How is the AP® English Language Exam scored?

The AP® English Language and Composition Exam tests your ability to analyze text, craft compelling argumentative essays, and demonstrate an awareness of language and rhetoric.

When it comes to how it’s scored, though, it’s not as straightforward.

That’s why we want to break down the scores you need to get on your AP® English Language and Composition Exam, how the test format impacts that, and even how you can roughly estimate your own score.

Let’s jump in.

How the AP® English Language and Composition Exam works

A lot of colleges all over the country require you to fulfill a rhetoric or composition credit before you’re allowed to graduate. Luckily, you have the opportunity to fulfill those credits before you’re even accepted into colleges. Through the AP® English Language and Composition course, you can learn the rhetorical and writing skills necessary to earn the college credit.

The exam is comprehensive when it comes to rhetoric and analysis, 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

When it comes time to take the exam, you can expect the same format and structure. You’ll have three hours and 15 minutes to complete the exam. There are two sections to it. The first is comprised of excerpts from non-fiction texts with multiple-choice questions. The second is a free-response section made up of three prompts you must answer as handwritten essays.

The prompts cover three areas:

  1. Synthesis. You will need to read multiple sources and craft an argument that cites at least three of the sources to support your argument.
  2. Rhetorical analysis. You will need to 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. Argument. You will need to craft an argument over a specific topic and support that argument with evidence.

Here’s what the structure of the exam looks like broken down by section and question type, along with how much each section impacts the ultimate score:

  • Section I: Multiple choice
    • 45 questions that cover excerpts from nonfiction text
    • One hour
    • 45% of final exam score
  • Section II: Free response
    • Three questions with prompts covering synthesis, rhetorical analysis, and argument
    • Two hours and 15 minutes including a 15-minute reading time
    • 55% of final exam score

Before we explain how each section is scored, let’s take a look at the scores you can get for your entire exam.

How to find the score you need on the AP® English Language Exam

The 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 good break down of what each score means.

AP® Score

What it means


Best. The highest score you can get on your AP® 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 a very 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.

How the AP® English Language Exam is scored

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.

The free response essays are each scored on a scale of 0–6, with 6 being the best score you can get and 0 being the worst.

Combined, the raw points you get from both sections give you your composite score. It’s your composite score that determines your scaled score of 1–5.

We know. It’s all very confusing. Stick with us though, and we promise to clear it up for you.

Scoring the free-response section

As mentioned above, the free-response section is scored on a scale of 0-6. The higher your score, the better it is for you.

Here’s a look at the Q2 Analysis Scoring Rubric, a handy table that gives a good break-down of what judges are looking for when awarding points for each essay.

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.

When you can find out your score

In 2020, all AP® Exams will take place from May 4th through May 15th.

The English Language and Composition exam will take place on the morning of May 13, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. Exams will take place at designated AP® test-taking facilities unless you have approved exemptions from the College Board (e.g., if the test is administered outside the United States).

After the exam, you get to spend several long weeks before you find out your score in July 2020.

NOTE: No specific information has been released yet about when the scores will be made available to students and parents. So be sure to check back to Marco Learning over the next few months to stay updated.

As mentioned above, all of the free-response answers for every AP® Exam are judged during the AP® Reading. That convention of thousands of professors and AP® teachers all over the country takes place in the first two weeks of June. Once your free-response question is judged and scored, the College Board needs to compile all the scores before they’re ready to be released.

The best piece of advice once you take your exam is to simply relax. There’s no use sweating over your exam once you’re finished. What’s done is done.

More importantly, be sure to take some time to be proud of your accomplishment. You just invested a lot of time studying and learning valuable information that you’ll be able to carry with you to college and beyond. That’s something you earned regardless of what the score says.

Once you get your score, and you got a good score—congrats! You just earned potential college credit for college.

If your score wasn’t what you were hoping for, don’t worry. You can always retake the AP® Exam the next year. Check out our resources to help you the next time around.

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