5 Steps to a 5: AP English language 2017 (2016)


Develop Strategies for Success


Introduction to the Argumentative Essay


Summary: Examination of the argumentative essay and its purpose as it is presented in the AP English Language exam.


Key Ideas

Image Learn to take a position/stand on a situation given in the argumentative prompt.

Image Familiarize yourself with strategies to support your position.

Image Learn the basics of constructing the argumentative essay in response to the AP English Language prompt.

Some Basics

The second type of essay on the Advanced English Language exam is the argumentative essay. Because it is often seen as a “giveaway,” many students believe it to be the easiest of the three essays to write. Unfortunately, too many students spend too little time in the actual planning of this essay and, as a result, present an underdeveloped, illogical, or off-topic piece. Although there is a great deal of latitude given for the response to the prompt, the argumentative essay demands careful reading and planning.

What Does the Argumentative Essay Require of Me?

Basically, you need to do three things

• understand the nature of the position taken in the prompt

• develop a position in response to the prompt

• clearly and logically support your claim

What Does It Mean to Develop a Position?

Basically, this is a “So, what do YOU think?” prompt. You are asked to carefully read a passage or statement and to consider your own thoughts and where you stand on the issue. You are NOT being asked to confront the writer or speaker of the given text.

Timing and Planning the Essay

How Should I Approach the Writing of My Argumentative Essay?


Before beginning to actually write the essay, you need to do some quick planning. You could brainstorm a list of ideas, construct a chart, or create an outline. Whatever it is, you MUST find a way to allow yourself to think through the issue and your position.

Once I’ve Chosen My Position on the Given Issue, How Do I Go About Supporting It?

Remember that you’ve been taught how to write an argument throughout your school years, and you’ve even studied it in detail in your AP Comp course this year. Here is a brief overview of the kinds of support/evidence you could include to bolster your argument:


Just make certain to choose the strategy or strategies that are most familiar to you and with which you feel most comfortable. Don’t try to “con” your reader or pad your essay with irrelevancies.

Does It Matter What Tone I Take in My Argumentative Essay?

The College Board and the AP Comp readers are open to a wide range of approaches. You can choose to be informal and personal, formal and objective, or even humorous and irreverent, and anything in between. Just be certain that your choice is appropriate for your purpose.

Will I Be Penalized for Taking an Unpopular, Unexpected, Irreverent, or Bizarre Position on the Given Issue?

As long as you are addressing the prompt and appropriately supporting your position, there is no danger of your losing points on your essay because you’ve decided to take a different approach. Your essay is graded for process and mastery and manipulation of language, not for how close you come to the viewpoint of your reader.

How Should I Plan to Spend My Time Writing the Argumentative Essay?

Learning to budget your time is a skill that can be most helpful in writing the successful essay. The following is a sample timeline for you to consider:

• 1–3 minutes reading and working the prompt

• 3 minutes deciding on a position

• 10–12 minutes planning the support of your position

• 20 minutes writing the essay

• 3 minutes proofreading

Working the Prompt


Before beginning to write, you MUST spend some time carefully reading and deconstructing the prompt. (We call this “working the prompt.”) Your success depends upon your clearly understanding what is expected of you.

Below is the prompt of the third essay on the Diagnostic/Master exam.

In his famous “Vast Wasteland” address to the National Association of Broadcasters in May of 1961, Newton Minow, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, spoke about the power of television to influence the taste, knowledge, and opinions of its viewers around the world. Carefully read the following, paying close attention to how timely it is today, especially in light of the worldwide Internet.

Minow ended his speech warning that “The power of instantaneous sight and sound is without precedent in mankind’s history. This is an awesome power. It has limitless capabilities for good—and for evil. And it carries with it awesome responsibilities—responsibilities which you and [the government] cannot escape …”

Using your own knowledge and your own experiences or reading, write a carefully constructed essay that defends, challenges, or qualifies Minow’s ideas.


Highlight the essential elements of the prompt.

(Time yourself.) How long did it take you? ___________

Compare your highlighting of the prompt with ours.

In his famous Vast Wasteland address to the National Association of Broadcasters in May of 1961 , Newton Minow , the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission , spoke about the power of television to influence the taste, knowledge, and opinions of its viewers around the world . Carefully read the following, paying close attention to how timely it is today, especially in light of the worldwide Internet .

Minow ended his speech warning that “ The power of instantaneous sight and sound is without precedent in mankind’s history . This is an awesome power . It has limitless capabilities for good—and for evil . And it carries with it awesome responsibilities —responsibilities which you and [the government] cannot escape …”

Using your own knowledge and your own experiences or reading , write a carefully constructed essay that defends, challenges, or qualifies Minow’s ideas .

For this prompt, anything else you may have highlighted is extraneous.


The prompt asks the student to defend, challenge, or qualify Minow’s ideas. Notice that it does NOT state “all,” “some,” or a “specific number.” Therefore, the student has freedom of choice. (This is similar to the “such as” instructions in other prompts.)

Developing the Opening Paragraph


Write your introductory paragraph. Make certain to

• refer specifically to the prompt; and

• clearly state your position on the given issue.

The following are three sample opening paragraphs.


I agree with Newton Minow’s assertion to the National Association of Broadcasters that “The power of instantaneous sight and sound is … an awesome power … [with] capabilities for good—and for evil.” However, I disagree with his placing the responsibility for this power squarely in the hands of the broadcasters and the government.


Imagine—you have limitless capabilities for good and evil—you, not Superman, can control the world with your super powers. And, what are your powers? Do you have x-ray vision, morphability, immortality? NO, you have the most awesome power ever devised—you can instantaneously influence the taste, knowledge, and opinions of mankind around the world. You are Supernet! and you have a super headache because you agree with Newton Minow, who warned the National Association of Broadcasters in 1961 that “You have an awesome responsibility.”


Nowhere is the awesome power for good and evil of modern technology more clearly seen than in the Internet’s pervasiveness and influence. Newton Minow was right on target in 1961 when he warned the National Association of Broadcasters that the power of TV has “limitless capabilities for good—and for evil.”

Each of these opening paragraphs does the job required of an introduction to an argumentative essay on the AP English Language and Composition exam.

• Each cites the speaker and the occasion.

• Each clearly states the writer’s position on the given issue.

Let’s look at what is different about each of the paragraphs.

Sample A qualifies the assertion presented by Minow. The writer agrees with the potential of the power but disagrees about who should take responsibility.

Sample B agrees with Minow’s position but treats the assertion in a lighthearted fashion. The reader can expect a humorous and possibly irreverent tone in the essay.

Sample C indicates a writer who has obviously decided to limit the area of the argument to that of the Internet and has chosen to agree with Minow.

Note: Given the subject matter, this prompt does not lend itself easily to a negative position. However, if a creative thinker and writer were to assert such a viewpoint, it would not be penalized.

Which of the above samples is similar to your opening paragraph? Are there any changes you would make in yours?

Developing the Body of the Essay



— Plan the body of your argumentative essay.

A sample strategy for planning the Minow essay follows. After carefully reading and deconstructing the prompt, we decided to use Minow’s own three-part warning to the NAB. We brainstormed for ideas that could be linked to each of the categories. (Remember, ideas about how to organize or approach your essay can sometimes be found in the excerpt itself.)


Once you’ve completed your initial planning, in our case brainstorming, you must choose those specific items you will be best able to use to support and develop your argument. We limited ours to the following.


This type of chart will provide you as a writer with a structure for your presentation. You are now ready to write the body of your essay based on your carefully considered choices.

Below are three sample body paragraphs which are based on the chart on page 100.

Body Paragraph on “Good”

One of the most rewarding applications of the Internet is its ability to provide instant communication between friends and family. A grandmother-to-be in New York is able to share in the moment by moment experience of her daughter’s pregnancy and her granddaughter Daisy’s birth in California through e-mail, scanned photos and quick videos. Likewise, the ability to instantly communicate with others may have saved the life of a doctor stranded at the South Pole. Her contact with medical resources and experts via the Internet enabled her to undergo surgery and treatment for breast cancer. Research and innovations in medical treatment are now available to those around the world via the “Net.” Similarly, the ability for instant communication enables millions to enjoy concerts, sports events, theatrical presentations and other cultural activities without ever having to leave home. These wonderful benefits are all because of the fabulous and awesome technological creation—the Internet.

Body Paragraph on “Evil”

The other side of the mass communication coin has the face of evil on it. The Internet offers hate mongers unlimited access to anyone with a connection to the World Wide Web. Groups like the Neo-Nazis can spread their hate messages to susceptible minds via bright, entertaining and engaging websites. What looks like a simple, fun game can easily reinforce the group’s hate-filled philosophy to unsuspecting browsers. With the potential for millions of “hits” each week, it does not take a rocket scientist to perceive the danger here. This danger is also present with the minds and bodies of curious and vulnerable young people. Because of its easy access and easy production, “kiddie porn” is both possible and available via the Internet and the films any number of porn sites offer for downloading with the mere click of a keyboard key. Through contacts made through e-mail and/or chat rooms on the Net, children can be easily fooled and led to contact those who would abuse their bodies and minds for a quick profit or cheap thrill. With instantaneous messaging, whether real or imagined, positive or negative, a single person or group can set into motion mass hysteria just by warning of an impending disaster, such as a flood, fire, bomb, poison, and so on. There are obviously many more possibilities floating out there in the ethernet. These are just three of the evil ones.

Body Paragraph on “Responsibility”

Just as there is the potential for both good and evil with regard to mass communication, so too is there the potential for both beneficial and destructive strategies related to responsibilities. The most powerful regulator of our responsibility as individuals is our finger and its power to press a button or double click on a key and to “just say no.” With this slight pressure, we are able to exert monumental pressure on those who produce programs, websites, photos, documents, etc., which we find unacceptable. Who better to tell us what to watch, what to do, and what to think? All too often many people prefer to abdicate their personal responsibility and give that power to either the government or the communication industry. We must never forget that dictators target the control and censorship of mass media as the first step in the total control of the minds and hearts of the populace. The laws, which we as citizens of a democracy look to, must never impinge upon our First and Fourth Amendment rights. Each of us has the right of free speech, and each of us has the right to privacy. None of us has the right to harm others or to limit the rights of others; why, then, would we give that right to the communication industry or to the government?


Regarding a concluding paragraph, our advice is to spend your time in planning and writing the body of your essay rather than worrying about a concluding paragraph. With a brief essay, you can be certain that your reader can remember what you’ve already said, so there is no need to summarize your major points or to repeat the prompt. If you feel you must have a concluding statement/remark, by all means do so. But, make certain it is a FINAL remark that is of interest and is appropriate to your purpose. You may want to use the last sentence of your last body paragraph as your concluding comment. For example, the final sentences in the first and third sample body paragraphs could be used as the conclusion to the essay.


Spend about 20 minutes writing the body of your essay. Make certain that your essay follows your plan.

Sample Student Essays

The following are two sample student essays.

Student A



Student B



Rating the Essays

High-Range Essays (9, 8)


• Correctly identifies Minow’s position regarding the power of television and other forms of mass communication

• Effectively presents a position about Minow’s own ideas

• Clear writer’s voice

• Successfully defends his or her position

• Presents carefully reasoned arguments making appropriate reference to specific examples from personal experience

• Clear and effective organization

• Effectively manipulates language

• Few, if any, syntactical errors

Mid-Range Essays (7, 6, 5)

• Correctly identifies Minow’s position and attitude about television and mass communications

• Understands the demands of the prompt

• Clearly states a position with regard to that of Minow

• Presents a generally adequate argument that makes use of appropriate examples

• Ideas clearly stated

• Less well-developed than the high-range essays

• A few lapses in diction and/or syntax

Low-Range Essays (4, 3, 2, 1)

• Inadequate response to the prompt

• Misunderstands, oversimplifies, or misrepresents Minow’s position

• Insufficient or inappropriate examples used to develop the writer’s position

• Lack of mature control of the elements of essay writing

For this argumentative essay, almost all of the writers understood that Minow was commenting on the power of television and were able to comment on the timeliness of his assertions. In their essays, student writers attempted to distinguish between good and bad effects of modern technology, especially the Internet, and many illustrated their claims with fine examples of the power of this technology. They recognized the potential for inciting violence, for learning, for conformity, and for influencing political opinions and outcomes. The majority only touched upon power and influence, but the high-range essays recognized the subtlety of the responsibility of television and the Internet.

Most, if not all, student writers agreed with Minow, but few offered any real examination of the need for responsibility with regard to the advances in technology. Some were cautious about First Amendment rights, and a few saw the government as the chief “overseer.”

Student A

This is a high-range essay for the following reasons:

• a strong, mature voice willing to be creative as well as analytical;

• clear statement about the writer’s position on Minow’s assertion;

• overall structure clearly defined through “scenes”;

• original illustrations and details to support writer’s position;

• tight focus;

• mature vocabulary and sentence structure; and

• brief response to Minow’s challenge about responsibility regarding the media.

This high-range essay, although brief, does the work of a mature, clear, and responsive writer. The assertion and support for it are well organized and developed in a very clear writer’s voice.

Student B

This is a mid-range essay for the following reasons:

• evidence that the writer understood the question and prompt;

• indication of a writer’s voice;

• does not connect all parts of the essay, especially in paragraph 3, with the topic;

• includes interesting and varied details and examples to support the thesis;

• some obviously incorrect assumptions [paragraph 4, sentence 2];

• a few problems with diction and syntax [fragment in paragraph 4, sentence 2]; [“slovenly” in paragraph 3, sentence 1], [“fervent” in paragraph 4, next to last sentence];

• an interesting style and content; and

• does not really address the responsibility issue.

This mid-range essay indicates a writer who is a risk taker and intellectually curious. At times, the writer’s enthusiasm seems to get in the way of a clear focus.

Rapid Review

• Create an argument.

— understand the position or assertion

— agree, disagree, or qualify

— take a position, relate to an idea

— support your point of view

• Work the prompt.

— read and deconstruct the assignment

— highlight

• Plan the essay.

• Address the opposition.

• Allow for final remarks.

• Write the essay.

• Read the sample essays and rubrics.

• Score your own essay.