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2021 AP English Language and Composition Exam Guide

10 min readmarch 30, 2021


AP English Language ✍🏽

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Your guide to the 2021 AP English Language and Composition exam

We know that studying for your AP exams can be stressful, but Fiveable has your back! We've collected all the key details surrounding the 2021 AP Lang exam and created a study plan that will help you crush it- whether you are testing at home or in-person. We will continue to update this guide with more information about the 2021 exams, as well as helpful resources to help you score that 5.

Resources:

Format of the 2021 AP English Language and Composition exam

This year, all AP exams will cover all units and essay types. The 2021 AP English Language and Composition exam format will be:
  • Multiple Choice Section - 45% of your score
    • 45 questions in 1 hour
  • Free Response Section - 55% of your score
    • 2 hours and 15 minutes for:
      • 1 synthesis essay
      • 1 rhetorical analysis essay
      • 1 argument essay
The exam remains the same whether or not you take it on paper. Online exams will not allow you to revisit previous questions.

Scoring Rubric for the 2021 AP Lang Essays

  • Synthesis Essay
    • Thesis
      • 1 point for a defensible thesis that responds to the prompt
    • Evidence and Commentary
      • Max of 4 points for providing evidence from at least 3 sources that support the line of reasoning AND commentary that explains and analyzes the evidence
    • Sophistication
      • 1 point any of the following:
        • Creating a nuanced argument
        • Showing the limitations of the argument
        • Making effective rhetorical choices
        • Employing a style that is vivid and persuasive
  • Rhetorical Analysis Essay
    • Thesis
      • 1 point for a defensible thesis that analyzes rhetorical choices
    • Evidence and Commentary
      • Max of 4 points for providing specific evidence AND consistently explaining how the evidence relates to the line of reasoning AND showing how the rhetorical choices contribute to the author's message.
    • Sophistication
      • 1 point for any of the following:
        • Explaining the significance of the rhetorical choices (rhetorical situation)
        • Explaining the complexities of the passage and their purpose
        • Employing a style that is vivid and persuasive
  • Argument Essay
    • Thesis
      • 1 point for a defensible thesis
    • Evidence and Commentary
      • Max of 4 points for providing specific evidence AND consistently explaining the relevance of that evidence.
    • Sophistication
      • 1 point for any of the following:
        • Crafting a nuanced argument by identifying complexities
        • Explaining the limitations of the argument by placing it in a broader context
        • Making rhetorical choices to improve the argument
        • Employing a style that is vivid and persuasive
Check out our study plan below to find resources and tools to prepare for your AP English Language and Composition exam.

When is the 2021 AP English Language and Composition exam and how do I take it?

There are three different exam administrations this year and the tests will be taken in person at your school, unless your AP Coordinator has indicated otherwise. Here is what we know from College Board so far.
  • The first exam date will be on paper and in-person at your school: May 12, 2021 at 8am, your local time. 
  • The second exam date is digital either at your school or your house: May 26, 2021 at 12pm ET. 
  • The third exam date is digital either at your school or your house: June 7, 2021 at 12pm ET. 
You will have 3 hours and 15 minutes to take the exam. We will have more updates from the College Board soon, but as of now this is what we know! Create a Fiveable account to get updates on the latest 2021 exam news. 

How should I prepare for the AP Lang exam?

  • First, take stock of your progress in the course so far. What areas have you excelled and which sections need more focus? Download the AP English Language Cram Chart PDF - a single sheet that covers everything you need to know at a high level. Take note of your strengths and weaknesses! 
  • Build your study plan to review every unit and question type, but focus most on the areas that need the most improvement and practice. We’ve put together this plan to help you study between now and May. This will cover all of the units and essay types to prepare you for your exam
    • Practice essays are your best friends! The more essays you write, the more automatic the process will come, and the easier the AP exam will be! 
      • Try some of the past exam questions here
  •  Don't plan to only study alone! Join our Discord channel to talk to real students just like you studying for this exam! We have TAs in each subject channel to support you this Spring. 
  • You don't need to have all of the rhetorical devices memorized for the multiple choice section, but knowing them can help you score more points on the FRQs.
  • Finally, check out our live Cram events so that you can review for the AP Lang exam with a rockstar teacher and study socially among other students!  
    • Bonus: get the Feedback Pass to receive comments from AP teachers on all of your practice essays! 

Resources:

Pre-work: set up your study environment

Before we begin, take some time to get organized. Remote learning can be great, but it also means you’ll need to hold yourself accountable more than usual. 
🖥 Create a study space.
Make sure you have a designated place at home to study. Somewhere you can keep all of your materials, where you can focus on learning, and where you are comfortable. Spend some time prepping the space with everything you need and you can even let others in the family know that this is your study space. 
📚 Organize your study materials.
Get your notebook, textbook, prep books, or whatever other physical materials you have. Also create a space for you to keep track of review. Start a new section in your notebook to take notes or start a Google Doc to keep track of your notes. Get yourself set up!
📅 Plan designated times for studying.
The hardest part about studying from home is sticking to a routine. Decide on one hour every day that you can dedicate to studying. This can be any time of the day, whatever works best for you. Set a timer on your phone for that time and really try to stick to it. The routine will help you stay on track.
🏆 Decide on an accountability plan.
How will you hold yourself accountable to this study plan? You may or may not have a teacher or rules set up to help you stay on track, so you need to set some for yourself. First set your goal. This could be studying for x number of hours or getting through a unit. Then, create a reward for yourself. If you reach your goal, then x. This will help stay focused!
🤝 Get support from your peers. 
There are thousands of students all over the world who are preparing for their AP exams just like you! Join our Discord channel to chat, ask questions, and meet other students who are also studying for the spring exams. You can even build study groups and review material together! 

2021 AP Lang Study Guide

🚧 Unit 1 Foundations of Rhetoric: Analysis of the rhetorical situation and claims.

Big takeaways:

Unit 1 is an introductory unit that lays the foundations for the reading skills associated with how to understand and analyze complex texts. Skills here include identifying the ASPECTS of a text, analyzing the claim given and the evidence used to support that claim, and determining the function of the “chunks” in the argument. Because the content in this unit is very foundational, it is looped throughout the rest of the course instruction.

Definitely do this:

🎥 Watch these videos:
✍️ Practice:
🗺 Can you identify these rhetorical devices?
  • You won’t be asked to name drop on the exam, but it can be helpful to use devices when discussing strategies. Try this Quizlet to help prepare.

Resources:

Unit 2 Foundations of Argument: Analysis of an author’s choices in appeals and evidence

Big takeaways:

Unit 2 is an introductory unit that builds onto the foundations of rhetorical ASPECTS and moves toward planning and writing your own arguments. This unit focuses on the relationships between subject, speaker, and message, including examination of the structure and purpose of the given argument. The unit then moves into the developing thesis statements and building your own arguments with a clear line of reasoning.

Definitely do this:

🎥 Watch these videos:
📰 Check out these articles:
✍️ Practice:
🗺 Can you identify these elements of practical argument?
  • You won’t be asked to name drop of the exam, but it can be helpful to use devices when discussing strategies. Try this Quizlet to help prepare.

Resources:

👥 Unit 3 Confluence: Synthesis of multiple sources in argumentation

Big takeaways:

Unit 3 approaches multiple perspectives in argument through the lens of synthesis (that’s FRQ 1). In this study, you learn to identify effective and faulty reasoning while integrating a variety of evidence from credible resources that is properly cited in an original text.

Definitely do this:

🎥 Watch these videos:
🗺 Can you identify these elements of synthesis?
  • You won’t be asked to name drop on the exam, but it can be helpful to use devices when discussing strategies. Try this Quizlet to help prepare.

Resources:

👀 Unit 4 Reasoning: Analysis of argument from introduction to conclusion

Big takeaways:

Unit 4 includes a greater depth of focus on the writing of effective arguments -- the line of reasoning created in the introduction, built with modes of discourse, and strengthened in the conclusion. An important note about these skills of argumentation is that they build toward all parts of every FRQ. 

Definitely do this:

🎥 Watch these videos:
✍️ Practice:
🗺 Can you identify the rhetorical modes?
  • You won’t be asked to name drop them on the exam, but it can be helpful to use devices when discussing strategies. Try this Quizlet to help prepare.

Resources:

🧐 Unit 5 Commentary and Analysis: Analysis of complex argument and intentional rhetoric

Big takeaways:

In Unit 5, the skills look at the minutiae involved in argumentation: development of the line of reasoning that produces strong commentary and maintains the primary claim through all parts of the writing. To achieve these goals, this unit includes a focus on transitions, modifiers, and qualifications for argumentative perspective.  

Definitely do this:

🎥 Watch these videos:
📰 Check out these articles:
✍️ Practice:

Resources:

🏃‍♂️ Unit 6 Rhetorical Risks: Analysis of multiple perspectives, bias, and shifts with new evidence

Big takeaways:

In Unit 6, you will notice a direct link building on the ideas of Unit 3 as this instruction looks at position and perspectives while synthesizing information strategically to support a claim.  For greater depth, this unit moves to modify a current argument to include new evidence.

Definitely do this:

🎥 Watch these videos:

Resources:

🚀 Unit 7 Complex Argumentation: Analysis of effective arguments, including concession and refutation

Big takeaways:

The skills of Unit 7 are about putting all units of study together to look at the complexity of a given argument and the effectiveness of the pieces built into that argument.  Though many teachers will have addressed counterarguments, concessions, and refutations before reaching this unit, those skills are highly scrutinized in this segment of learning.

Definitely do this:

🎥 Watch these videos:
✍️ Practice:

Resources:

📝 Unit 8 Style: Analysis of how style influences the audience movement

Big takeaways:

Unit 8 covers how to understand the influence style has on the audience, and the purpose behind each decision. By analyzing these various tactics, students are able to understand the author’s audience, and how to effectively persuade them. Style is an important part in connecting the rest of the course and understanding how the rhetorical choices and devices are used to accomplish a purpose.

Definitely do this:

🎥 Watch these videos:
📰 Check out these articles:
✍️ Practice:

Resources:

✏️ Unit 9 Craft: Creation of your own complex argument with synthesis and rhetoric

Big takeaways:

The final unit of AP Language and Composition covers how to effectively form your own arguments by acknowledging and understanding complexities to create a nuanced and sophisticated argument. It focuses on your ability to comprehend and connect multiple sources to create a well reasoned, and detailed argument as well as how to add in your own rhetorical devices and choices to make your writing more persuasive and effective.

Definitely do this:

🎥 Watch these videos:

Resources:

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