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Advanced Placement (AP)
If you're planning to take the AP Language (or AP Lang) exam , you might already know that 55% of your overall exam score will be based on three essays. The first of the three essays you'll have to write on the AP Language exam is called the "synthesis essay." If you want to earn full points on this portion of the AP Lang Exam, you need to know what a synthesis essay is and what skills are assessed by the AP Lang synthesis essay.
In this article, we'll explain the different aspects of the AP Lang synthesis essay, including what skills you need to demonstrate in your synthesis essay response in order to achieve a good score. We'll also give you a full breakdown of a real AP Lang Synthesis Essay prompt, provide an analysis of an AP Lang synthesis essay example, and give you four tips for how to write a synthesis essay.
Let's get started by taking a closer look at how the AP Lang synthesis essay works!
Synthesis Essay AP Lang: What It Is and How It Works
The AP Lang synthesis essay is the first of three essays included in the Free Response section of the AP Lang exam.
The AP Lang synthesis essay portion of the Free Response section lasts for one hour total . This hour consists of a recommended 15 minute reading period and a 40 minute writing period. Keep in mind that these time allotments are merely recommendations, and that exam takers can parse out the allotted 60 minutes to complete the synthesis essay however they choose.
Now, here's what the structure of the AP Lang synthesis essay looks like. The exam presents six to seven sources that are organized around a specific topic (like alternative energy or eminent domain, which are both past synthesis exam topics).
Of these six to seven sources, at least two are visual , including at least one quantitative source (like a graph or pie chart, for example). The remaining four to five sources are print text-based, and each one contains approximately 500 words.
In addition to six to seven sources, the AP Lang exam provides a written prompt that consists of three paragraphs. The prompt will briefly explain the essay topic, then present a claim that students will respond to in an essay that synthesizes material from at least three of the sources provided.
Here's an example prompt provided by the College Board:
Directions : The following prompt is based on the accompanying six sources.
This question requires you to integrate a variety of sources into a coherent, well-written essay. Refer to the sources to support your position; avoid mere paraphrase or summary. Your argument should be central; the sources should support this argument .
Remember to attribute both direct and indirect citations.
Television has been influential in United States presidential elections since the 1960's. But just what is this influence, and how has it affected who is elected? Has it made elections fairer and more accessible, or has it moved candidates from pursuing issues to pursuing image?
Read the following sources (including any introductory information) carefully. Then, in an essay that synthesizes at least three of the sources for support, take a position that defends, challenges, or qualifies the claim that television has had a positive impact on presidential elections.
Refer to the sources as Source A, Source B, etc.; titles are included for your convenience.
Source A (Campbell) Source B (Hart and Triece) Source C (Menand) Source D (Chart) Source E (Ranney) Source F (Koppel)
Like we mentioned earlier, this prompt gives you a topic — which it briefly explains — then asks you to take a position. In this case, you'll have to choose a stance on whether television has positively or negatively affected U.S. elections. You're also given six sources to evaluate and use in your response. Now that you have everything you need, now your job is to write an amazing synthesis essay.
But what does "synthesize" mean, exactly? According to the CollegeBoard, when an essay prompt asks you to synthesize, it means that you should "combine different perspectives from sources to form a support of a coherent position" in writing. In other words, a synthesis essay asks you to state your claim on a topic, then highlight the relationships between several sources that support your claim on that topic. Additionally, you'll need to cite specific evidence from your sources to prove your point.
The synthesis essay counts for six of the total points on the AP Lang exam . Students can receive 0-1 points for writing a thesis statement in the essay, 0-4 based on incorporation of evidence and commentary, and 0-1 points based on sophistication of thought and demonstrated complex understanding of the topic.
You'll be evaluated based on how effectively you do the following in your AP Lang synthesis essay:
Write a thesis that responds to the exam prompt with a defensible position
Provide specific evidence that to support all claims in your line of reasoning from at least three of the sources provided, and clearly and consistently explain how the evidence you include supports your line of reasoning
Demonstrate sophistication of thought by either crafting a thoughtful argument, situating the argument in a broader context, explaining the limitations of an argument
Make rhetorical choices that strengthen your argument and/or employ a vivid and persuasive style throughout your essay.
If your synthesis essay meets the criteria above, then there's a good chance you'll score well on this portion of the AP Lang exam!
If you're looking for even more information on scoring, the College Board has posted the AP Lang Free Response grading rubric on its website. ( You can find it here. ) We recommend taking a close look at it since it includes additional details about the synthesis essay scoring.
Don't be intimidated...we're going to teach you how to break down even the hardest AP synthesis essay prompt.
Full Breakdown of a Real AP Lang Synthesis Essay Prompt
In this section, we'll teach you how to analyze and respond to a synthesis essay prompt in five easy steps, including suggested time frames for each step of the process.
Step 1: Analyze the Prompt
The very first thing to do when the clock starts running is read and analyze the prompt. To demonstrate how to do this, we'll look at the sample AP Lang synthesis essay prompt below. This prompt comes straight from the 2018 AP Lang exam:
Eminent domain is the power governments have to acquire property from private owners for public use. The rationale behind eminent domain is that governments have greater legal authority over lands within their dominion than do private owners. Eminent domain has been instituted in one way or another throughout the world for hundreds of years.
Carefully read the following six sources, including the introductory information for each source. Then synthesize material from at least three of the sources and incorporate it into a coherent, well-developed essay that defends, challenges, or qualifies the notion that eminent domain is productive and beneficial.
Your argument should be the focus of your essay. Use the sources to develop your argument and explain the reasoning for it. Avoid merely summarizing the sources. Indicate clearly which sources you are drawing from, whether through direct quotation, paraphrase, or summary. You may cite the sources as Source A, Source B, etc., or by using the descriptions in parentheses.
On first read, you might be nervous about how to answer this prompt...especially if you don't know what eminent domain is! But if you break the prompt down into chunks, you'll be able to figure out what the prompt is asking you to do in no time flat.
To get a full understanding of what this prompt wants you to do, you need to identify the most important details in this prompt, paragraph by paragraph. Here's what each paragraph is asking you to do:
- Paragraph 1: The prompt presents and briefly explains the topic that you'll be writing your synthesis essay about. That topic is the concept of eminent domain.
- Paragraph 2: The prompt presents a specific claim about the concept of eminent domain in this paragraph: Eminent domain is productive and beneficial. This paragraph instructs you to decide whether you want to defend, challenge, or qualify that claim in your synthesis essay , and use material from at least three of the sources provided in order to do so.
- Paragraph 3: In the last paragraph of the prompt, the exam gives you clear instructions about how to approach writing your synthesis essay . First, make your argument the focus of the essay. Second, use material from at least three of the sources to develop and explain your argument. Third, provide commentary on the material you include, and provide proper citations when you incorporate quotations, paraphrases, or summaries from the sources provided.
So basically, you'll have to agree with, disagree with, or qualify the claim stated in the prompt, then use at least three sources substantiate your answer. Since you probably don't know much about eminent domain, you'll probably decide on your position after you read the provided sources.
To make good use of your time on the exam, you should spend around 2 minutes reading the prompt and making note of what it's asking you to do. That will leave you plenty of time to read the sources provided, which is the next step to writing a synthesis essay.
Step 2: Read the Sources Carefully
After you closely read the prompt and make note of the most important details, you need to read all of the sources provided. It's tempting to skip one or two sources to save time--but we recommend you don't do this. That's because you'll need a thorough understanding of the topic before you can accurately address the prompt!
For the sample exam prompt included above, there are six sources provided. We're not going to include all of the sources in this article, but you can view the six sources from this question on the 2018 AP Lang exam here . The sources include five print-text sources and one visual source, which is a cartoon.
As you read the sources, it's important to read quickly and carefully. Don't rush! Keep your pencil in hand to quickly mark important passages that you might want to use as evidence in your synthesis. While you're reading the sources and marking passages, you want to think about how the information you're reading influences your stance on the issue (in this case, eminent domain).
When you finish reading, take a few seconds to summarize, in a phrase or sentence, whether the source defends, challenges, or qualifies whether eminent domain is beneficial (which is the claim in the prompt) . Though it might not feel like you have time for this, it's important to give yourself these notes about each source so you know how you can use each one as evidence in your essay.
Here's what we mean: say you want to challenge the idea that eminent domain is useful. If you've jotted down notes about each source and what it's saying, it will be easier for you to pull the relevant information into your outline and your essay.
So how much time should you spend reading the provided sources? The AP Lang exam recommends taking 15 minutes to read the sources . If you spend around two of those minutes reading and breaking down the essay prompt, it makes sense to spend the remaining 13 minutes reading and annotating the sources.
If you finish reading and annotating early, you can always move on to drafting your synthesis essay. But make sure you're taking your time and reading carefully! It's better to use a little extra time reading and understanding the sources now so that you don't have to go back and re-read the sources later.
A strong thesis will do a lot of heavy lifting in your essay. (See what we did there?)
Step 3: Write a Strong Thesis Statement
After you've analyzed the prompt and thoroughly read the sources, the next thing you need to do in order to write a good synthesis essay is write a strong thesis statement .
The great news about writing a thesis statement for this synthesis essay is that you have all the tools you need to do it at your fingertips. All you have to do in order to write your thesis statement is decide what your stance is in relationship to the topic provided.
In the example prompt provided earlier, you're essentially given three choices for how to frame your thesis statement: you can either defend, challenge, or qualify a claim that's been provided by the prompt, that eminent domain is productive and beneficial . Here's what that means for each option:
If you choose to defend the claim, your job will be to prove that the claim is correct . In this case, you'll have to show that eminent domain is a good thing.
If you choose to challenge the claim, you'll argue that the claim is incorrect. In other words, you'll argue that eminent domain isn't productive or beneficial.
If you choose to qualify, that means you'll agree with part of the claim, but disagree with another part of the claim. For instance, you may argue that eminent domain can be a productive tool for governments, but it's not beneficial for property owners. Or maybe you argue that eminent domain is useful in certain circumstances, but not in others.
When you decide whether you want your synthesis essay to defend, challenge, or qualify that claim, you need to convey that stance clearly in your thesis statement. You want to avoid simply restating the claim provided in the prompt, summarizing the issue without making a coherent claim, or writing a thesis that doesn't respond to the prompt.
Here's an example of a thesis statement that received full points on the eminent domain synthesis essay:
Although eminent domain can be misused to benefit private interests at the expense of citizens, it is a vital tool of any government that intends to have any influence on the land it governs beyond that of written law.
This thesis statement received full points because it states a defensible position and establishes a line of reasoning on the issue of eminent domain. It states the author's position (that some parts of eminent domain are good, but others are bad), then goes on to explain why the author thinks that (it's good because it allows the government to do its job, but it's bad because the government can misuse its power.)
Because this example thesis statement states a defensible position and establishes a line of reasoning, it can be elaborated upon in the body of the essay through sub-claims, supporting evidence, and commentary. And a solid argument is key to getting a six on your synthesis essay for AP Lang!
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Step 4: Create a Bare-Bones Essay Outline
Once you've got your thesis statement drafted, you have the foundation you need to develop a bare bones outline for your synthesis essay. Developing an outline might seem like it's a waste of your precious time, but if you develop your outline well, it will actually save you time when you start writing your essay.
With that in mind, we recommend spending 5 to 10 minutes outlining your synthesis essay . If you use a bare-bones outline like the one below, labeling each piece of content that you need to include in your essay draft, you should be able to develop out the most important pieces of the synthesis before you even draft the actual essay.
To help you see how this can work on test day, we've created a sample outline for you. You can even memorize this outline to help you out on test day! In the outline below, you'll find places to fill in a thesis statement, body paragraph topic sentences, evidence from the sources provided, and commentary :
- Present the context surrounding the essay topic in a couple of sentences (this is a good place to use what you learned about the major opinions or controversies about the topic from reading your sources).
- Write a straightforward, clear, and concise thesis statement that presents your stance on the topic
- Topic sentence presenting first supporting point or claim
- Evidence #1
- Commentary on Evidence #1
- Evidence #2 (if needed)
- Commentary on Evidence #2 (if needed)
- Topic sentence presenting second supporting point or claim
- Topic sentence presenting three supporting point or claim
- Sums up the main line of reasoning that you developed and defended throughout the essay
- Reiterates the thesis statement
Taking the time to develop these crucial pieces of the synthesis in a bare-bones outline will give you a map for your final essay. Once you have a map, writing the essay will be much easier.
Step 5: Draft Your Essay Response
The great thing about taking a few minutes to develop an outline is that you can develop it out into your essay draft. After you take about 5 to 10 minutes to outline your synthesis essay, you can use the remaining 30 to 35 minutes to draft your essay and review it.
Since you'll outline your essay before you start drafting, writing the essay should be pretty straightforward. You'll already know how many paragraphs you're going to write, what the topic of each paragraph will be, and what quotations, paraphrases, or summaries you're going to include in each paragraph from the sources provided. You'll just have to fill in one of the most important parts of your synthesis—your commentary.
Commentaries are your explanation of why your evidence supports the argument you've outlined in your thesis. Your commentary is where you actually make your argument, which is why it's such a critical part of your synthesis essay.
When thinking about what to say in your commentary, remember one thing the AP Lang synthesis essay prompt specifies: don't just summarize the sources. Instead, as you provide commentary on the evidence you incorporate, you need to explain how that evidence supports or undermines your thesis statement . You should include commentary that offers a thoughtful or novel perspective on the evidence from your sources to develop your argument.
One very important thing to remember as you draft out your essay is to cite your sources. The AP Lang exam synthesis essay prompt indicates that you can use generic labels for the sources provided (e.g. "Source 1," "Source 2," "Source 3," etc.). The exam prompt will indicate which label corresponds with which source, so you'll need to make sure you pay attention and cite sources accurately. You can cite your sources in the sentence where you introduce a quote, summary, or paraphrase, or you can use a parenthetical citation. Citing your sources affects your score on the synthesis essay, so remembering to do this is important.
Keep reading for a real-life example of a great AP synthesis essay response!
Real-Life AP Synthesis Essay Example and Analysis
If you're still wondering how to write a synthesis essay, examples of real essays from past AP Lang exams can make things clearer. These real-life student AP synthesis essay responses can be great for helping you understand how to write a synthesis essay that will knock the graders' socks off .
While there are multiple essay examples online, we've chosen one to take a closer look at. We're going to give you a brief analysis of one of these example student synthesis essays from the 2019 AP Lang Exam below!
Example Synthesis Essay AP Lang Response
To get started, let's look at the official prompt for the 2019 synthesis essay:
In response to our society's increasing demand for energy, large-scale wind power has drawn attention from governments and consumers as a potential alternative to traditional materials that fuel our power grids, such as coal, oil, natural gas, water, or even newer sources such as nuclear or solar power. Yet the establishment of large-scale, commercial-grade wind farms is often the subject of controversy for a variety of reasons.
Carefully read the six sources, found on the AP English Language and Composition 2019 Exam (Question 1), including the introductory information for each source. Write an essay that synthesizes material from at least three of the sources and develops your position on the most important factors that an individual or agency should consider when deciding whether to establish a wind farm.
Source A (photo) Source B (Layton) Source C (Seltenrich) Source D (Brown) Source E (Rule) Source F (Molla)
In your response you should do the following:
- Respond to the prompt with a thesis presents a defensible position.
- Select and use evidence from at least 3 of the provided sources to support your line of reasoning. Indicate clearly the sources used through direct quotation, paraphrase, or summary. Sources may be cited as Source A, Source B, etc., or by using the description in parentheses.
- Explain how the evidence supports your line of reasoning.
- Use appropriate grammar and punctuation in communicating your argument.
Now that you know exactly what the prompt asked students to do on the 2019 AP Lang synthesis essay, here's an AP Lang synthesis essay example, written by a real student on the AP Lang exam in 2019:
 The situation has been known for years, and still very little is being done: alternative power is the only way to reliably power the changing world. The draw of power coming from industry and private life is overwhelming current sources of non-renewable power, and with dwindling supplies of fossil fuels, it is merely a matter of time before coal and gas fuel plants are no longer in operation. So one viable alternative is wind power. But as with all things, there are pros and cons. The main factors for power companies to consider when building wind farms are environmental boon, aesthetic, and economic factors.
 The environmental benefits of using wind power are well-known and proven. Wind power is, as qualified by Source B, undeniably clean and renewable. From their production requiring very little in the way of dangerous materials to their lack of fuel, besides that which occurs naturally, wind power is by far one of the least environmentally impactful sources of power available. In addition, wind power by way of gearbox and advanced blade materials, has the highest percentage of energy retention. According to Source F, wind power retains 1,164% of the energy put into the system – meaning that it increases the energy converted from fuel (wind) to electricity 10 times! No other method of electricity production is even half that efficient. The efficiency and clean nature of wind power are important to consider, especially because they contribute back to power companies economically.
 Economically, wind power is both a boon and a bone to electric companies and other users. For consumers, wind power is very cheap, leading to lower bills than from any other source. Consumers also get an indirect reimbursement by way of taxes (Source D). In one Texan town, McCamey, tax revenue increased 30% from a wind farm being erected in the town. This helps to finance improvements to the town. But, there is no doubt that wind power is also hurting the power companies. Although, as renewable power goes, wind is incredibly cheap, it is still significantly more expensive than fossil fuels. So, while it is helping to cut down on emissions, it costs electric companies more than traditional fossil fuel plants. While the general economic trend is positive, there are some setbacks which must be overcome before wind power can take over as truly more effective than fossil fuels.
 Aesthetics may be the greatest setback for power companies. Although there may be significant economic and environmental benefit to wind power, people will always fight to preserve pure, unspoiled land. Unfortunately, not much can be done to improve the visual aesthetics of the turbines. White paint is the most common choice because it "[is] associated with cleanliness." (Source E). But, this can make it stand out like a sore thumb, and make the gargantuan machines seem more out of place. The site can also not be altered because it affects generating capacity. Sound is almost worse of a concern because it interrupts personal productivity by interrupting people's sleep patterns. One thing for power companies to consider is working with turbine manufacturing to make the machines less aesthetically impactful, so as to garner greater public support.
 As with most things, wind power has no easy answer. It is the responsibility of the companies building them to weigh the benefits and the consequences. But, by balancing economics, efficiency, and aesthetics, power companies can create a solution which balances human impact with environmental preservation.
And that's an entire AP Lang synthesis essay example, written in response to a real AP Lang exam prompt! It's important to remember AP Lang exam synthesis essay prompts are always similarly structured and worded, and students often respond in around the same number of paragraphs as what you see in the example essay response above.
Next, let's analyze this example essay and talk about what it does effectively, where it could be improved upon, and what score past exam scorers awarded it.
To get started on an analysis of the sample synthesis essay, let's look at the scoring commentary provided by the College Board:
- For development of thesis, the essay received 1 out of 1 possible points
- For evidence and commentary, the essay received 4 out of 4 possible points
- For sophistication of thought, the essay received 0 out of 1 possible points.
This means that the final score for this example essay was a 5 out of 6 possible points . Let's look more closely at the content of the example essay to figure out why it received this score breakdown.
The thesis statement is one of the three main categories that is taken into consideration when you're awarded points on this portion of the exam. This sample essay received 1 out of 1 total points.
Now, here's why: the thesis statement clearly and concisely conveys a position on the topic presented in the prompt--alternative energy and wind power--and defines the most important factors that power companies should consider when deciding whether to establish a wind farm.
Evidence and Commentary
The second key category taken into consideration when synthesis exams are evaluated is incorporation of evidence and commentary. This sample received 4 out of 4 possible points for this portion of the synthesis essay. At bare minimum, this sample essay meets the requirement mentioned in the prompt that the writer incorporate evidence from at least three of the sources provided.
On top of that, the writer does a good job of connecting the incorporated evidence back to the claim made in the thesis statement through effective commentary. The commentary in this sample essay is effective because it goes beyond just summarizing what the provided sources say. Instead, it explains and analyzes the evidence presented in the selected sources and connects them back to supporting points the writer makes in each body paragraph.
Finally, the writer of the essay also received points for evidence and commentary because the writer developed and supported a consistent line of reasoning throughout the essay . This line of reasoning is summed up in the fourth paragraph in the following sentence: "One thing for power companies to consider is working with turbine manufacturing to make the machines less aesthetically impactful, so as to garner greater public support."
Because the writer did a good job consistently developing their argument and incorporating evidence, they received full marks in this category. So far, so good!
Sophistication of Thought
Now, we know that this essay received a score of 5 out of 6 total points, and the place where the writer lost a point was on the basis of sophistication of thought, for which the writer received 0 out of 1 points. That's because this sample essay makes several generalizations and vague claims where it could have instead made specific claims that support a more balanced argument.
For example, in the following sentence from the 5th paragraph of the sample essay, the writer misses the opportunity to state specific possibilities that power companies should consider for wind energy . Instead, the writer is ambiguous and non-committal, saying, "As with most things, wind power has no easy answer. It is the responsibility of the companies building them to weigh the benefits and consequences."
If the writer of this essay was interested in trying to get that 6th point on the synthesis essay response, they could consider making more specific claims. For instance, they could state the specific benefits and consequences power companies should consider when deciding whether to establish a wind farm. These could include things like environmental impacts, economic impacts, or even population density!
Despite losing one point in the last category, this example synthesis essay is a strong one. It's well-developed, thoughtfully written, and advances an argument on the exam topic using evidence and support throughout.
4 Tips for How to Write a Synthesis Essay
AP Lang is a timed exam, so you have to pick and choose what you want to focus on in the limited time you're given to write the synthesis essay. Keep reading to get our expert advice on what you should focus on during your exam.
Tip 1: Read the Prompt First
It may sound obvious, but when you're pressed for time, it's easy to get flustered. Just remember: when it comes time to write the synthesis essay, read the prompt first !
Why is it so important to read the prompt before you read the sources? Because when you're aware of what kind of question you're trying to answer, you'll be able to read the sources more strategically. The prompt will help give you a sense of what claims, points, facts, or opinions to be looking for as you read the sources.
Reading the sources without having read the prompt first is kind of like trying to drive while wearing a blindfold: you can probably do it, but it's likely not going to end well!
Tip 2: Make Notes While You Read
During the 15-minute reading period at the beginning of the synthesis essay, you'll be reading through the sources as quickly as you can. After all, you're probably anxious to start writing!
While it's definitely important to make good use of your time, it's also important to read closely enough that you understand your sources. Careful reading will allow you to identify parts of the sources that will help you support your thesis statement in your essay, too.
As you read the sources, consider marking helpful passages with a star or check mark in the margins of the exam so you know which parts of the text to quickly re-read as you form your synthesis essay. You might also consider summing up the key points or position of each source in a sentence or a few words when you finish reading each source during the reading period. Doing so will help you know where each source stands on the topic given and help you pick the three (or more!) that will bolster your synthesis argument.
Tip 3: Start With the Thesis Statement
If you don't start your synthesis essay with a strong thesis statement, it's going to be tough to write an effective synthesis essay. As soon as you finish reading and annotating the provided sources, the thing you want to do next is write a strong thesis statement.
According to the CollegeBoard grading guidelines for the AP Lang synthesis essay, a strong thesis statement will respond to the prompt— not restate or rephrase the prompt. A good thesis will take a clear, defensible position on the topic presented in the prompt and the sources.
In other words, to write a solid thesis statement to guide the rest of your synthesis essay, you need to think about your position on the topic at hand and then make a claim about the topic based on your position. This position will either be defending, challenging, or qualifying the claim made in the essay's prompt.
The defensible position that you establish in your thesis statement will guide your argument in the rest of the essay, so it's important to do this first. Once you have a strong thesis statement, you can begin outlining your essay.
Tip 4: Focus on Your Commentary
Writing thoughtful, original commentary that explains your argument and your sources is important. In fact, doing this well will earn you four points (out of a total of six)!
AP Lang provides six to seven sources for you on the exam, and you'll be expected to incorporate quotations, paraphrases, or summaries from at least three of those sources into your synthesis essay and interpret that evidence for the reader.
While incorporating evidence is very important, in order to get the extra point for "sophistication of thought" on the synthesis essay, it's important to spend more time thinking about your commentary on the evidence you choose to incorporate. The commentary is your chance to show original thinking, strong rhetorical skills, and clearly explain how the evidence you've included supports the stance you laid out in your thesis statement.
To earn the 6th possible point on the synthesis essay, make sure your commentary demonstrates a nuanced understanding of the source material, explains this nuanced understanding, and places the evidence incorporated from the sources in conversation with each other. To do this, make sure you're avoiding vague language. Be specific when you can, and always tie your commentary back to your thesis!
There's a lot more to the AP Language exam than just the synthesis essay. Be sure to check out our expert guide to the entire exam , then learn more about the tricky multiple choice section .
Is the AP Lang exam hard...or is it easy? See how it stacks up to other AP tests on our list of the hardest AP exams .
Did you know there are technically two English AP exams? You can learn more about the second English AP test, the AP Literature exam, in this article . And if you're confused about whether you should take the AP Lang or AP Lit test , we can help you make that decision, too.
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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.
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How to Write the AP Lang Argument Essay + Examples
What’s covered:, what is the ap language argument essay, tips for writing the ap language argument essay, ap english language argument essay examples, how will ap scores impact my college chances.
In 2023, over 550,148 students across the U.S. took the AP English Language and Composition Exam, and 65.2% scored higher than a 3. The AP English Language Exam tests your ability to analyze a piece of writing, synthesize information, write a rhetorical essay, and create a cohesive argument. In this post, we’ll be discussing the best way to approach the argumentative essay section of the test, and we’ll give you tips and tricks so you can write a great essay.
The AP English Language Exam as of 2023 is structured as follows:
Section 1: 45 multiple choice questions to be completed in an hour. This portion counts for 45% of your score. This section requires students to analyze a piece of literature. The questions ask about its content and/or what could be edited within the passage.
Section 2: Three free response questions to be completed in the remaining two hours and 15 minutes. This section counts for 55% of your score. These essay questions include the synthesis essay, the rhetorical essay, and the argumentative essay.
- Synthesis essay: Read 6-7 sources and create an argument using at least three of the sources.
- Rhetorical analysis essay: Describe how a piece of writing evokes meaning and symbolism.
- Argumentative essay: Pick a side of a debate and create an argument based on evidence. In this essay, you should develop a logical argument in support of or against the given statement and provide ample evidence that supports your conclusion. Typically, a five paragraph format is great for this type of writing. This essay is scored holistically from 1 to 9 points.
Do you want more information on the structure of the full exam? Take a look at our in-depth overview of the AP Language and Composition Exam .
Although the AP Language Argument may seem daunting at first, once you understand how the essay should be structured, it will be a lot easier to create cohesive arguments.
Below are some tips to help you as you write the essay.
1. Organize your essay before writing
Instead of jumping right into your essay, plan out what you will say beforehand. It’s easiest to make a list of your arguments and write out what facts or evidence you will use to support each argument. In your outline, you can determine the best order for your arguments, especially if they build on each other or are chronological. Having a well-organized essay is crucial for success.
2. Pick one side of the argument, but acknowledge the other side
When you write the essay, it’s best if you pick one side of the debate and stick with it for the entire essay. All your evidence should be in support of that one side. However, in your introductory paragraph, as you introduce the debate, be sure to mention any merit the arguments of the other side has. This can make the essay a bit more nuanced and show that you did consider both sides before determining which one was better. Often, acknowledging another viewpoint then refuting it can make your essay stronger.
3. Provide evidence to support your claims
The AP readers will be looking for examples and evidence to support your argument. This doesn’t mean that you need to memorize a bunch of random facts before the exam. This just means that you should be able to provide concrete examples in support of your argument.
For example, if the essay topic is about whether the role of the media in society has been detrimental or not, and you argue that it has been, you may talk about the phenomenon of “fake news” during the 2016 presidential election.
AP readers are not looking for perfect examples, but they are looking to see if you can provide enough evidence to back your claim and make it easily understood.
4. Create a strong thesis statement
The thesis statement will set up your entire essay, so it’s important that it is focused and specific, and that it allows for the reader to understand your body paragraphs. Make sure your thesis statement is the very last sentence of your introductory paragraph. In this sentence, list out the key points you will be making in the essay in the same order that you will be writing them. Each new point you mention in your thesis should start a paragraph in your essay.
Below is a prompt and sample student essay from the May 2019 exam . We’ll look at what the student did well in their writing and where they could improve.
Prompt: “The term “overrated” is often used to diminish concepts, places, roles, etc. that the speaker believes do not deserve the prestige they commonly enjoy; for example, many writers have argued that success is overrated, a character in a novel by Anthony Burgess famously describes Rome as a “vastly overrated city,” and Queen Rania of Jordan herself has asserted that “[b]eing queen is overrated.”
Select a concept, place, role, etc. to which you believe that the term “overrated” should be applied. Then, write a well-developed essay in which you explain your judgment. Use appropriate evidence from your reading, experience, or observations to support your argument.
Sample Student Essay #1:
 Competition is “overrated.” The notion of motivation between peers has evolved into a source of unnecessary stress and even lack of morals. Whether it be in an academic environment or in the industry, this new idea of competition is harmful to those competing and those around them.
 Back in elementary school, competition was rather friendly. It could have been who could do the most pushups or who could get the most imaginary points in a classroom for a prize. If you couldn’t do the most pushups or win that smelly sticker, you would go home and improve yourself – there would be no strong feelings towards anyone, you would just focus on making yourself a better version of yourself. Then as high school rolled around, suddenly applying for college doesn’t seem so far away –GPA seems to be that one stat that defines you – extracurriculars seem to shape you – test scores seem to categorize you. Sleepless nights, studying for the next day’s exam, seem to become more and more frequent. Floating duck syndrome seems to surround you (FDS is where a competitive student pretends to not work hard but is furiously studying beneath the surface just like how a duck furiously kicks to stay afloat). All of your competitors appear to hope you fail – but in the end what do you and your competitor’s gain? Getting one extra point on the test? Does that self-satisfaction compensate for the tremendous amounts of acquired stress? This new type of “competition” is overrated – it serves nothing except a never-ending source of anxiety and seeks to weaken friendships and solidarity as a whole in the school setting.
 A similar idea of “competition” can be applied to business. On the most fundamental level, competition serves to be a beneficial regulator of prices and business models for both the business themselves and consumers. However, as businesses grew increasingly greedy and desperate, companies resorted to immoral tactics that only hurt their reputations and consumers as a whole. Whether it be McDonald’s coupons that force you to buy more food or tech companies like Apple intentionally slowing down your iPhone after 3 years to force you to upgrade to the newest device, consumers suffer and in turn speak down upon these companies. Similar to the evolved form of competition in school, this overrated form causes pain for all parties and has since diverged from the encouraging nature that the principle of competition was “founded” on.
The AP score for this essay was a 4/6, meaning that it captured the main purpose of the essay but there were still substantial parts missing. In this essay, the writer did a good job organizing the sections and making sure that their writing was in order according to the thesis statement. The essay first discusses how competition is harmful in elementary school and then discusses this topic in the context of business. This follows the chronological order of somebody’s life and flows nicely.
The arguments in this essay are problematic, as they do not provide enough examples of how exactly competition is overrated. The essay discusses the context in which competition is overrated but does not go far enough in explaining how this connects to the prompt.
In the first example, school stress is used to explain how competition manifests. This is a good starting point, but it does not talk about why competition is overrated; it simply mentions that competition can be unhealthy. The last sentence of that paragraph is the main point of the argument and should be expanded to discuss how the anxiety of school is overrated later on in life.
In the second example, the writer discusses how competition can lead to harmful business practices, but again, this doesn’t reflect the reason this would be overrated. Is competition really overrated because Apple and McDonald’s force you to buy new products? This example could’ve been taken one step farther. Instead of explaining why business structures—such as monopolies—harm competition, the author should discuss how those particular structures are overrated.
Additionally, the examples the writer used lack detail. A stronger essay would’ve provided more in-depth examples. This essay seemed to mention examples only in passing without using them to defend the argument.
It should also be noted that the structure of the essay is incomplete. The introduction only has a thesis statement and no additional context. Also, there is no conclusion paragraph that sums up the essay. These missing components result in a 4/6.
Now let’s go through the prompt for a sample essay from the May 2022 exam . The prompt is as follows:
Colin Powell, a four-star general and former United States Secretary of State, wrote in his 1995 autobiography: “[W]e do not have the luxury of collecting information indefinitely. At some point, before we can have every possible fact in hand, we have to decide. The key is not to make quick decisions, but to make timely decisions.”
Write an essay that argues your position on the extent to which Powell’s claim about making decisions is valid.
In your response you should do the following:
- Respond to the prompt with a thesis that presents a defensible position.
- Provide evidence to support your line of reasoning.
- Explain how the evidence supports your line of reasoning.
- Use appropriate grammar and punctuation in communicating your argument.
Sample Student Essay #2:
Colin Powell, who was a four star general and a former United States Secretary of State. He wrote an autobiography and had made a claim about making decisions. In my personal opinion, Powell’s claim is true to full extent and shows an extremely valuable piece of advice that we do not consider when we make decisions.
Powell stated, “before we can have every possible fact in hand we have to decide…. but to make it a timely decision” (1995). With this statement Powell is telling the audience of his autobiography that it does not necessarily matter how many facts you have, and how many things you know. Being able to have access to everything possible takes a great amount of time and we don’t always have all of the time in the world. A decision has to be made with what you know, waiting for something else to come in while trying to make a decision whether that other fact is good or bad you already have a good amount of things that you know. Everyone’s time is valuable, including yours. At the end of the day the decision will have to be made and that is why it should be made in a “timely” manner.
This response was graded for a score of 2/6. Let’s break down the score to smaller points that signify where the student fell short.
The thesis in this essay is clearly outlined at the end of the first paragraph. The student states their agreement with Powell’s claim and frames the rest of their essay around this stance. The success in scoring here lies in the clear communication of the thesis and the direction the argument will take. It’s important to make the thesis statement concise, specific, and arguable, which the student has successfully done.
While the student did attempt to provide evidence to support their thesis, it’s clear that their explanation lacks specific detail and substance. They referenced Powell’s statement, but did not delve into how this statement has proven true in specific instances, and did not provide examples that could bring the argument to life.
Commentary is an essential part of this section’s score. It means explaining the significance of the evidence and connecting it back to the thesis. Unfortunately, the student’s commentary here is too vague and does not effectively elaborate on how the evidence supports their argument.
To improve, the student could use more concrete examples to demonstrate their point and discuss how each piece of evidence supports their thesis. For instance, they could discuss specific moments in Powell’s career where making a timely decision was more valuable than waiting for all possible facts. This would help illustrate the argument in a more engaging, understandable way.
A high score in the “sophistication” category of the grading rubric is given for demonstrating a complex understanding of the rhetorical situation (purpose, audience, context, etc.), making effective rhetorical choices, or establishing a line of reasoning. Here, the student’s response lacks complexity and sophistication. They’ve simply agreed with Powell’s claim and made a few general statements without providing a deeper analysis or effectively considering the rhetorical situation.
To increase sophistication, the student could explore possible counterarguments or complexities within Powell’s claim. They could discuss potential drawbacks of making decisions without all possible facts, or examine situations where timely decisions might not yield the best results. By acknowledging and refuting these potential counterarguments, they could add more depth to their analysis and showcase their understanding of the complexities involved in decision-making.
The student could also analyze why Powell, given his background and experiences, might have come to such a conclusion, thus providing more context and showing an understanding of the rhetorical situation.
Remember, sophistication in argumentation isn’t about using fancy words or complicated sentences. It’s about showing that you understand the complexity of the issue at hand and that you’re able to make thoughtful, nuanced arguments. Sophistication shows that you can think critically about the topic and make connections that aren’t immediately obvious.
Now that you’ve looked at an example essay and some tips for the argumentative essay, you know how to better prepare for the AP English Language and Composition Exam.
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That said, the main benefit of scoring high on AP exams comes once you land at your dream school, as high scores can allow you to “test out” of entry-level requirements, often called GE requirements or distribution requirements. This will save you time and money.
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