To score an 8 on the AP English Argument FRQ question, the CollegeBoard outlines that students need to write an essay that effectively argues a position, uses appropriate and convincing evidence, and showcases a wide range of the elements of writing. Essays that score a 9 do all of that and, additionally, demonstrate sophistication in their argument.
An essay that does all of that is an essay that is well constructed. Such an essay needs a solid framework and excellent support. To construct an essay like that, it is important to have a clear idea of what you are being asked, to not waffle, to spend time and care with your thesis and outline, and to support every claim you make.
The best way to write an AP English FRQ that does all of that is to understand what you are going to see on the AP English Language test.
What You are Going to See on the AP English Argument FRQ
The AP English argument FRQ is the most straightforward of the AP English FRQs because it is the most like essays you are already used to writing. It’s exciting to have free reign and make your own argument, unrestrained from rhetorical analysis devices or documents. But, like most AP writing, it also can be a little overwhelming. There’s nothing to read to provide evidence for you or to help you form an argument. Whether you’re feeling excited or overwhelmed by the AP writing argument FRQ, being strategic about forming your thesis, crafting a strong, chronological argument, and utilizing good, supportive evidence will lead to a better overall essay response.
Determine the Question
The first question to ask yourself is what am I being asked to do? Look for keywords and phrases that will answer that question.
Here’s an example from the 2016 AP English Language argument FRQ.
Though there are just two short paragraphs, there is a lot of room for confusion here. In this case, “Write an essay that argues your position on the extent to which Wilde’s claims are valid” is the key sentence you are looking for. In 2016, AP English Language test takers were asked to argue either for, or against, the idea that disobedience is the virtue through which progress is possible.
If you cannot determine what the question is, go back and reread the prompt. Knowing the question you are answering is the most important part of AP writing. You will not be able to answer the question effectively if you aren’t certain what the question is. Pick out a specific sentence or two to determine the question, and thereby ensure that you aren’t just writing an essay that responds to the general sense of the prompt.
Pick an Opinion and Stick to it
The next step is both simple and difficult. Identify your own opinion on the subject.
But remember — the AP argument FRQ is designed to test how well you can craft an argument. Questions like the 2016 question seem so daunting, because how one feels about disobedience has ramifications. It is a bigger question than students are used to encountering on an AP test.
But there is no right or wrong answer for this AP English FRQ. And whatever argument you choose will not come back later in the exam or in your final grade in the class. This is not to say that you shouldn’t believe in what you are writing. Only that you should remember that both sides are arguable, pick one, and stick to it. Don’t waffle.
Craft a Thesis Statement
The thesis statement should be both simple and elegant. It should encompass your entire essay in just one sentence. So, for the 2016 argument FRQ:
Good thesis: As Wilde claims, disobedience is a valuable human trait without which progress could not be made because, in situations like the American Revolution, it is only deviance from the norm that can change the norm.
This thesis breaks down a) that the author is claiming to agree with Wilde, b) that the author will support that claim with examples from the American Revolution, and c) that the author will continually return to the idea that only deviance from the norm can change the norm.
Not a Good thesis: Disobedience is a good trait for humans, because historically, disobedient men and women made history.
This thesis doesn’t really answer the question. It says that disobedience is good but doesn’t mention Wilde. It alludes to the idea that disobedient men and women made history but doesn’t mention progress. Plenty of people, like Franz Ferdinand, made history without progressing the human race. This thesis isn’t specific and doesn’t give you a clear idea of what the author will be saying next.
See the difference?
After you’ve determined your thesis, use it as a jumping point to sketch a quick outline. Then, follow your outline, bringing in your own concrete examples and evidence. Doing so will improve your AP writing.
Craft a Chronological Argument
A good argument builds as you move through the essay. It does not simply repeat the same points. Instead, the different points of the argument build off one another and work together to advance the author’s point.
Let’s look at the 2014 AP English argument FRQ for an example.
In this case, students are being asked to both define creativity and to argue for, or against, the creation of a class in creativity.
All students are likely to have their own definitions of creativity and their own opinions about a creativity class. For the purposes of example, let’s use Steve Jobs’ definition of creativity and quickly outline an argument for the creation of a class in creativity.
Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” Jobs sees creativity not as the art of making something completely new from scratch, but instead the art of connecting dots differently.
A chronological argument builds off itself. So, in this question’s case, an outline would look something like this:
- Creativity is best thought of as making connections.
- Making connections is a type of thinking that can be taught.
- Making connections is best taught in school, as opposed to outside of it.
First, a student would have to argue why creativity is best thought of as making connections. The second point, that making connections is a type of thinking that can be taught, cannot be proven until the first point has been sufficiently supported. And the final point, that this is a skill that is best taught in school, cannot be made without the other two. The points of the argument cannot be moved around, changed, or removed. This shows the argument is chronological and has built on itself.
When you sketch your outline, quickly ask yourself if the outline would make just as much sense if you rearranged it. If the answer is no, start writing your essay. If the answer is yes, try to structure your argument so that your points build off one another.
Support Your Claims
All arguments need evidence. This is the proof you need to support your thesis. And in the case of the AP English argument FRQ, the evidence all comes from you. What exactly that evidence is will vary from question to question and from student to student. But make sure that every point you make is supported by evidence.
Here’s some good news — you already know quite a bit about effective evidence from what you have learned in AP English about rhetorical devices. Your main purpose in this essay is to persuade. What have you learned in class about effective ways to persuade? What rhetorical devices can you utilize? Try to pick the best devices to support your argument that you can.
Here are some examples of supportive and non-supportive evidence that students could use to support their claims.
The 2015 AP English language argument FRQ asked students to argue what the function of polite speech in a culture they are familiar with.
Supportive evidence: Polite speech is useful for conveying tone, especially in the world of the Internet. A great example of this need is email. Because emails are virtual communications, they are completely stripped of the context that non-verbal cues, like body language, eye contact, and physical touch, can provide. Polite, formal speech conveys that the sender of the email respects the receiver. Phrases like “How are you?” help convey friendliness between e-mailers. Taking the time to ensure an email sounds friendly can, for example, help ease the sting of a virtual scolding from a boss to a subordinate. As more communication becomes virtual, polite speech is more important than ever to provide context.
In this paragraph, the student chooses to discuss the role of polite speech in the culture of the Internet. The student claims that polite speech is necessary to convey tone in communication without context and uses emails as a frame. The student uses examples of situations where email and polite speech are directly involved to support her claims. Every one of the claims is followed up with an example.
Non-supportive evidence: Polite speech is useful for conveying tone, especially in the world of the Internet. In forums, people are never polite, and it is bad for discourse, which is bad for democracy. The world would be a much better place if when people online disagreed with one another, they were polite instead of angry and ready to form a new subreddit at any time. When people on the Internet aren’t polite, they don’t worry about their tone at all, and it offends people. The lack of polite speech makes the Internet a hostile place.
In this paragraph, the student chooses to discuss the role of polite speech in the culture of the Internet. However, the student does not utilize supportive evidence to do so. The paragraph is full of claims, like that the world would be better if people on the Internet were polite, but does not provide a concrete example to anchor the claim. Additionally, the paragraph does not support the idea that polite speech conveys tone on the Internet because it primarily focuses on the lack of polite speech on some parts of the Internet.
There is so much variance in prompts and students’ prior knowledge; it’s impossible to provide a checklist of what makes evidence supportive. But a good trick to decide if you’ve supported your claims well enough is to talk to yourself. No really, it’s a good idea.
Picture yourself discussing your essay with someone. Imagine that this person disagrees with everything that you say. Every time you make a claim, like that it’s important to be polite in an email, your imaginary person shakes their head and tell you no. How would you try to convince them? What examples would you use? Make sure that for each opinion you put forward; you have provided an answer to someone who would disagree with you.
The evidence is an important part of your essay. If your outline and your argument are a framework, your evidence is the brick and mortar. A house without brick and mortar won’t fall, but it won’t be a very nice house to inhabit. Tie every claim you make to a piece of evidence to ensure the best essay possible.
To Sum up
The AP English argument FRQ varies quite a bit. But it is ultimately about how well you can put forth an argument. So, don’t be afraid to spend some time crafting that argument. Pick a clear position that can offer no confusion, write a clear and direct thesis statement, and make an argument that has to be in the order you write it. Support yourself with concrete, specific evidence and examples. But most of all, have fun. This essay is the one you should be looking forward to, where you have the freest rein. Enjoy it and earn yourself a 9.
Do the examples shown make sense to you? Can you picture yourself moving through the AP writing argument FRQ with ease now?
Test yourself and write a practice essay response. Here are tips on how to score your own AP English Practice Essay.
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With the AP English Language and Composition exam coming up, it’s important to find the best practice resources, and that includes practice tests! The AP Language and Composition exam has two sections: a multiple-choice section with 52-55 multiple questions, and a free-response section with three essay questions—one synthesis prompt, one analysis prompt, and one argument prompt.
But not all AP Lang practice tests are like the real exam, and they aren’t all of equal quality. In this guide, I’ll break down where you can find official College Board AP Language and Composition practice test resources, other free resources out there, and paid practice tests and questions. I’ll also break down which resources are high-quality and how to best incorporate AP English practice tests into your exam preparation.
Official Practice Resources
The best practice test resources come from the College Board. This is because they are the ones who create and administer all AP exams, including AP Lang and Comp, so their materials are the closest to the real, actual questions you will be seeing on test day! If you practice with material that’s close to the actual exam, you’ll feel more comfortable when you are actually taking the test. Therefore, when possible, it’s best to use College Board materials. However, it’s worth noting that official resources for AP Language and Composition are a little bit sparse, especially when compared to the AP Literature exam.
There are, in general, three resources that the College Board offers for any given AP exam: complete released exams, released free-response questions from previous years, and sample questions from the “AP Course and Exam Description.”
Complete Released Exams
Unfortunately, the College Board doesn’t appear to have released any official complete AP English Language and Composition practice exams, so I have nothing to link to here. However, you can probably find at least one entire past exam by Googling “AP Language complete released exam” or similar variations on that. Make sure any AP Language and Composition released exams you get this way have answer keys, though!
You might also ask your AP teacher if she has any copies of old AP exams you can use for practice. AP teachers can purchase past exams from the College Board that students don’t have access to. She may not be able to let you take them home, but even then you could be allowed to use them in a supervised setting.
Released Free-Response Questions
The College Board has posted years and years worth of past AP Language and Composition free-response questions that are at your disposal for practice purposes. However, only the tests from 2007-onward include the same three question types that are on the test currently. Earlier tests include two rhetorical analysis questions instead of a synthesis question.
Sample Questions From the “AP Course and Exam Description”
The AP Course and Exam description for AP Language and composition includes 50 multiple-choice questions (so, just two questions short of a complete multiple-choice section) and three free-response prompts: one synthesis prompt, one analysis prompt, and one argument prompt. This means that the sample questions from the Course and Exam Description are just two multiple-choice questions shy of being a complete AP English Language and Composition practice exam, so if you want to use it as one you definitely can. In fact, if you can’t find any official tests either from Google or your teacher, I advise it. Otherwise, you can add these College-Board approved questions to your practice bank!
Put them in the bank!
Free Unofficial Resources
Outside of the College Board, there are lots of sites offering free practice questions for the AP Language and Comp exam. But which ones will actually help you? Since anyone can slap together a few questions and call it an “AP Language and Composition Practice Test,” how do you sort the wheat from the chaff?
I’ve combed through tons of free resources so you don’t have to! Presented in order of quality, from best to worst, here’s my list of all the free AP Language practice tests and quizzes I could find out there.
College Countdown Complete AP Language Practice Test
College Countdown offers a complete unofficial practice test, essays and all. While the exact wording of the multiple-choice questions isn’t exactly the same as on a real AP exam, the tasks are very similar and the passages are well-selected. The essays are solid examples of the AP essay prompt style, although you could also substitute the unofficial free-response section for an official past free-response question if you wanted to make the experience even closer to a real AP. Also, there are robust answer explanations. This is an especially good resource given that there isn’t an official College Board-released exam for this test.
McGraw-Hill AP Practice Quiz
The academic publisher McGraw-Hill offers a 25-question multiple-choice diagnostic quiz for the AP English Language exam. The quiz is nominally 25 questions, but you might actually be able to get more than 25 questions’ worth of practice out of it because every time you open a new test window you get a subset of questions that are randomly selected from a question pool.
This quiz has pretty difficult, well-written multiple-choice questions that actually resemble real AP questions, so it’s a particularly good resource. The passages do open in another window, though, which is a small annoyance.
Albert iO AP English Language Practice
Albert offers a huge number of mini-quizzes on analyzing the rhetoric of various notable nonfiction passages. The questions don’t exactly sound like genuine AP questions—the style is a little more informal and to the point—but they are decent practice for answering questions about rhetorical techniques as applied in a given passage. You can’t access the most difficult questions if you don’t pay, but all of the other question levels are free.
High School Test Prep AP Language Practice Tests
High School Test Prep offers four short practice tests, each offering questions about a given nonfiction passage. The question style is definitely different from that of true AP questions; like the Albert questions, they are written in a more stylistically simplistic way. Additionally, the ratio of questions about the passage overall versus specific moments in the passage is weighted much more heavily towards overall passage questions than the real AP exam. However, these are still decent rhetorical analysis practice questions, and this resource is an especially good choice if you find yourself struggling with identifying the major themes and arguments of passages overall.
Varsity Tutors AP English Practice Tests
Varsity Tutors offers very short, skill-specific quizzes. The questions don’t sound all that much like AP questions, and every question asks about a different short passage, which is a little bit bizarre and inefficient. Additionally, not all of the specific skills they offer quizzes in are super-relevant to AP Language (e.g. “Motives and goals of characters”). However, if you feel like there are very specific rhetorical techniques you are confused about, taking some of the quizzes here could be a good study strategy. If you want to track your scores, you can make a free account with Varsity Tutors, but it’s not necessary to be able to access the quizzes.
4tests.com AP English Language Exam
This site offers a 35-question AP English Language and Composition practice exam. The questions are somewhat overly basic and passages are not particularly similar in style or content to actual AP Language passages, though. Additionally, the interface is a little bit clunky. I would only use these if you desperately need some additional, very basic rhetorical analysis practice.
Clunky like a retro calculator.
Paid Unofficial Resources
If you need even more practice, there are also paid unofficial practice test resources available.
Review books usually contain one or more complete practice tests and are a great resource when you run out of free resources. Not all review books are equally high-quality, though—be sure to look at reviews (and check out the questions by flipping through the book at the bookstore if you can, to see how similar they are to actual AP questions). As a starting place, Barron’s and the Princeton Review both generally offer high-quality AP review books.
Shmoop - Paid Subscription
Shmoop is a test prep subscription service that offers material for a variety of standardized tests, including AP Language and Composition. I can’t advise as to the quality of the material or the questions, though, because the service has an access cost of a dollar a day.
Peterson’s AP Practice Tests
A bundle of two AP Lang and Comp practice tests from this site costs twenty dollars. I couldn’t find much information or reviews as to the quality of the material, though, so this is a bit of a gamble. You’d likely be better off buying a well-reviewed review book with practice tests.
How to Use Practice Resources in Your Exam Prep
How to best use practice resources as you study depends a lot on what kind of practice material you are using. I’ll review how to make the most of different types of resources here.
Complete Practice Exams (Official and Maybe Unofficial)
The best way to use complete practice tests is to do full timed practice-runs for exam day. Bring a clock, a timer, and a hefty supply of pencils into a quiet room and have at it! A practice-run will help you to feel more comfortable when it’s time to take the exam for real in May. If you have access to multiple practice tests, you can even take complete tests at different times in the studying process to see how you’ve improved and what you still need to work on. When you do take practice tests, it can be helpful to get someone else to help grade your free-response essays based on the rubric.
You should aim to take your first full-length practice test around the beginning of your second semester. Normally I advise to only use official College Board practice tests for this, but since easily accessible complete official exams for the AP Language and Composition exam are sparse, you may want to supplement with the practice test from College Countdown linked to above.
Official College Board Practice Free-Response and Sample Questions
Released free-response questions from past years are best for practicing specifically for the free-response section in a targeted way. You can work on the prompt types that you find the most difficult or practice outlining essays in a certain amount of time, or writing all three essays in 120 minutes.
If you don’t use the Course and Exam Description as a practice test, the multiple choice questions are great targeted practice for the first section of the text. It will help you get familiar with the College Board’s question style and work on your rhetorical close-reading.
Unofficial Practice Quizzes and Questions
Unofficial practice quizzes and questions just aren’t going to be as much like the real AP exam as College Board materials. However, while they aren’t as helpful for prepping for the exam format or question styles, they are still good practice for building your rhetorical analysis skills, which is critical for the exam. High-quality unofficial resources are definitely worth your time.
Building rhetorical analysis skills: more complicated than building with blocks.
Practice tests are a key AP prep resource. The best resources come from the College Board, but unfortunately, official College Board resources for AP Language and Composition are a little bit sparse as compared to some other AP exams. However, there are also tons of unofficial resources, and some are high-quality. Most are free, but a few are paid.
Once you have your resources assembled, you might not be sure how to use them. Complete practice tests are best for mimicking the experience of the actual exam, sample Official questions are best for targeted section practice, and unofficial practice tests are best for rhetorical analysis skill-building.
You’re ready to practice your way to AP success!
We also have complete practice test lists for AP Literature, AP US History, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, AP Psychology, and AP World History. Or see our guide to finding the best AP practice tests for any exam.
Taking the AP Literature exam? See our ultimate guide to AP Literature.
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