by John Moscatiello

The AP® English Language and Composition exam is changing!

Before you get too worked up about it, keep in mind that these changes do not take effect until the 2019-2020 academic year. If you are taking the exam on May 15, 2019, these changes will NOT affect you in any way. Most of the test prep materials out there—including our video-based course for AP® English Language—are all still relevant and accurate for this year’s exam.

But for future teachers and students, these changes will matter. The good news is that the changes are relatively minor, and the structure of the exam is essentially 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.

Even though the College Board will be releasing 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 and 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. More Multiple-Choice Passages

But finishing on time could actually be harder on the new AP® exam because there will be five passages instead of only four. Students will need to be careful about distributing their time across the entire section. It usually takes a few minutes to “settle in” with a passage and figure out the author’s tone, point of view, and main idea. Students will now have to do that five times instead of four.

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 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.”

5. 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. 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, which will be the same for all three question types. This could mean that the essays will be graded on a point-by-point scale, much like the ones used on the AP® U.S. History Exam.

While some of these changes are easy to understand, others are not yet clear because we have no published examples from the test writers. We will know more in late May 2019, when the College Board releases a new “Course and Exam Description” for AP® English Language. Check out our website and follow us on social media for updates and analysis of the changes.


John Moscatiello teaches AP® English Language and AP® U.S. History for 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 a college admissions consultant in more than 20 countries around the world.

To read the full college board announcement, click here.