Guide to the AP® English Language and Composition Exam

Why Take AP® English Language?

AP® English Language and Composition is a fantastic way to improve your skills in writing and analysis—not to mention give you college credit before you even set foot on campus.

It seems like a no-brainer, but you might still be wondering if taking the course is really worth it.

In most cases, taking an AP® class is absolutely worth the effort. The skills you develop in an AP® English Language and Composition class are ones that you’ll carry with you throughout your entire educational (and professional) career.

When it comes to college and your future career, strong communication skills are essential. With them, you’ll be able to effectively deliver and consume information as well as focus on the key points of someone’s messaging. In AP® English Language and Composition, you’ll learn these skills through analysis of written works as well as by writing several analytical essays.

Taking an AP® English Language course will also strengthen your ability to read between the lines when it comes to deciphering almost any piece of text. Over the course of the year taking AP® English Language, you will be taught how to break down rhetoric, arguments, and insights and learn effective analysis tactics so that you can come away with the main idea and purpose of any text you read. This is a crucial skill that you’ll need across many disciplines.

And it’s not all about the reading. Your writing skills are bound to get a major boost as well. Throughout the AP® course, you’ll learn the methods and secrets to writing persuasive and informative essays that will prepare you for college writing. The ability to write well is a skill that you’ll draw upon for the rest of your life, no matter what career you decide to take. So many college students point back to their AP® English Language and Composition course in high school as the moment they learned to write at the college level.

How to sign up for AP® English Language

To register for the AP® Lang Exam, you need to contact your school’s AP® Coordinator, who can help facilitate your courses and exams.

Bear in mind you’ll likely need to complete requirements to be eligible to enroll in an AP® course. In order to register for the AP® English Language Exam, you have to join your class section online on College Board’s My AP portal. Some schools will automatically register you for the exam if you’re enrolled in an AP® English Language class, but others won’t and you will have to register online through the portal. If you are unsure whether or not you are registered for the AP® English Language Exam, check with your AP® Coordinator.

There is also a deadline for exam registration, so make sure you register through your AP® Coordinator by then to avoid paying any late fees. The deadline to register for exams is in the fall, but specific deadlines may vary by the school—be sure to check with your teacher or AP® Coordinator.

How much does the AP® Exam cost?

Each AP® Exam costs a total of $96—if you’re in the mainland United States and its territories and commonwealths, Canada, or a U.S. Department of Defense Dependents School.

If you’re outside of those areas, the AP® Exam will cost $126 per exam.

College Board has a financial aid program that offers a $34 fee reduction in the exam. Read more about exam fees here.

You cannot use the My AP® portal to pay fees – they will be collected by your AP® Coordinator.

When you take into account the cost of a college course versus the cost of the exam, though, you’ll see that the AP® Exam is actually a bargain. With a passing score, you may be able to earn college credit and save hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

When can I take the AP® English Language Exam?

The AP® English Language and Composition date in 2022 is on Wednesday, May 12th. You can find more information about dates and late-testing schedules for the 2022 AP® English Language Exam in our 2022 AP® Exam Dates article.

What is the Test Format for the AP® English Language Exam?

The AP® English Language Exam will test students on their rhetorical, analytical, and writing abilities.

The actual test format for the AP® English Language Exam is fairly straightforward: you have three hours and 15 minutes to complete the exam. There are two sections. The first consists of excerpts from non-fiction texts with multiple-choice questions. The second is a free-response section made up of three prompts.

In all, the structure looks like this:

SECTION I: Multiple-Choice SectionSECTION II: Free-Response Section
  • One hour
  • 45 questions that assess textual analysis and compositional skills.
  • 45% of final exam score
  • Two hours and 15 minutes including a 15-minute reading time
  • Three questions with prompts covering synthesis, rhetorical analysis, and argument
  • 55% of final exam score

What’s on the AP® English Language Exam and course?

Of course, there’s a bit more to the AP® English Language and Composition Exam format than this. That’s why we want to quickly go through how the exam works and what will be covered in it.

Many colleges and universities across the United States require that you take a rhetoric or writing class before you can graduate. However, if you take the AP® English Language Exam and attain a certain score, you give yourself the opportunity to fulfill those credits before you’re even accepted into college.

The exam is comprehensive when it comes to the English Language, covering topics such as:

  • Rhetorical analysis of prose
  • Reading comprehension
  • Written argumentation ability
  • MLA, APA, and Chicago-style citation
  • Reputable sourcing
  • Synthesis of information from multiple texts

As mentioned above, the exam is split up into two different sections. Let’s go through each section now and break down what to expect.

Multiple-Choice Section

The first section you will take is the multiple-choice section. The multiple-choice section consists of 23-25 rhetorical analysis questions and 20-22 composition questions, where you will be asked to “read like a writer” and consider revisions to stimulus texts.

There will be five passages that you’ll be tested on. Along with each passage, a piece of information such as “This passage is from Martin Luther King’s Letters from Birmingham Jail written in 1963” will be provided to orient you.

There are eight different types of questions to expect in this section. They are:

  1. Rhetorical Situation—Reading: These questions test your ability to explain how the choices depict the elements of the rhetorical situations.
  2. Rhetorical Situation—Writing: These questions test your ability to make strategic choices in a text to respond to a rhetorical situation
  3. Claims and Evidence—Reading: These questions are about determining and interpreting the claims and evidence of an argument.
  4. Claims and Evidence—Writing: These questions ask you to scrutinize and select evidence to develop an effective line of reasoning.
  5. Reasoning and Organization—Reading: These questions ask you to interpret the line of reasoning within an argument.
  6. Reasoning and Organization—Writing: These questions ask you to evaluate organization and commentary to strengthen an author’s line of reasoning.
  7. Style—Reading: These questions challenge you to reason how writers’ stylistic choices allude to the purpose of an argument.
  8. Style—Writing: These questions require you to choose words and use elements of composition to further an argument.

Free-Response Section

The second section is the free-response section—and it’s also worth the most points on the AP® English Language Exam. As such, AP® graders will likely be more focused on it than any other.

In the free-response section, you will receive prompts that cover three areas. They are:

  1. You will read multiple sources and craft an argument that cites at least three of the sources to support your argument.
  2. Rhetorical analysis. You will read a passage of text and then craft an analysis of the author’s intention as well as how the author’s choices in the text support that intent.
  3. You will craft an argument over a specific topic and support said argument with evidence.

For a more detailed breakdown, read Katie Upton’s article on Everything You Need to Know about the AP® Lang Free-Response Questions.

How is the AP® English Language Exam Scored?

Each AP® Exam is scored on a scale of one to five. The higher your score, the better it is for you.

Check out the table below for a breakdown of what each score means.

AP® ScoreWhat it means


Best. The highest score you can get on your AP® English Language Exam. This score typically guarantees college credit or placement out of a required course at colleges that accept AP® Exams.


Excellent. While not the highest, this is still an incredibly good score. You’ll usually get college credit with it.


Very good. This is often called a “passing” score and is the usual threshold for colleges to give you credit, though not at the most competitive colleges.


Okay. Even though this is not a “passing” score, it can still reflect some significant improvement over the course of a year.


Not the best. We all have to start from somewhere!

When it comes to AP® English Language and Composition, you’ll want to aim for a score of three or higher. Many colleges will give you college credit or placement out of a required course if you score within that range.

It varies from school to school though. So, if you want to know the score that a specific school will accept in exchange for credit, you’ll need to check with the school’s registrar’s office to find out information about AP® credit for English Language and Composition. Often, you can find this information on the school’s website. You can also check out the College Board’s search tool for AP® credit policies.

NOTE: Colleges sometimes change their requirements for awarding college credit or offering placement out of required courses. So always check in with the college to make sure you have the most relevant and recent information.

The multiple-choice section is scored via computer. When the computer analyzes your answers, it does not deduct points if your answer is incorrect or unanswered. You read that right. You only stand to gain points when you answer questions. It is always in your best interest to answer every question and leave nothing blank.

The free-response section is a bit more complicated, however. Rather than using a computer, the free-response section is scored by actual humans. This occurs during an event called the AP® Reading, an annual convention in June during which thousands of college professors and AP® teachers nationwide convene to help judge and score AP® essays.

Bottom line: Graders are looking for essays that showcase a strong command of the English Language, the ability to craft compelling and well-sourced arguments, and the ability to analyze text for its rhetorical structure.

What’s the Difference Between AP® English Language and AP® English Literature?

Ok, so there’s an AP® English Language and Composition Exam and an AP® English Literature and Composition Exam. What’s the difference between the two, and how do you know which one to take?

While the two share a lot of similarities, there are some crucial differences between the two courses. Knowing which one you want to take will determine the knowledge you’ll gain before going to college. In turn, this can help you decide:

  • Whether you prefer fiction or nonfiction writing
  • Which classes you take in college
  • Your skills as a reader and writer

Here is a brief overview of both courses:

In the AP® English Language and Composition course, you will learn the rhetorical and writing skills necessary to interpret ALL kinds of texts.

The AP® English exam course is comprehensive when it comes to rhetoric and writing, covering topics such as:

  • Rhetorical analysis of prose
  • Reading comprehension
  • Written argumentation
  • MLA, APA, and Chicago-style citation
  • Reputable sourcing
  • Synthesis of information from multiple texts

The AP® English Language course will give you an understanding and appreciation for reading and analyzing Language. This skill is important in order to understand the context of the world around you. The course will give you the tools to approach topics thoughtfully and deeply.

The AP® English Literature and Composition course teaches the basics of college-level literary analysis and close reading. You will dive deep into texts and be challenged to think about literature deeply and critically. In the course, you will learn topics such as:

  • Close reading
  • Textual analysis
  • Literary devices
  • Language and vocabulary
  • Stylistic maturity in writing
  • Written organizational skills

For a more in-depth look at the differences between the AP® Lit and AP® Lang courses, check out this article: AP® English Language vs  AP® English Literature.

What Can I Bring to My AP® English Language Exam?

Below is a list of all the things you can bring with you into the exam room. Note: It’s possible that not all of the items will apply to you (e.g., the Student Accommodations Letter).

  • Two No. 2 pencils with erasers. These will be used on the multiple-choice portion of the exam.
  • Two black or dark blue ink pens. These will be used for the free-response questions. Be sure to bring black or dark blue ink pens only. Leave your turquoise brush pens at home.
  • A watch. This is a simple analog or digital watch with no internet access or alarms. Don’t even try to bring your smartwatch in the room.
  • The AP® Student Pack. This is given to you just before you take your exam and contains a label that you need to place on your exam. Follow the labeling instructions carefully.
  • Government- or school-issued ID. If you don’t attend the school where you’re taking the AP® English Language Exam, you must also bring a government- or school-issued ID.
  • College Board SSD Student Accommodation Letter. If you require accommodations beyond the regular exam, you’ll receive a letter that verifies this (e.g. you need a braille or large-type exam).
  • Remember, you won’t have to bring all these things—but it’s in your best interest to be as prepared as you can for the exam.

Take a look at our Test Day Checklist to make sure you are 100% prepared to take your AP® English Language and Composition Exam when the time comes!

How do I study for AP® English Language?

#1: Read, read, read!

And  make sure that you are actively engaging with what you are reading. Ask yourself, “What is the author trying to say with this text? What are they doing with the language to further their argument? What imagery is being employed?” Don’t let yourself get caught off guard with a passage you are unfamiliar with; make sure you practice reading a broad spectrum of texts – enough so that you feel just as comfortable analyzing a speech as a letter. To answer the free-response questions well, you should be able to read and analyze the given passages speedily. Where you can, try to practice annotating whatever you’re reading in the lead up to the AP® English Language Exam. This will be immensely helpful for formulating your answers!

#2: Take practice tests

Practice, practice, and practice some more. The multiple-choice section is about reading comprehension and analysis, as well as writing knowledge, so the only way you are going to improve is by practicing reading and analyzing passages as much as you can in the weeks and months before the real test. But make sure you analyze your practice results! You should always study yourself as a test-taker and identify how specific types of passages, questions, or wrong answers are causing problems for you. Then look for ways to improve in those specific areas.

Only by practicing over and over again can you expect to be better at any skill—including test-taking. If you don’t have much experience taking practice tests, check out John Moscatiello’s Step-by-Step Guide to taking a practice test like a pro.

#3: Write as much as you can

A lot of students tend to worry most about the free-response sections. With enough practice, these will get easier and easier to answer! For more tips, Marco Learning’s AP® Language teacher, Heather Garcia, has some excellent advice on How to Crush It on the AP® English Language Exam Essays.

#4: Find resources that work

When it comes to studying for your exam, there is no “one size fits all”. Just because your friend took AP® Lang last year doesn’t mean her study routine is right for you. We encourage you to take some time to figure out what study methods you are most comfortable with; it could be a mixture of everything!

We know it can be overwhelming starting from scratch. If you feel stuck, we suggest downloading our free AP® English Language Study Guide Pack as a jumping-off point and going from there.

If you’re looking for live video reviews before the AP® Exams, we will host live AP® review sessions on our YouTube channel.

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