AP English Language

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What You Need to Know About the AP English Language and Composition Exam


Summary: Information about the AP English Language and Composition exam and its scoring.


Key Ideas

image Learn answers to frequently asked questions.

image Learn how your final score is calculated.

image Learn tips for successfully taking the exam.

Background on the AP English Language and Composition Exam

What Is the AP Program?

The Advanced Placement program was begun by the College Board in 1955 to construct standard achievement exams that would allow highly motivated high school students the opportunity to be awarded advanced placement as freshmen in colleges and universities in the United States. Today, there are more than 37 courses and exams with more than a million students from every state in the nation, and from foreign countries, taking the annual exams in May.

As is obvious, the AP programs are designed for high school students who want to take college-level courses. In our case, the AP English Language and Composition course and exam are designed to involve high school students in college-level English studies in both the use and structure of language and composition.

Who Writes the AP English Language and Composition Exam?

According to the College Board, the AP Comp exam is created by a group of college and high school English instructors called the “AP Development Committee.” Their job is to ensure that the annual AP Comp exam reflects what is being taught and studied in college-level English classes at the high schools.

This committee writes a large number of multiple-choice questions that are pretested and evaluated for clarity, appropriateness, and range of possible answers. The committee also generates a pool of essay questions, pretests them, and chooses those questions that best represent the full range of the scoring scale to allow the AP readers to evaluate the essays equitably.

It is important to remember that the AP English Language and Composition exam is thoroughly evaluated after it is administered each year. This way, the College Board can use the results to make course suggestions and to plan future tests.

What Are the AP Grades and Who Receives Them?

Once you have taken the exam and it has been scored, your test will be given one of five numbers by the College Board.

• 5 indicates you are extremely well qualified.

• 4 indicates you are well qualified.

• 3 indicates you are qualified.

• 2 indicates you are possibly qualified.

• 1 indicates you are not qualified to receive college credit.

Your grade is reported first to your college or university, second to your high school, and third to you. All the reporting is usually completed by the middle to end of July.

Reasons for Taking the AP English Language and Composition Exam

Why Would I Want to Take the AP English Language and Composition Exam?

Good question. Why put yourself through a year of intensive study, pressure, stress, and preparation? To be honest, only you can answer that question. However, over the years, our students have indicated to us that there are several reasons why they were willing to take the risk and to put in the effort.

• For personal satisfaction

• To compare themselves with other students across the nation

• Because colleges look favorably on the applications of students who elect to enroll in AP courses

• To receive college credit or advanced standing at their colleges or universities

• A love of the subject

• So the family will be proud of them

There are plenty of other reasons, but hopefully, no matter what the other reasons might be, the top reason for your enrolling in the AP English Language and Composition course and taking the exam in May is to feel good about yourself and the challenges you have met.

What You Need to Know About the AP English Language and Composition Exam

If I Don’t Take an AP Composition Course, Can I Still Take the AP English Language and Composition Exam?

Yes. Although the AP English Language and Composition exam is designed for the student who has had a year’s course in AP English Language and Composition, there are high schools that do not offer this type of course, and the students in these high schools have also done well on the exam. However, if your high school does offer an AP Composition course, by all means take advantage of it and the structured background it will provide you.

How Is the AP English Language and Composition Exam Organized?

The exam has two parts and is scheduled to last 3 hours and 15 minutes. The first section is a set of multiple-choice questions based on a series of prose passages. You will have 1 hour to complete this part of the test. The second section of the exam is a 2-hour and 15-minute essay writing segment consisting of three different essays: analysis, argument, and synthesis.

After you complete the multiple-choice section, you will hand in your test booklet and scan sheet, and you will be given a brief break. Note that you will not be able to return to the multiple-choice questions when you return to the examination room.

Must I Check the Box at the End of the Essay Booklet That Allows the AP People to Use My Essays as Samples for Research?

No. This is simply a way for the College Board to make certain that it has your permission if it decides to use one or more of your essays as a model. The readers of your essays pay no attention to whether or not that box is checked. Checking the box will not affect your grade either.

How Is My AP English Language and Composition Exam Scored?

Let’s look at the basics first. The multiple-choice section counts for 45% of your total score, and the essay section counts for 55%. Next comes a four-part calculation: the raw scoring of the multiple-choice section, the raw scoring of the essay section, the calculation of the composite score, and the conversion of the composite score into the AP grade of 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1.

How Is the Multiple-Choice Section Scored?

The scan sheet with your answers is run through a computer that counts the number of correct answers. Questions left blank and questions answered incorrectly are treated the same and get no points. There is no longer a “guessing penalty,” which formerly involved the deduction of a fraction of a point for answering a question but getting it wrong.

How Is My Essay Section Scored?

Each of your essays is read by a different, trained AP reader called a “faculty consultant.” The AP/College Board people have developed a highly successful training program for its readers, together with many opportunities for checks and double checks of essays to ensure a fair and equitable reading of each essay.

The scoring guides are carefully developed by the chief faculty consultant, question leader, table leaders, and content experts. All faculty consultants are then trained to read and score just one essay question on the exam. They become experts in that one essay question. No one knows the identity of any writer. The identification numbers and names are covered, and the exam booklets are randomly distributed to the readers in packets of 25 randomly chosen essays. Table leaders and the question leader review samples of each reader’s scores to ensure quality standards are constant.

Each essay is scored as 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1, plus 0, with 9 the highest possible score. Once your essay is rated from 9 to 1, the next set of calculations is completed. Here, if there are 27 possible points divided into 55% of the total possible score, each point awarded is given a value of 3.055. The formula would look something like this:


How Do They Calculate My Composite Score?

You need to do a little math here: 150 is the total composite score for the AP English Language and Composition test. Fifty-five percent of this score is the essay section; that equals 82.5 points. Forty-five percent of the composite score is the multiple-choice section, which equals 67.5 points. Each of your three essays is graded on a 9-point scale; therefore, each point is worth 3.055. You would divide the number of multiple-choice questions by 67.5. For example, if there were 55 questions, each point of the raw score would be multiplied by 1.227. If you add together the raw scores of each of the two sections, you will have a composite score. We provide a little practice with this process in the two practice exams in this book.

How Is My Composite Score Turned into the Grade Reported to My College?

Remember that the total composite scores needed to earn a 5, 4, 3, 2, or 1 differ each year. This is determined by a committee of AP/College Board/ETS directors, experts, and statisticians. The grading is based on such items as:

• AP distribution over the past three years

• Comparability studies

• Observations of the chief faculty consultant

• Frequency distributions of scores on each section and the essays

• Average scores on each exam section and essays

However, over the years a trend can be observed that indicates the number of points required to achieve a specific grade.

• 150–100 points = 5

• 99–86 = 4

• 85–67 = 3

2 and 1 fall below this range. You do not want to go there.

What Should I Bring to the Exam?

• Several pencils

• Several BLACK pens (black ink is easier on the eyes)

• A watch

• Something to drink—water is best

• A quiet snack, such as Life Savers

• Tissues

Are There Additional Recommendations?

• Allow plenty of time to get to the test site.

• Wear comfortable clothing.

• Eat a light breakfast or lunch.

• Remind yourself that you are well prepared and that the test is an enjoyable challenge and a chance to share your knowledge. Be proud of yourself! You worked hard all year. Now is your time to shine.

Is There Anything Special I Should Do the Night Before the Exam?

We certainly don’t advocate last-minute cramming, and, if you’ve been following the guidelines, you won’t have to. However, there may be a slight value to some last minute review. Spend the night before the exam relaxing with family or friends. Watch a movie; play a game; gab on the telephone, blog, or Twitter; and then find a quiet spot. While you’re unwinding, flip through your own notebook and review sheets. By now, you’re bound to be ready to drift off to sleep. Pleasant dreams.