by John Moscatiello

The AP® English Language Exam is changing! These changes will appear for the first time on the exam on May 13, 2020. You will need to pay attention to any AP® English Language test preparation materials because most of the materials out there are no longer relevant or accurate for the 2020 AP® English Language exam. Our video-based course for AP®, which we plan to release in October, has been realigned to these changes.

For teachers and students alike, these changes matter and are worth getting to know sooner rather than later. The good news is that the changes are relatively minor, and the overall structure of the exam is mostly the same. The AP® English Language Exam will still be divided into a multiple-choice section that lasts one hour and counts for 45% of your total score. The free-response section will still last two hours and 15 minutes and count for 55% of your total score. The free-response questions will essentially stay the same but will be graded with a different rubric.

Even though the College Board has released a new “Course and Exam Description” that changes the official curriculum, most AP® English Language courses will essentially stay the same. Most AP® teachers should be able to use the same reading lists, textbooks, and course materials they have been using for years.

But how teachers prepare their students for the real AP® English Language Exam will definitely change. There are five major changes to the format and scoring of the AP® English Language Exam that you need to know about:

1. Shorter Multiple-Choice Passages

And all the #APLang students rejoiced! The reading passages on the multiple-choice section of the AP® English Language Exam are notorious for being confusing, boring, and LONG. By making the passages shorter, the College Board is giving students the chance to focus on reading closely and finishing the multiple-choice section on time.

2. New Multiple-Choice Questions

One of the most important changes to the AP® English Language Exam is a new kind of multiple-choice question, which will take up almost half of the multiple-choice section. Some question types, such as “vocabulary in context” and “identification,” will no longer appear on the AP® English Language Exam. Instead, students will see something called composition questions, “where students will be asked to ‘read like a writer’ and consider revisions to stimulus texts.” The stated goal is to “strike a better balance between reading and composition.”

3. Fewer Multiple-Choice Questions

On the new AP® English Language Exam, students will have more time per question because the total number of questions is going down from 55 to 45. That may sound like a minor difference, but students often run out of time on the final ten questions or so, so this change could help students finish on time. When the College Board releases practice materials later this year, students will need to practice to figure out their timing on the new multiple-choice section.

4. New Free-Response Rubrics

Another major change to the test will be how the free-response essays are scored. It seems the essay prompts and format themselves will not change—only how the essays are scored. There is a slight change in the wording of the prompts. College Board has chosen to stabilize the phrasing in the writing prompt in all three free-response essays. For example, the Q3 argument prompt will always direct students to “take a position” on a specific subject. No longer do students have to prepare for argument prompts that ask them to evaluate the relationship between two ideas or to determine to what extent a statement is true. On the current AP® English Language Exam, essays are graded “holistically,” which means they are graded on the overall impression that the essay makes. Now, they will be graded using “analytic” rubrics that will be extremely similar for all three question types.

5. AP® Classroom

The College Board has released many new resources for teachers in a digital platform called “AP® Classroom.” This new resource will allow teachers to assign official materials to their students and conduct Personal Progress Checks to see how they are performing on various skills throughout the course. Since this is the first year these resources are available, it remains to be seen how AP® Classroom will affect teachers and students.

 Sign up for free AP English Language and Composition Teacher Training Sessions HERE.


John Moscatiello is the founder of Marco Learning. He has been a teacher, tutor, and author for AP® exams the past 17 years. Over the course of his career, John has taught more than 4,000 students, trained hundreds of teachers, written content for 13 test preparation books, and worked as an educational consultant in more than 20 countries around the world.