AP English Language and Composition Exam: The Ultimate Guide

28/02/202412 minute read
AP English Language and Composition Exam: The Ultimate Guide
  • The AP English Language and Composition Exam graded according to consistent guidelines
  • Understanding what skills and big ideas the exam is assessing is crucial
  • The exam split into two main sections, each worth close to half the total score
  • Preparing thoroughly for the exam by understanding it’s content and grading guidelines is the way to a perfect score

What’s on the AP English Language and Composition Exam?

To anticipate what the AP English Language and Composition exam will test you on, think of the skills the AP English Language course aims to teach you.

Skills you’ll learn on The AP English Language and Composition course :

  • Reading closely, analyzing, and interpreting a piece of writing
  • Evaluating a source of information
  • Gathering and consolidating information from different sources
  • Writing an evidence-based argument
  • Drafting and revising a piece of writing

The foundation of the AP English Language and Composition course rests on a set of big ideas. These ideas aren’t just concepts; they're the pillars that you build your understanding on.

The big ideas of The AP English Language and Composition course:

  • Rhetorical Situation: Individuals write within a particular situation and make strategic writing choices based on that situation.
  • Claims and Evidence: Writers make claims about subjects, rely on evidence that supports the reasoning that justifies the claim, and often acknowledge or respond to other, possibly opposing, arguments.
  • Reasoning and organization: Writers guide understanding of a text’s lines of reasoning and claims through that text’s organization and integration of evidence.
  • Style: The rhetorical situation informs the strategic stylistic choices that writers make.

What’s the Format of the AP English Language and Composition Exam? 

The AP English Language and Composition is exam is split into two sections:

Section 1: Multiple Choice 

  • Duration: 60 minutes
  • Total questions: 45
  • 45% of exam score

The multiple choice section is computer-graded, and it makes up 45% of your total exam score. This means that every question is worth 1% of your overall score. 

The 45 questions in this section consist of: 

  • 23–25 Reading questions: read and analyze nonfiction texts.
  • 20–22 Writing questions: “read like a writer” and consider revisions to stimulus texts.

Section 2: Free Response

  • Duration: 135 minutes (including a 15-minute reading period)
  • Total questions: 3
  • 55% of exam weight

In this section, you’ll write three different essays in response to three free-response prompts. These three prompts combined make up more than half your exam weight. 

AP English Language and Composition Format
SectionDurationStructureScore Weight
Multiple Choice 1 hour- 23–25 Reading questions: read and analyze nonfiction texts - 20–22 Writing questions: “read like a writer” and consider revisions to stimulus texts 45%
Free Response2 hours and 15 minutes3 Free Response questions55%

How Long is the AP English Language and Composition Exam?

The exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long. The first section is an hour long, and the second section is 2 hours and 15 minutes long.

How is the AP English Language and Composition Exam Scored?

Your total score is scaled down to be a number from 1 to 5, similar to a letter grade.

AP English Language Exam Scores
AP CSP Exam ScoreQualificationClosest Equivalent College Grade
5Extremely well qualifiedA+ or A
4Very well qualifiedA-, B+, or B
3QualifiedB-, C+, or C
2Possibly qualified-
1No recommendation-

To increase your chances of getting credit at a top university, you’ll need a score of 4 or 5 - that’s the score most schools accept to grant college credit.

The multiple choice section is graded by a computer - you’ll get a point as long as you choose the answer correctly.

For the free-response section, the three prompts test your knowledge on the following categories:

  • Synthesis Question: Read 6–7 texts about a topic (including visual and quantitative sources), then compose an argument that combines and cites at least 3 of the sources to support your thesis.
  • Rhetorical Analysis: Read a nonfiction text and analyze how the writer’s language choices contribute to the intended meaning and purpose of the text.
  • Argument: Create an evidence-based argument that responds to a given topic.
Blog Banner
Blog Banner

Expert Tips and Material to Prepare For the AP English Language Exam

What do the experts think are the best tips to prepare for the English Language Exam?

Some of the best AP teachers in the world tutor at Crimson, and so we’ve compiled the most important tips to prepare for the AP English Language exam:

1. Understand the scoring guidelines thoroughly

As mentioned above, the AP English Language and Composition Exam is scored in very specific ways, and the free response questions aim to assess your understanding of a specific learning outcome.

Understand these scoring guidelines inside out. Know how points are awarded, what the evaluators are looking for, and how to maximize your scoring potential. The scoring guidelines provide clarity on the expectations, helping you tailor your responses to meet the criteria for success.

  • Read the AP English Language Exam scoring guidelines: Set 1 - Set 2

2. Take Practice Exams

Practice makes perfect, and this mantra holds true for the AP English Language and Composition exam.

Take advantage of practice exams to simulate the actual testing environment. This not only helps you get comfortable with the format and time constraints but also allows you to identify your strengths and areas that need improvement.

  • View a list of AP English Language and Composition practice exams here.

3. Read the Exam Policies and Prepare

The devil is in the details, they say, and it's no different when it comes to exam day.

Read and internalize the exam guidelines to ensure a smooth and stress-free experience. Know what materials to bring, what's allowed, and what to expect.

Being well-prepared on the logistical front allows you to focus solely on showcasing your literary prowess when the clock starts ticking.

  • Read the AP English Language and Composition exam policies here.

4. Review the Chief Reader Report

The Chief Reader Report is a goldmine of insights. This document provides a summary of the previous year's exam, highlighting common pitfalls and successful strategies.

Taking the time to review this report gives you a strategic advantage by learning from the experiences of others.

  • Read the AP English Language and Composition Chief Report: Set 1 - Set 2

5. Study the Sample Responses and Commentary

If you want to understand what earns you points and what doesn't, dive into the sample responses and commentary provided by the College Board.

These resources give you a clear picture of the dos and don'ts, allowing you to fine-tune your approach. Learn from the successes and mistakes of others to elevate your own performance.

AP English Language and Composition Sample Responses:

6. Work with a Tutor

Expert guidance goes a long way. Consider working with a tutor who specializes in AP English Language preparation.

Tutors can provide personalized feedback, target your weaknesses, and offer invaluable tips and strategies.

  • If you’re looking for the perfect score, our expert tutors can help - some of the best teachers in the world tutor at Crimson! Get in touch with us to get started.

What Makes Crimson Different

Crimson students are 7x more likely to gain acceptance to their dream college!

Remember, you don't have to navigate this journey alone. Crimson provides a comprehensive suite of services, from academic mentoring and test prep to essay assistance, extracurricular guidance, and career mentoring, ensuring a holistic approach to your college preparation journey.