AP English Language
Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High
Reading the Argument
In the multiple-choice section of the AP English Language exam, you are asked to read several selections, many of which are argumentative. Remember two very important points. No matter how brief or how lengthy the text is:
1. There is a rhetorical context with a
• occasion or situation
Any good argument will effectively utilize and address each of these elements.
2. Don’t make the mistake of evaluating an argument based simply on who wrote it. Don’t confuse the messenger with the message.
With this in mind, your task is to read the given text critically and to:
• Determine who the speaker is, what the situation is, and who the audience is.
• Identify the position of the speaker.
• Check off the points made in support of the assertion.
You can easily accomplish these three tasks by highlighting, underlining, checking, making marginal notes, or even outlining (if you have time). Once you have completed your initial reading, you need to ask yourself several questions. In the case of the actual AP English Language and Composition exam, your test makers will ask you the questions based on these points.
1. Are there any judgments in the presentation?
— Evidence is needed to support judgments.
2. Recognize that fact is not the same as interpretation.
— Fact: You know it with certainty and can verify it.
— Interpretation: An explanation of the meaning and/or importance of a specific item.
You must be able to distinguish between the two.
3. Distinguish between literal and ironic statements. Recognizing the difference between these two terms can save you from misreading the text.
— Ironic: Saying the opposite from what you really mean, as in satire.
— Clues to be aware of: diction, subject, selection of detail.
— Literal: What you read is what is the reality.
4. Do not evaluate an argument based on its form. Look at the content. It’s easy to be misled by “fabulous” writing.
Below is a checklist that functions as a rubric for the evaluation of any rhetorical argument.
— A clearly developed thesis is evident.
— Facts are distinguished from opinions.
— Opinions are supported and qualified.
— The speaker develops a logical argument and avoids fallacies in reasoning.
— Support for facts is tested, reliable, and authoritative.
— The speaker does not confuse appeals to logic and emotion.
— Opposing views are represented in a fair and undistorted way.
— The argument reflects a sense of audience.
— The argument reflects an identifiable voice and point of view.
— The piece reflects the image of a speaker with identifiable qualities (honesty, sincerity, authority, intelligence, etc.).
As practice, read the following editorial, which appeared in a recent teachers’ newsletter.
Misters King and Prince could not have picked a more ironic day to have their anti-teacher tirade printed in Today’s News than on Tuesday, January 13. Here were Matt King, executive director of the conservative magazine The Right Position, and Ray Prince, the chief economist for the conservative Small Business Conference, showing their poisonous fangs in their hissy-fit against the state’s teachers’ union and the state’s education department.
Here were two cobras from the antiteacher snake pit posturing about the need to end tenure and to create charter schools. These, said the two vipers, are among the steps “needed to revitalize education in our area and across the state.” Later in their column, they continued with “declining student performance in recent years” is indicative of poor teaching quality.
May I direct King and Prince to pages A5 and A28 of this very same Today’s News edition. In this article were the names of 74 (4 of them from New High School) Intel competition semifinalists out of a total of 144 in our state. With about 50% of the state’s semifinalists, this and our neighboring county had MORE winning contestants and MORE participants than any other region in the country. This is MORE than half the national total of 300 … [and] “more than six times as many as the second-ranked state, which had 21 semifinalists and the third-ranked state, which had 19.”
Hmmm … now, let me think. Which speaks more loudly about teacher quality and student motivation: the negative nagging of King and Prince or the positive professionalism and performance represented by the Intel story? I daresay—no contest. And, this type of professional proficiency and dedication is part and parcel of the standards and goals of ALL our state teachers.
They would have to count the extraordinary number of national, state, and local awards our professionals and their pupils have earned. They would have to count the number of scholarships, volunteer hours, and AP courses our students have amassed. They would have to listen to a litany of academic awards, associations, and degrees with which our teachers are connected. They would have to read the hundreds of thank-you letters former students have written to their teachers.
They would have to acknowledge that their scaly agenda needs to be shed.
Rather than casting a “shadow over education” in this state, our teachers shine a bright light on the snake pits created by ignorance and negativity.
Let’s Use the Argument Checklist on This Editorial
1. The thesis is that Mr. King and Mr. Prince are incorrect about their position to end tenure and create charter schools. These two are wrong when they say “our area needs to revitalize education.”
2. Facts are distinguished from opinion. Facts include the number of Intel scholarships in paragraph 3; the comparison of the writer’s area with other school districts in paragraph 3, and the number of awards, etc. associated with the writer’s school. Opinion is obvious in the analogy established between Mr. King and Mr. Prince and snakes.
3. Some opinions are supported and others are not. In some cases, numbers are cited, and in other cases, generalizations are used.
4. The editorial avoids fallacies in most instances. However, the emotional appeal and arguing from analogy is present.
5. The editorial is developed using induction. A possible fallacy here revolves around whether or not what is true about one school district may be true about all other school areas or for all teachers and students.
6. The facts used come from current newspapers. The writer cites statistics and gives the source. The comparison between New High School and other schools and school districts is based on statistics and facts.
7. The author uses both logic and emotion. The facts and statistics are given in separate paragraphs. Emotional and analogical aspects of the argument are in opinionated sections of the editorial.
8. The opposing views of King and Prince are presented to illustrate the position of the columnists factually.
9. The audience is obviously teachers and those involved in education.
10. The point of view of the writer is clearly negative toward King and Prince and positive toward the condition of education in the writer’s school district and state.
11. The editorial reflects a writer who is sincere, angry, confident, and willing to find support for the assertion.
Note: Each of these statements about the given editorial could also be turned into multiple-choice questions. Keep in mind that the writers of the AP English Language and Composition exam are aware of all of the preceding information and will base their questions on the assumption that you are also familiar with it and can recognize the elements of argument when you read them.