: Tailoring your writing to suit the intended audience is key. Misjudging or overlooking this can lead to ineffective communication.
  • Insufficient Evidence and Analysis: Merely stating facts without proper analysis or other evidence supports or weakens your arguments. Always back up claims with relevant, detailed evidence.
  • Poor Time Management: In the exam, poor time management can lead to incomplete sections. Practice under timed conditions to improve speed and efficiency.
  • Grammatical and Stylistic Errors: Basic errors in grammar and style can detract from the quality of your writing, even with strong content.

Avoiding these mistakes can significantly enhance the quality of your work in both coursework and exams, leading to better outcomes in this challenging AP course.

Conclusion on AP English Language and Composition

In conclusion, AP English Language and Composition is a multifaceted course offering significant academic and practical benefits. With around 56% of students scoring 3 or higher on the exam, the course presents a challenging yet achievable goal. Success in this course not only enhances college applications but also equips students with critical skills applicable across numerous fields. The journey to mastering this course requires understanding its content, format, and the common pitfalls to avoid. With the right resources, strategies, and a commitment to continuous improvement, students can excel in this course, paving the way for future academic and professional achievements.


How long should an AP Lang essay be?

The length of an AP English Language and Composition (AP Lang) essay can vary, but it's generally recommended that essays be well-developed and thorough. Typically, students are advised to aim for essays that are long enough to fully develop their arguments and ideas while maintaining clarity and focus. This often translates to around 2-3 pages in length when handwritten under exam conditions. It's important to remember that quality and depth of analysis are more crucial than mere length. Effective essays demonstrate a clear understanding of the text, a cogent argument, and the use of specific evidence to support ideas, all within a well-structured and coherent framework.

How many paragraphs should an AP Lang essay be?

The number of paragraphs in an AP English Language and Composition (AP Lang) essay isn't strictly defined, but generally, a well-structured essay includes an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Typically, a strong AP Lang essay might have 3-5 body paragraphs. Each paragraph should focus on a specific point or aspect of the argument, providing evidence and analysis to support your thesis. The key is to develop your ideas fully and logically rather than focusing on a specific paragraph count. Quality and depth of analysis, clear organization, and effective argumentation are more important than the mere number of paragraphs.

Is AP Lang Mcq similar to SAT?

Comparing the AP English Language and Composition exam to the SAT in terms of the multiple-choice questions (MCQs), there are similarities but also key differences. Both exams assess reading comprehension and the ability to analyze texts. However, the AP Lang MCQs are typically more focused on rhetoric, requiring students to analyze how language is used in nonfiction texts. In contrast, the SAT places a greater emphasis on general reading skills and vocabulary. Also, the SAT includes math and evidence-based reading and writing sections, making it a broader assessment of skills than the more language-focused AP Lang. Students preparing for AP Lang can benefit from the advanced reading and analysis skills required for the SAT, but should also focus specifically on rhetorical analysis for the AP exam.

How many people get a 5 on AP Lang?

Achieving the top score of 5 on the AP English Language and Composition exam is a notable accomplishment, reflecting a student's mastery of advanced English skills. In 2023, only 10.3% of students attained this score. This relatively low percentage highlights the exam's rigorous nature and the high standard required for the top grade. It suggests that students who score a 5 possess exceptional analytical, writing, and comprehension abilities.

What's the difference between AP English Language and Literature?

The key difference between AP English Language and Composition and AP English Literature and Composition lies in the types of texts and the focus of analysis. AP English Language primarily involves analyzing non-fiction works like news articles, essays, speeches, and memoirs. It focuses on developing skills to explain ideas, argue points, or persuade readers. On the other hand, AP English Literature centers around the analysis of fiction, including poetry, short stories, novels, and plays, focusing on close reading and literary analysis. While the AP English Language exam is akin to an introductory college-level literary analysis course, AP English Literature is comparable to an introductory college-level literature course.

Are there any prerequisites for AP English Language?

There are no specific prerequisite courses required for AP English Language and Composition. However, students should have the ability to read and comprehend college-level texts and write grammatically correct, complete sentences. This ensures they are adequately prepared for the course's rigorous content and skill requirements. The focus of the course is on developing students' capabilities in writing and rhetorical argumentation through a variety of texts and topics.

Why is AP Lang so popular?

AP English Language and Composition (AP Lang) has gained popularity for several reasons. It's known for developing crucial skills like critical reading, analytical writing, and effective argumentation. These skills are highly valued not only in academic settings but also in professional and personal contexts. AP Lang's focus on non-fiction texts, including speeches, essays, and journalistic writing, makes it relevant and practical for understanding the world. Additionally, the course offers rigorous preparation for college-level coursework, and success in the exam can lead to college credit. This combination of practical skills, academic challenge, and potential college benefits makes AP Lang a popular choice among high school students.

How long is the AP English Language course?

The AP English Language and Composition course is an introductory college-level composition course that usually spans an entire academic year. This comprehensive course requires students to cultivate their understanding of writing and rhetorical arguments through reading, analyzing, and writing texts. The course content and skills are organized into nine units, each focusing on different aspects of language and composition. Teachers have the flexibility to select themes and texts for each unit, typically choosing short nonfiction pieces that help students practice and develop the required skills.

Can I self-study for AP English Language?

Self-studying for AP English Language and Composition is indeed possible, but it comes with its own set of challenges and advantages. The benefits include working at your own pace and having the freedom to focus on concepts in the order you prefer. However, you may face challenges like the lack of a traditional classroom environment, absence of a teacher for guidance and essay feedback, and the need for self-motivation.

How does AP English Language benefit future writing skills?

AP English Language and Composition significantly benefits future writing skills. The course emphasizes a writing process that includes thinking, planning, drafting, discussing, redrafting, editing, and polishing texts. It teaches students to write logically and clearly, with an emphasis on organizing ideas, using evidence effectively, and being analytical in their writing. Skills acquired include writing critical and expository essays on demand, marshaling evidence, and judicious use of texts to support observations. Furthermore, students learn to enjoy writing and develop a unique voice, enhancing both their academic and personal expression.

Is AP English language worth it?

Whether AP English Language and Composition is worth it depends on your academic goals and interests. It's beneficial if you're interested in improving writing, critical thinking, and analytical skills, particularly in analyzing non-fiction texts. This course is especially valuable for students planning to pursue humanities or social sciences in college. Additionally, a good score on the AP exam can earn college credit, potentially saving time and money. However, it requires significant effort and dedication, so consider your current course load and passion for the subject. AP English Language is worth it if it aligns with your academic pursuits and you're prepared for the challenge.

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Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

George Christofi

Written by: George Christofi

Oxford University - Masters Philosophy

George studied undergraduate and masters degrees in Classics and Philosophy at Oxford, as well as spending time at Yale. He specialises in helping students with UK and US university applications, including Oxbridge and the Ivy League. He writes extensively on education including on schools, universities, and pedagogy.

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