AP English Language Exam

Can you apply the rhetorical triangle to a piece of writing? Are you able to argue a position? The AP ® English Language and Composition exam tests topics and skills discussed in your Advanced Placement English Language course. If you score high enough, your AP English Language score could earn you college credit!

Check out our AP English Language Guide for for what you need to know about the exam:

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

The AP English Language & Composition exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long and consists of 2 sections: a multiple choice section and a free response section.


Question type

Number of Questions

Section 1

60 minutes

52–55 multiple choice questions


Section 2

2 hours and 15 minutes

3 free response questions


Related article: AP Cram Courses

AP English Language Topics

The College Board is very detailed in what they require your AP teacher to cover in his or her AP English Language & Composition course. The exam tests your abilities to understand how authors use rhetoric and language to convey their purpose. Students are also expected to apply these techniques to their own writing and research projects. Some of the major skills tested include the ability to:

  • Identify an author’s purpose and intended audience
  • Recognize rhetorical devices and strategies in an author’s work
  • Demonstrate understanding of citations in research papers
  • Apply these skills and techniques to their own writing
  • Create and organize an argument defended with evidence and reasoning
  • Plan, write, and revise cogent, well-written essays

Check out our line of AP guides   for a comprehensive content review.

AP English Language Question Types

Multiple Choice

For AP English Language  multiple choice questions, you are presented with five nonfiction passages taken from all sorts of works. The idea is to get you to focus on rhetorical devices, figures of speech and intended purposes, under rigid time constraints and with material you haven’t seen before.

Free Response

The AP English Language section contains three essay prompts: a synthesis essay, a rhetorical analysis essay, and an argument essay.

  • Synthesis essay: You’ll be given a scenario and tasked with writing a response using at least three of six or seven short accompanying sources for support.
  • Rhetorical analysis essay: Asks you to analyze the techniques an author uses, and discuss how they contribute to the author’s purpose.
  • Argument essay: Presents a claim or assertion in the prompt and then asks you to argue a position based on your own knowledge, experience, or reading.

How to Interpret AP English Language Scores

AP scores are reported from 1 to 5. Colleges are generally looking for a 4 or 5 on the AP English Language exam, but some may grant AP credit for a 3. Each test is curved so scores vary from year to year. Here’s how AP English Lang students scored on the May 2017 test:



Percentage of Test Takers


Extremely qualified



Well qualified






Possibly qualified



No recommendation


Source: College Board

How can I prepare?

AP classes are great, but for many students they’re not enough! For a thorough review of AP English Language content and strategy, pick the AP prep option that works best for your goals and learning style.