AP English Language and Composition

Not to be confused with AP English Literature and Composition.
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Advanced Placement English Language and Composition (commonly abbreviated to AP Lang or AP Comp) is a course and examination offered by the College Board as part of the Advanced Placement Program.


AP English Language and Composition is a course in the study of rhetoric taken in high school. Many schools offer this course primarily to juniors and the AP English Literature and Composition course to seniors. Other schools reverse the order, and some offer both courses to both juniors and seniors. The College Board advises that students choosing AP English Language and Composition be interested in studying and writing various kinds of analytic or persuasive essays on nonliterary topics, while students choosing AP English Literature and Composition be interested in studying literature of various periods and genres and using this wide reading knowledge in discussions of literary topics.[1]



The AP English Language and Composition exam consists of two sections: a one-hour multiple-choice section, and a two-hour fifteen-minute free-response section.[2] The exam is further divided as follows:

# of Questions
Percentage of score
Time Allowed
Section I: Multiple-Choice
Approx. 55
60 Minutes
Section II: Free-Response
15 minutes (reading portion)
120 minutes (writing portion)

Section I: Multiple-Choice

The multiple-choice section of the test is approximately 55 questions, with the exact number of questions varying with each test administration. There are typically 5 passages divided between pre-20th century non-fiction prose, and 20th and 21st century non-fiction prose. The questions typically focus on identifying rhetorical devices and structures from the passages, as well as their general functions, purposes in a passage, and the relationships between the devices. In 2007, questions were added that ask about citation information included in the passages. These citation questions are not designed to test knowledge about MLA, APA, Chicago Style, or any other particular citation format, but instead focus on how the citations reference and enhance information from the passage. Students have 60 minutes to answer all 55 questions.

Section II: Free-Response Writing

The Free-Response section of the test consists of three prompts, each of a different type: synthesis, passage analysis, and argument. Each is scored on a scale from 1 to 9.

With the introduction of the synthesis essay in 2007, the College Board allotted 15 additional minutes to the free-response exam portion to allow students to read and annotate the three prompts, as well as the passages and sources provided. During the reading time, students may read the prompts and examine the documents. They may use this time to make notes, or begin writing their essay.

The synthesis prompt typically requires students to consider a scenario, then formulate a response to a specific element of the scenario using at least three of the accompanying sources for support. While a total of six or seven sources accompany the prompt, using information from all of the sources is not necessary, and may even be undesirable. The source material used must be cited in the essay in order to be considered legitimate.

The analysis prompt typically asks students to read a short (less than 1 page) passage, which may have been written at any time, as long as it was originally written in modern English. After reading the passage, students are asked to write an essay in which they analyze and discuss various techniques the author uses in the passage. The techniques differ from prompt to prompt, but may ask about strategies, argumentative techniques, motivations, or other rhetorical elements of the passage, and how such techniques effectively contribute to the overall purpose of the passage. The prompt may mention specific techniques or purposes, but some leeway of discussion is left to the student.

The argument prompt typically gives a position in the form of an assertion from a documented source. Students are asked to consider the assertion, and then form an argument that defends, challenges, or qualifies the assertion using supporting evidence from their own knowledge or reading.


The multiple-choice section is scored by computer. Formerly, the test was scored by awarding 1 point for correct answers, while taking off a 1/4 point for incorrect answers. No points were taken away for blank answers. However, the College Board discontinued the policy for all AP Exams in 2011; now they only award 1 point for each correct answer, with no 1/4 point deductions.

The free-response section is scored individually by hundreds of educators each June. Each essay is assigned a score from 1-9, 9 being high. Scoring is holistic, meaning that specific elements of the essay are not assessed, but each essay is scored in its entirety.

The scores from the three essays are added and integrated with the adjusted multiple-choice score (using appropriate weights of each section) to generate a composite score. The composite is then converted into an AP score of 1-5 using a scale for that year's exam.[3]

Students generally receive their scores by mail in mid-July of the year they took the test. Alternately, they can receive their scores by phone as early as July 1 for a fee.[4] Sub-scores are not available for students for the English Language and Composition Exam.

AP instructors receive a score sheet showing the individual score for each of their students, as well as some score information and national averages.

Grade distributions

The grade distributions for the 2008,[5] 2009,[6] 2010,[7] 2011,[8] 2012,[9] 2013,[10] 2014,[11] 2015[12] and 2016[13] administrations were:

Year Score percentages
5 4 3 2 1 Mean Number of Students
2008 8.7% 18.2% 31.4% 30.5% 11.3% 2.82 306,479
2009 10.5% 19.0% 30.2% 28.4% 11.9% 2.88 337,441
2010 10.7% 20.8% 29.3% 27.6% 11.6% 2.91 374,620
2011 11.1% 20.0% 30.1% 27.5% 11.3% 2.92 412,466
2012 11.0% 20.2% 28.9% 27.9% 11.9% 2.90 443,835
2013 10.2% 16.2% 28.6% 29.8% 15.2% 2.77 476,277
2014 9.6% 17.9% 28.4% 30.1% 14.1% 2.79 505,244
2015 9.8% 18.4% 27.3% 29.7% 14.8% 2.79
2016 10.6% 17.5% 27.2% 32.1% 12.6% 2.81

After 2010, the AP English Language and Composition test overtook the AP United States History test as the most taken in the AP program.[14]

Composite Score Range

The College Board has released information on the composite score range (out of 150) required to obtain each grade:[15] This score table is not absolute, and the ranges vary with each administration of the test. With the addition of the synthesis essay in 2007, the scoring tables were revised to account for the new essay type in Section II of the test.

Final Score Range (2001) Range (2002)
5 108-150 113-150
4 93-107 96-112
3 72-92 76-95
2 43-71 48-75
1 0-42 0-47

Recent changes

In 2007, there was a change in the multiple choice portion of the exam. Questions began to be included about documentation and citation. These questions are based on at least one passage which is a published work, including footnotes or a bibliography.


Independent research on the academic benefits of the Advanced Placement English Language and Composition course indicates that not all students receive academic benefits from participating in the course. In a study with a sample size of over 90,000, the authors found that students who took the AP English Language and Composition course did not receive any increase in academic achievement unless they also prepared for and took the AP test. The authors controlled for over 70 intervening variables and found that AP students who took and passed the English Composition and Literature exam had ACT scores that were 2.8 points higher than non-AP students or AP English students who did not take their course's AP test.[16] This led the authors to state that AP participation "... is not beneficial to students who merely enroll in the courses ..."[16]:p. 414


  1. "AP English Course Description" (PDF). College Board. 2008. p. 12. students choosing AP English Language and Composition should be interested in studying and writing various kinds of analytic or persuasive essays on nonliterary topics, and students choosing AP English Literature and Composition should be interested in studying literature of various periods and genres and using this wide reading knowledge in discussions of literary topics.
  2. AP: English Language
  3. AP: The Grade-Setting Process
  4. AP Test Scores - AP Grade Reports
  5. http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/ap08_EnglishLang_GradeDistributions.pdf 2008 Grade Distribution
  6. http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/ap09_EnglishLang_GradeDistributions.pdf 2009 Grade Distribution
  7. http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/2010_EnglishLang_Score_Dist.pdf 2010 Grade Distribution
  8. http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/2011_EngLang_Score_Dist.pdf 2011 Grade Distribution
  9. http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/ap12_engl_lang_ScoringDist.pdf 2012 Grade Distribution
  10. 2013 AP Exam Score Distributions
  11. 2014 AP Exam Score Distributions
  12. 2015 AP Exam Score Distributions
  13. 2016 AP Exam Score Distributions
  14. http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/exgrd_sum/2011.html
  15. AP: The Grade-Setting Process. Retrieved 9 May 2008.
  16. 1 2 Warne, Russell T.; Larsen, Ross; Anderson, Braydon; Odasso, Alyce J. (2015). "The impact of participation in the Advanced Placement program on students' college admissions test scores". The Journal of Educational Research. 108 (5): 400–416. doi:10.1080/00220671.2014.917253.

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